A discussion on Jim Minatel's blog sparked my interest the other day... Is there a lesson the book publishing world could learn from the music world? Now that I’ve finished loading all my CDs onto my new MP3 player, I’m about to sign up for a subscription to Yahoo! Music Unlimited. I mentioned this to a couple of people and they said, “You realize you don’t own the songs you download, right?” Of course I do – and that’s the beauty of it!
I look at the various all-you-can-eat music download subscription services as a replacement to the randomness of radio stations. I’ve got 2,700+ songs I already own on my MP3 player. If I only listen to that stuff I’ll never discover something new. If I add another 5,000 or so other songs, rotating some in and out over time, I’ll wind up with the best of both worlds: everything I know I like already, plus the possibility of some new favorites I might never have discovered otherwise. Unlike the radio, where you have to listen to the entire song you don’t like before you hear the next one on that station, I’ll just hit the fast forward button and skip the junk. What’s not to like about a commercial-free, $5/month (introductory price only!) service like this? I might never listen to the radio again.
How does this apply to book publishing? First of all, you have to accept the fact that one day there will be an e-book/e-content device as appealing as the iPod is today. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I realize we’re not there yet. It’s not just the device, but more importantly, the way the content is built for the device. I’m convinced this device/platform will appear in my lifetime though.
Once we get there, will you prefer to own everything you want to read, or simply rent it? I’m likely to have a mix, but with an 80/20 split, rental vs. owned. Why? The vast majority of what I read winds up on a shelf when I’m finished. Most of those books on my shelf never get opened again. I’m off to read the next book and figure I’ve absorbed all I’m going to from the ones on the shelf, except for the true reference books, of course. When I was a programmer I often pulled books back off the shelves to check syntax, usage, etc. Even if you tend to use more reference books than tutorials, for example, wouldn’t it be just as easy to access them from a well-designed electronic format?
What if there was a service like Yahoo! Music Unlimited, but it was for book content? What would you be willing to pay for something like this, knowing you could take all your books/content with you in one small, not-yet-invented, easy-to-use device?