I've been meaning to link to this Read-it-First article from Book Business but it didn't appear on their website till recently. Now that's it's up I would encourage everyone in the publishing world to read it. It's an interview Matt Steinmetz did with Matthew Baldacci of St. Martin's Press and it talks about an initiative to let readers "try before they buy." The program reminds me a bit of DailyLit and it's interesting to see that they've quickly gone from zero subscribers to about 15,000 with a goal of reaching 100,000 soon.
This program stands out to me because St. Martin's is doing something every publisher should be involved with: finding new ways to reach their audience. We're living in a rapidly changing marketplace and content sampling will only grown in importance as more and more devices take hold. I'm not just talking about the Kindle and Sony Reader, btw. Thanks to the iPhone's success, every cell phone maker is waking up to the App Store model opportunities.
If you're a publisher, what are you doing to build on-ramps to these new devices? And are you thinking about more sampling options? If you're an author, you should ask your publisher what their plans are for e-content, sampling, etc. I'm proud of O'Reilly's efforts on this front. You can follow the developments on our website as well as the O'Reilly Radar and TOC blogs.
One of the toughest issues to resolve hinges on pricing. What's an eBook worth? That's the question posed in this SF Signal blog post. Even though the blog and the question are framed around SF, many of the comments apply to numerous genres. Here are a few comment excerpts and my thoughts on each:
I will not pay hardcover prices for an eBook. It isn't the same. I buy books for the shelves, and will pay more for collectibles. I buy eBooks to read; they are not the same.
I'm amazed at how many publishers still think they need to charge the same for an eBook as they do for the print version. The typical agrument goes something like this: "We don't want to cheapen our IP just because it's presented in a different format." While this might, and I emphasize might, apply to a very small number of products, you've really got to think about the usability issues involved. For example, a lot of complaints are made about how a customer can't pass an eBook along to a friend after they read it. (Watch for that limitation to change at some point, btw.) But I feel that as long as we're talking mostly about quickie ports from print to e-format, with no added value, you're probably looking at a lower price for the e-version. The key here is to start thinking about how to add value to your content and take advantage of the e-platform. That's where the new riches will be found.
And no stinking DRM, either, please!
Take the cost of a paperback, subtract out the cost for printing and distribution and you are left with royalties for the author and some markup for the publisher.
Regardless of whether you agree with the previous statement, and I admit that I don't, you still have to acknowledge that this point of view is pretty common out there. Perception is reality and this statement must be carefully considered. I'd like to think that my team and I represent something more than "some markup" though. There's a lot of work that goes into crafting most books. A short list of important steps would include the development of the outline with the author, the massaging of the manuscript by a development editor, the copy edit and clean-up that makes it much more readable or the page design and layout efforts that also improve readability. That's a lot to cover in a "markup for the publisher." But again, until you can add more value to the e-version you'll probably be stuck fighting this uphill value proposition battle with your customers.
If printed books were to disappear outright, well, then some other method of covering the hidden costs of acquisition from authors, editing, promotion, etc., must be covered and unit prices for audio and e-books would naturally rise as a result.
Very insightful. For the time being, most publishers treat eBook sales as a bit of an afterthought, mostly because they typically represent such a tiny percentage of the publisher's overall sales. This allows the publisher to absorb many of the expensive editorial and production steps on the print side of the P&L. But if print revenues decline, those expenses have to be recouped somewhere else.
If Amazon really wanted to get people onto the Kindle, they would offer backwards compatibility/customer incentive. By that I mean that the registered buyer of a book on Amazon.com would also get a Kindle copy that they could read on their Kindle device, iPhone, or desktop app. Books aren't like CDs where you can put all of your existing music on your iPod.
I've been lobbying for this since the dawn of the Kindle. The problem is, I'm not sure many publishers or authors would buy into the idea. But it sure would help drive more interest in the Kindle! How about a compromise solution? What if Amazon were to offer you the Kindle version of the book for $5, or about half the going rate, when you buy the print version first? There have got to be some interesting bundling models here that have yet to be tested.
Btw, I'm a consumer who's also frustrated with this issue. As I mentioned in a tweet the other day, it seems like most of the books I'm looking for on the Kindle aren't converted (yet?), and many of the ones that are now have prices over $9.99. I've never bought a Kindle book for more than $9.99 and unless there are some interesting bells and whistles that come with it, I'm not sure I ever will.