Why $9.99 Won't Always Be an eBook Pricing Ceiling
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Lessons Learned from "How the Mighty Fall"

How the Mighty Fall I'm a big fan of earlier books by Jim Collins, particularly Good to Great.  When I saw the latest issue of BusinessWeek featured an excerpt of Collins' new book, How the Mighty Fall, I couldn't wait to dig into it.  What I discovered was not only another great work but also confirmation of a point I made in this earlier post about how/when we'll evolve past the "book".

How the Mighty Fall doesn't release till tomorrow, so if you want to get the scoop today you're pretty much limited to this excellent excerpt (more on that in a moment).  And although I was interested in grabbing the Kindle sample as a preview, well, the publisher apparently isn't planning to release the book on the Kindle.  Doh!

If you read through that BusinessWeek excerpt you'll find it's written in the same great storytelling style that made Good to Great so successful.  You'll also see that Collins has determined there are 5 stages of decline and that "companies can be well into stage 3 and still look and feel great."  You'll read a summary of each of the stages and you'll probably stop and think every so often about how each of these stages apply to your company.

In short, it's a terrific excerpt from what looks to be a great book.  But now that I've read the BusinessWeek excerpt, I have zero interest in buying the book.  I feel like the 20 minutes or so I spent reading that BusinessWeek piece has provided me with all the insight I need on the subject.  IOW, Collins did too good of a job on this excerpt, and that brings me back to that earlier post...

In a few short pages the author managed to convey all the key information that's spread across this 240-page book.  OK, I'm sure there are other stories and interesting tidbits that appear in the book but didn't make the excerpt, but so what?  I now know the details of the 5 stages of decline and, since I'm already way behind in all my other reading there's no way I'm going to bother buying this one.

I don't know what kind of payment author/publisher got for this BusinessWeek excerpt but I'm sure the visibility will help sell more copies of the book.  That said, I also think this particular excerpt is an excellent example of how a "book" could be repackaged and sold in a smaller, shorter, more efficient format.

Had it not already been made available via BusinessWeek, I would have gladly paid $9.99 for this excerpt.  How many other business books out there could be shortened and sold in e-format like this?  Yes, I'm aware of getAbstract and Business Book Summaries.  The former is good, the latter, not so much, but neither can compete with a high-quality excerpt like this that's written by the author himself.


Bradley Robb

I think book length is one of the things that will be brushed aside as readers move more towards large scale acceptance of electronic reading.

Do you think this might have worked better as a blog than as a book?

Mark Bloomfield

The very same content CAN be sold OR shared - it's the conTEXT that will determine the nature of the transaction. In the case of the BW excerpt, there was no doubt some quid pro quo if not an outright payment to Jim Collins/HarperCollins. But more importantly you were not only engaged - here are you actively promoting the article and book! Next week that article is off the stand. The link is too (maybe it's around a bit longer) - but if the next guy wants these concepts, he'll gladly pay for the article OR the book.

Joe Wikert

Bradley, to be fair, I'm sure the book will be very successful. What I'm pointing out though is another form of content delivery that can (and hopefully will) evolve as e-readers become more popular. The approach I'm suggesting isn't for everyone, that's for sure! But there's some percentage of the reading population who would warm up to this. And even if they didn't like the idea of applying it to most of what they read, the availability of this option would probably enable them to read (and buy) more than they have in the past.

Bradley Robb

Joe, I have little doubt that book will be successful (as pointed out by an excerpt in Business Week which took 20 minutes to read). However, as you pointed out in an earlier post, one of the ways which will help push the eBook into major acceptance is to better leverage the technology.

One of the key differences between the eBook situation and the traditional print book is that eBooks are largely freed from size restrictions. Readering a digital book, where page count is altered with screen and font size changes, destroys the reader's ability to determine how "long" a book is. This allows a writer to only write what's necessary. Paired with the concepts behind Long Tail Succcess, this means writers who write more frequently but in shorter increments will draw greater benefits.

Before, as I'm sure you know, there was a rather large gulf between an interesting expose intended for a print publication and a further expanded idea in book form. Bridging that gap often took the form of filler content, or over-expanding on ideas. One of the current workarounds is the blog, where content can be expanded upon as much as needed and ideas can be updated as they change or advance. This puts the blog at an fitting (if not as financially acceptable) spot between the lengthy magazine expose and the slim book on the same subject.

The eBook, specifically a shorter one, is a much more marketable (well, really, it's easier to monetize) version of a blog. Typesetting is easier, pictures (and soon videos) can be easily embedded, and editing is merely a manner of streamlining and copy/fact checking.

I guess my question should have been a bit more clear, do you think that this would have worked better (taken less effort or given a better ROI for the author) in another format?

Joe Wikert

Hi Bradley. You raise a lot of excellent points in your latest comment. I think the short answer to your question *today* is no. I say that because today the e-world is a rounding error of the print world. Harper will make oodles of money from the print version of this book and might even be looking at the e-version like the film industry sees DVDs (as something to do as a follow-up, after they've milked the primary model for all its worth).

I'm hoping the answer to your question changes to "yes" in the not too distant future though. As e-reading becomes more common and readers are always handy, yes, I could see where this model of excerpting could change significantly into what I'm envisioning. For the time being though, I'm already an e-believer, hence my needs were satisfied by the free excerpt!

Dave Taylor

Very interesting point Joe! One issue that is perhaps worth mentioning is that too many business books seem to be padded essays anyway, book that could have made their point and reinforced it, all in 75 pages, but end up being 250 pages or longer because, well, thicker spines sell better on the shelf than narrow spines.

To be honest, I thought Good to Great was one of these business books: it could have been a dynamite succinct mini-book, but instead it was a 300 page tome. It's telling that Collins' sequel was a "monograph", perhaps he too felt the constraints of hitting a page count requirement rather than wrapping up a book when you're done making your point?

Me? I'll try to score a copy through the public library and fully expect to read about the first 75 pages and then lose interest.

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