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Slate on Book Industry Napsterization

Cheap Copies of the Original

Pennies That's what most content on my Kindle feels like copies of the original.  Quite a few books look like the print to e- conversion was done so haphazardly that nobody ever bothered to look at the finished product.  As publishers we fret about the prospects of $9.99 price ceilings for ebooks and yet we treat that rapidly growing sector as a quick-and-dirty way to make an extra buck or two.  Where's the R&D, the investment in future platforms and products?  Btw, Walt Shiel recently wrote a great blog post related to this called Kindle Errors and Typos.

Walt is right that many of the problems we see today are the result of corners being cut and the e-opportunity viewed as nothing more than a way to squeeze a few more dollars out of the investment we already made in the print product.  That's OK to a certain extent, but for some publishers that's their entire e-strategy.

Here's the fundamental problem I have with this: As long as customers view these products as cheap copies of the originals they'll never even achieve the same value as the originals.  So if that's your strategy, get used to the $9.99 ceiling because it's not going up.

Cleaning up the conversion process is important but it's not going to change the $9.99 ceiling either.  What's really needed here is a fresh look at the way content is designed, acquired, developed and produced in the e-world.  And as a visitor wisely commented recently elsewhere on my blog, this issue will become even more important as ebooks become a larger percentage of the overall book market.  All that overhead and fixed costs found throughout large publishing houses simply can't be supported if the industry switches to a $9.99 model.

Ebooks won't become 50% of the market overnight, but the percentage is growing and isn't likely to stop.  There are a couple of options here.  Publishers can get leaner and meaner as they adjust to the new model or they'll choose to invest in the future and start building more compelling eproducts and eplatforms.  The ultimate winners will attack both of those fronts.


Book Calendar

Ray Kurzweil predicts the book market will be dominated by ebooks by 2019. He sometimes is right.

Al Kalar

Amazon has a couple of problems here:

First: the word is that they actually lose money on Kindle editions at $9.99. They do this to build the market with an eye on future price hikes once there are enough eBook readers to allow it.

Second: If their Kindle conversion program is a knock-off of their MobiPocket converter (Amazon owns Mobi), it has some inherent problems, not the least being that if there is a blank line, the converter compresses it out.

If someone doesn't review a conversion for errors and go back to correct them, you get the problems you described. There are ways to get around some of the shortcomings of the conversion process, but it requires work which would raise their costs without raising the price.

Oddly enough, it can be done. At AKW Books, we convert original manuscripts into the 3 most popular formats and sell them for around half the price of Amazon (with a few exceptions). More than that, we spend extra time screening manuscripts for novels and books that have the same writing quality the NY houses print and edit them as well before they go out under our imprint. We're a publishing house, so we don't handle "vanity" or self-published works like Amazon.

The problem may be that Amazon has become too large to keep costs down (although they DO try to keep their operation as "lean" as they can).

Walt Shiel

Thanks for the blog referral, Joe!

There's nothing wrong with the Mobi Creator software per se, but the results hinge on the quality of the source files.

If you build a carefully designed HTML file -- taking into account the idiosyncrasies of the Kindle and the tags it will and won't support -- and then convert that HTML to a PRC (MOBI) file, you'll get great results. And Amazon won't really do anything other than apply their DRM, so no conversion errors.

If you convert first using Mobi Creator and then try to clean it up, the result may never be quite as good and will probably take longer than doing it right from the start.

Once you have a good quality PRC file, it is easy to convert that to a good EPUB file, requiring only some EPUB idiosyncrasy fixes and possibly fixing up the ToC.

Nico Vreeland

For me, DRM is another big reason that I don't feel like an ebook is a "real" copy of a book.

Right now, the outcry about DRM is somewhat muted because people either don't entirely understand it, or they haven't had a personal DRM nightmare yet. (And the publishing industry's "piracy hurts authors" argument is a potent scare tactic.)

But as readers of ebooks get more tech-savvy (and readers of ebooks are already more tech-savvy than readers of paper books), DRM is going to become a bigger and bigger issue.

We saw how this plays out with the record industry: the eventual, inevitable outcome is DRM-free media. And, as you said, the publishers that get out ahead of these issues will be best situated in the next evolution of the industry.

stop dreaming start action

2020, 11 years more...

Francis Hamit

Having been screwed as a vendor multiple times by, I am naturally suspicious of their proposition that they lose money at the $9.99 price. I recall their kind offers to convert files for us at $99 each, marked down from $299.00. The DTP software is hard to use and there is no manual or real guidance given and it will not take graphics files like maps in PDF format. The real cost in creating e-books is the format, and there are too many of them for most publishers. Ideally you should be in every channel, but when you start the process you are trading dollars for pennies. This may be the future of publishing, but it isn't here yet, and I've been dealing with these issues since 2004. My issue with the Kindle is not the lower price. I don't care because I make the same per copy as I do with print. Go for it. Sell all you can! It's the volume, which is one percent of the print version at best.

Lightning Source converted all of our e-books to the Sony format and I've been getting checks that indicate they sell better there than anyplace else. The problem is that they should be paying me electronically, as they do the other formats, but apparently this is a different division of Lightning Source or Ingram Digital and they have their own way of doing things. Lightning Source did all the conversions for free, by the way. Otherwise we would have passed.

If is really interested in building the kindle business they will (1) do the conversions and quality control themselves. It's their machine, after all and their business and (2) let the publishers set the selling price and stop trying to grab market share by discounting. Discounts do not not drive book sales. If you don't want to read something, you are not going to download it, even if it's free.

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