A Better Lending Library Model
Why Aren't E-Reading Devices Smarter?

Can You Force a Customer to Buy Print Instead of E?

That's the question I kept asking myself as I read a report called The Impact of Ebook Distribution on Print Sales: Analysis of a Natural Experiment by Jeff Hu and Mike Smith. You'll notice that the report was originally written a couple of years ago but I believe the results would be the same today.

Back in 2010 there was some debate about whether a publisher could maximize revenue by delaying the release of an ebook. So just as paperback release follows hardback release the thinking was the ebook's release should come out after the print book so that customers would have to buy the higher-priced print, not the lower-priced ebook.

Thanks to a unique opportunity to work with a publisher who stopped releasing new ebooks for two months in 2010 the authors were able to analyze the sales impact of delayed ebook availability. Their conclusion: Delaying the ebook only works for the best-sellers. As the authors put it:

For popular books, delaying ebook release dates leads to a significant substitution toward print books. In contrast, for niche books, that do not have strong brand awareness among consumers, we find an insignificant substitution toward print books when ebook release dates are delayed. [Further,] the net effect of delayed Kindle releases is an overall loss in sales and, based on the best available data, a net loss in revenue and profit to the publisher.

That makes sense. I'm pretty sure if the Harry Potter series was only available on stone tablets they would have sold just as many copies. On the other hand, all those other books out there with either delayed ebook releases or, more importantly, no ebook releases, are leaving money on the table. That last point is the most important takeaway for me.

I scanned the B&N top 100 (print bestsellers) as I wrote this and I saw that every title in the top 20 had a nook edition. Once you get past the top 20 it's hit and miss. You find more gaps when you look in certain subject areas. I still come across titles from time to time where there's no ebook edition. There aren't very many publishers playing the delay game these days but there are some who are still on the ebook sidelines.

Then you have the authors who insist on a print-only option. OK, you can get away with that if your name is Stephen King. He's an enormous brand and can use his clout to force readers to print...or at least most of them. I wonder how long it will take for someone to scan King's Joyland and post it on all the torrent sites. I'm not encouraging that, of course, but I do believe that you can reduce piracy if you offer your content at a reasonable price in all the popular formats. Although King's intent is to provide a reading experience from the old days I'm convinced it will only increase piracy of the title and cause him to complain that ebooks and ebook customers are evil.

As a publisher I believe we should make sure that our content is available in every storefront possible, both physical and virtual. It's amazing to me that in 2012 we still see so many books that are only available in print format.



As an avid (over 100 books a year) reader: If a book I want isn't available in ebook format, and for a reasonable price, then I'll just leave it on my TBR list until it is, and go on to reading all the other books on my list. I don't have enough storage space for my books, and so I only get hard copies of ones that are either reference books (cookbooks, travel guides, etc. where the ebooks aren't always practical to use) or by top favorite authors that I'll get signed the next time I see them. It's funny, a few years ago, King put out a digital only book and everyone cried print is dead! Yet we're still getting into discussions of print/ebook. I think both have their places and uses, and I don't see that changing in our lifetimes. But I think options are important. If you look at Baen, they've been putting out ebooks since 1999. I used to get books out of their free library and load them on a truly horrid ebookman reader, reloading everything and the operating system every time the AA batteries died on me. And yet, I still get paper books sometimes, when it's worth the storage space.

It won't take more than a day for it to pop up on the torrent sites, if other popular books are anything to go by.

Alan J. Zell

Since we (authors, publishers)get income from purchases by readers of pBooks and/or eBooks, trying to force pBook sales is not making it easy for eBook readers to buy the book. Those that are eBook readers are not about to buy the pBook just because the eBook is not yet available.

Besides, publishers' and,I understand, authors' incomes from sales of eBooks in the long run may be more profitable than pbooks. Once the book has been digitized in different formats, the cost of using it is small compared to having to print reruns.

Alan J. Zell Ambassador of Selling, counsultant, speaker, author of Elements of Selling


I completely agree with Leigh_Caroline. Just because the ebook isn't available doesn't mean I'll by a paperback or a hardcover; I just don't buy the book at all. Also, if the ebook is too expensive I will forgo buying it.

I don't understand publishers insistence on pushing paper products, at the cost of alienating readers like me that only buy digital (with some exception, where I'll buy all the different versions). I spend around 2K dollars a year on books. I read about 300-400 books a year, and I know lots of people like me.

Pickin Grinnin

I have an ebook reader and use it, but most of the books I enjoy are not available in any e-format. For those that are, though, I compare the current ebook price to the cost of the cheapest used copy I can find. In general, the less expensive format wins. If that is a print version, I get the added bonus of selling it back after I have read it.

When it comes to fiction, there is nothing that I feel I HAVE to read. If I don't like the price or the format selection, I simply don't buy it. In the case of non-fiction, I purchase used print copies that relate to my research. I will do the same when there is only one book on the topic, but that is rare. Everything else is subject to the same rules as fiction - whatever format is cheapest at the time wins.

I can (and do) wait for years to get copies of certain books that I feel are overpriced. There are very few books or ebooks that I feel the need to get immediately. If there is one I need to read within a certain time period (certain research-oriented books), I simply get them through interlibrary loan, for free.

Ric Day

When you do not live in the US, you suffer a different form of windowing: new books released in the US (or the UK for that matter) are often not released in other countries until weeks or months later. This results in one reading a review of a new title, and then finding that one cannot buy it.

I abandoned keeping a TBR list quite a few year ago, mostly because it seemed a waste of time. I read a lot, and the TBR list tended to keep growing. Back when print ruled, I would visit my local bookstores frequently and buy new titles. Now that my local indie stores have mostly closed, and the lone big chain is trying to convert itself into a shade-of-purple Crate & Barrel with a few books on the side, trying to buy print is pretty much a waste of effort. I enjoy reading digital anyway, so no problem there.

What is a problem is when ebooks are delayed. Incredibly, the same large publishing conglomerates who delayed releasing print titles outside the US/UK are now frequently delaying the release of ebooks! I go to Amazon or another Internet bookstore and when I try to purchase a new ebook, I all too often get the message, "this book is not (yet) available for sale in your country."

I suspect this is because these publishers are trying to maintain their old rights model, with sales and revenues managed on a per country basis. That this makes no good business sense on the Internet does not seem to have dawned on them.

No matter how an ebook is windowed (to promote print sales or to manage rights), if I cannot buy it when I read or hear about it, the odds are very good that I will never buy, simply because I will have forgotten about it by the time it is released, and any brief buzz created by its original launch will have long since dissipated.

I suppose that, in the boardrooms of some publishing houses, executives are reassuring themselves that print is not fading away even as their release policies are quietly undermining their overall sales.

Karen Luo

I agree with the comment they made in the article. If the book is not available in a format or price point that suits me, I’ll just wishlist it and read other stuff. Often, by the time it is available, I have either read it for free at the library or lost interest altogether.


I agree with Leigh_Caroline. I'll just wait and add to my ever burgeoning list of books I need to read!


Here's something interesting on how books get their looks..

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