27 December 2009


The Washington Post has an article on the reaction of publishers to the e-book phenomenon. Curiously, the article can be downloaded through Calibre (the e-book library software) but does not seem to be on the Website. Even when using the exact title in the Post's search engine, it is not discovered. Odd! However, Calibre gives me the link to the original :-)
However, to the point. The article points out that:
There are now two constituencies: readers (and writers) on the one hand, and the publishing world on the other. And they don't want to hear each other.

Naturally enough, the authors want their books to be read, the readers want books as cheaply as they can get them, and the publishers want to charge as much as they can get away with.

In the print world, this works out to the publisher's advantage - they control the book flow and, to a significant degree, the pricing. In the electronic world, however, the readers know that the marginal cost of another electronic copy of a book is not the $9.99 that Amazon seems to be wanting to establish as the standard unit price, but something closer to the cost of a music track on iTunes.

My guess is that books are very price elastic (lower the price and you sell more), while the publishers want to maintain price in-elasticity in the hope of maximising profits. And yet the odd thing is that a number of examples suggest that if you give away electronic copies, people will want to buy the paper copy in larger numbers than the publishers ever believed possible. When you have a business model that says, If we sell 400 copies at $30.00 we'll make a profit, the possibility of being able to sell many additional electronic copies at $5.00 each, which may lead to the sale of more paper copies, doesn't seem to enter the marketing equation.

The article concludes:
But if the publishers want a role in the e-books business, they'll need to get over it and get on with it, embracing lower-priced e-books with higher author royalties. That seems unlikely. Because it's now clear that publishers just don't want to listen to what their customers are telling them.

and my guess is that it is the small publishing houses that will be the first to "get over it", while the big monoliths will take a lot more time.

1 comment:

  1. Very much on the money, I think, and well-stated. I might go a little farther: Small publishers (at least in the U.S.) might be the salvation of the book industry, both print and e-...fortunately, there are thousands of them (maybe tens of thousands). (Will the Big Publishers ever learn? Hard to say: have Big Movie Companies or Big Record Companies really learned?)