Friday, May 7, 2010

E-release before paper release?

Traditional publishers have taken a strategy of minimizing e-books by pricing the digital content so high that it forces most consumers to choose the paper version. A second strategy is to delay e-book release in much the same way a paperback is held six to 12 months after a hardcover release. One poster in an Amazon forum suggested publishers should release the e-book first and watch the sales before deciding to go with a paper version.

I just don't think there's time for that model to evolve...a few Kindle stars like Boyd Morrison were cherry-picked, but if the most loyal book consumers were the early Kindle adopters, and they are not returning to bookstores, where is the second-wave audience? Clearly the Kindle owners are the people who are the most interested in digital books.

Besides that, you have iPad owners who are reportedly not buying books (1.5 million books "sold" for the 1 million iPads sold equals a book and a half per device owner--compare that with Kindle behaviors). The core audience is already moving to e-books, and they clearly want low prices, and that means a shrinking role (and profit margin) for traditional publishers.

I just received the Author Central update where Amazon is giving authors more authority to change editorial content on the product pages--even if they were posted by a publisher. That, along with higher royalty rates, suggests Amazon is anticipating a model of more independent authors, with Amazon the gathering place for content and purchase. Or, if you prefer to view it ruthlessly, bypass publishers and stores altogether. Amazon already owns printing presses and servers and an e-book device. They have no stake in propping up bookstores or an inefficient distribution system.

If the e-book revolution is indeed accelerating beyond expectations, then there may not be any bookstores in five years beyond a few dusty specialty shops. Many were predicting the tipping point to come by 2020, then revised it down to 2015. Science-fiction author Michael Stackpole just predicted it for a couple of years from now.

Could Amazon and Apple conspire to put publishers out of business and then impose Draconian conditions that make the current publishing industry look benevolent, altruistic, and generous? It's possible they could become the Walmart of literary content. Apple has already shown a predilection for ratcheting down the controls and censoring content. Amazon has worked on the opposite model, opening the floodgates in the marketplace of ideas, but its goals seem to be one-stop shopping for all your needs, not any particular interest in what those needs might be. The publishing industry doesn't protect us from such crass concerns, because it has the same profit worries as any other industry.

As usual, I look at these things from the writer's point of view. Which route will earn me the most money and the most readers over the course of my career? Right now, it looks like releasing my own products is the way to go, through whatever outlets I can find. That could change tomorrow. But since this is my life's work and I want to rely on the products of my imagination in my old age, I'm already looking beyond the industry crash to the next crash--what happens when people are no longer willing to shell out even a buck or two for an e-book?

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3 comments:

Rabid Fox said...

One thing that has me wondering about the whole e-takeover with Amazon and Apple revolves around, what looks to me to be, their Draconian approach to censoring and denying apps (e-books included) from becoming accessible on their devices.

With such seemingly arbitrary policies directed towards software designers, authors could find themselves in similar and unsavory situations.

Maybe.

Regge Ridgway said...

I LIKE READING BOOKS ON ELECTRONIC DEVICES. i DON'T HAVE A KINDLE BUT MY IPHONE WORKS JUST FINE AND ITS WITH ME WHENEVER I WANT TO READ. I THINK THE AVAILABILITY OF THIS ENABLES ME TO READ MORE IN FACT. I ALSO LIKE HAVING A WHOLE LIBRARY OF BOOKS IN ONE PLACE. I STILL LIKE TO HOLD A BOOK WHEN READING HENCE I AM READING THEY HUNGER AT PRESENT. KUDOS TO SCOTT. GREAT READ. STILL WAITING ON THE OTHER TWO BOOKS I ORDERED. PAID THROUGH PAYPAL. I ALSO THINK THE NEXT LOGICAL STEP IN THE EBOOK EVOLUTION MIGHT BE SELF PUBLISHERS PROVIDING EBOOKS FROM THEIR WEBSITES WITHOUT INVOLVING AMAZON OR OTHER EBOOK PUBLISHERS.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Yes, Regge, I know some authors are building their own stores and selling their own ebooks. Then you have a whole other job, too, to drive people to your site. For better or worse, Amazon is Ebook Central right now and where most of the digital book consumers go. That could change, but right now it's best to be int he bookstore. I do sell ebooks on my site, along with signed paper copies, but sell far more through Amazon.

Rabid Fox, that will always be a case of "Play by our rules or stay out of our sandbox." Just because Apple doesn't like your content doesn't mean it's dead--it just means you'll have to work around it and not count on that audience.