Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Jig is Up

There is a conspiracy going on in publishing and has to do with the reluctance, nay, the determination not to embrace digital technology.

Publishers price ebooks nearly as high as hard cover books. The thinking would appear to be publishers are determined to get more money for the writer. That is not the case. I figured out what is really going on when I looked at Kindle versions of authors I was interested in reading. The cost of the ebook was $14.99, an outrageous cost in my estimation, and the hard cover was $18.99. There is no way I am going to shell out $14.99 for ones and zeros sent at the speed of light (or whatever approaches light on wireless) when I can get the hard cover for four dollars more. I can even buy the hard cover for less than $10 if I buy new or used from secondary sellers.

I hit the button to purchase a brand new hard cover copy delivered free for $7.49. That's when it hit me what was happening. It's the publishing version of the protection game.

Consumers, especially in the current economic climate, do not want to waste money. They want value for their dollars and $14.99 is not value for what is in essence a copied digital file. It's cheaper to get the printed version of the book, even if delivery takes longer. That's the whole point. By pricing ebooks at or near the hard copy version of a book, consumers will opt for the print version instead of the ebook, unless they have lots of money and don't care how much an ebook costs. It's the siren call of doing business the old way.

Forget about the claims of rampant book piracy and how ebooks endanger author royalties and the publishing industry. It's all about forcing someone to take what you want them to have rather than giving the consumer what he wants and prefers.

Ebooks will not be the death of the printed book. They are an alternative to print, not replacement for print. It's like buying the paperback copy of a novel and liking it so much you're willing to buy the hard cover so it will last longer. Paperbacks did not ruin hard cover sales and ebooks will not ruin paperback or hard cover sales. That's a myth, a myth propagated by publishers to maintain control of consumers. It's wrong thinking and completely self serving.

In the old days of gangsters and neighborhood crime, a shop owner was approached by gang members, or their representatives, and offered insurance. When the shop owner refused, a demonstration of the insurance's value was staged. Windows were broken. Locks were smashed. Goods were stolen. When the representatives returned in a day or so, shaking their heads and commiserating with the shop owner, they offered the insurance once again. Recalitrant shop owners held out -- as long as their stock and ability to replace the property held out, or until they were killed -- while less well heeled shop owners gave in and bought the insurance -- from the people who would have robbed and destroyed their property without it. Publishing is now in the same business.

Instead of embracing ebooks and offering them at prices in line with the product, publishers offer insurance to consumers by pricing ebooks out of range of their actual value and worth. Publishers don't trust consumers to be intelligent enough or willing enough to buy hard cover or paperback books when ebooks are available, thus alienating and angering a segment of the population that prefer ebooks to print, just as there is a larger segment of the population that prefers print to ebooks. For those bottom line thinking MBAs, that's just bad business.

Good businessmen know that by offering several formats across a wide range of formats will net the most return in sales. Bad businessmen (read: publishers) try to force consumers into the slaughtering chute by hook, crook and the old protection game. It will not work. Consumers will catch on and avoid buying your books, turning instead to secondhand bookstores, piracy and remainder stores where they can get what they want. Profits will fall and you will be out of business when authors jump ship for self-publishing or an indie publisher that will offer better terms, larger royalties and the same (lack of) services. Take heed. The writing is on the wall and the news is all bad.

Short-sighted publishers will soon be a vanishing breed, and good riddance to them all. Piracy will continue when prices remain high, especially in a difficult economy like this. More authors, like Barry Eysler, Joe Konrath, and others, will continue to jump ship for indie publishing, or for the new kid on the block, Amazon, or they will dive into self-publishing with a vengeance. Those publishers who will survive the coming storm will buy a clue and get smart. They will price ebooks at competitive rates while continuing to sell hard cover and paperback at the usual prices. Smart publishers will give value for the product and revise author contracts and royalty percentages. The rest will end up where Al Capone ended up: broke, insane and eventually dead. When some archaeologist or tabloid journalist decides to enter the sealed room where they once purportedly kept their hauls, it will, as Al Capone's vault, be empty and silent.

Read the writing on the wall or find someone who speaks the language. The old methods do not work. Move with the times or be buried. The jig is up.

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