Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Can We All Agree Once and For All That E-books and DVDs Have Nothing in Common?

A common refrain out there among the people who are pro-delaying e-books (last spotted in the Wall Street Journal article about S&S's and Hachette's delays) is that it's kind of like how in movies you have the new release in the theaters, and then a while later you have the DVD release. Ergo ipso facto quod erat demonstrandum (Latin! It's what's for dinner)... DVDs are same thing as e-books, right? You have the hardcover release and then the e-book comes out later.

I don't understand this e-book/DVD comparison at all. I'd even go so far as to say it's Greek to me.

Let's take movies.

When a movie comes out, you pay to see it in the theater. Once. You don't get to take home the reels (and even if you wanted to those things weigh like 75,000 pounds). You're paying for the experience of sitting in a darkened theater with strangers and watching it on a giant screen. You're not buying something tangible.

Then, six months or a year later, the DVD comes out. It's a tangible product. You get to keep it or give it away or loan it to a friend. And, by the way, it's usually more expensive than a movie ticket (assuming you didn't spring for the $17.00 popcorn). It's also most likely to be purchased by someone who saw the movie in the theater and wants to re-watch it whenever they want or add it their collection.

How does this have anything at all to do with hardcovers and e-books? Watching a movie and owning a DVD are wholly different experiences and models. As subets pointed out in the comments section: One is an experience, the other is a product. DVDs are more expensive and tangible and you can watch it whenever you want. Going to the theater is cheaper and less tangible and you have to go at certain times.

If theater = hardcover, why is going theater cheaper whereas the hardcover is more expensive? If DVD = e-book, why don't people usually buy the e-books for hardcovers they've already purchased?

I mean, yes, there are some points of comparison between e-books and DVDs, in that they're both digital. And e-books (could/should be) loaded up with all kinds of cool bonus features that are afforded by an electronic format.

And some people might say that the reason DVDs are delayed is so people who are interested in the movie will be motivated to go to the theater first rather than renting it when it comes out on DVD. But the movie industry's ideal is that someone consumes a movie twice - first at the theater, then with the DVD. If publishers are hoping consumers are going to buy e-books after the hardcover they'd better get to work making e-books a whole lot more awesome.

We already have a model for the e-book delay that makes way more sense: paperbacks. We can debate the merits of that comparison until we're hoarse, but at least it makes sense as a model - the theory being that people who are excited about a title will be steered first toward the most expensive version of the product. Releases start with the highest price version and then move to the cheapest priced version.

But DVDs/e-books?

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Also: Rosebud. Just because.






121 comments:

subets said...

A shockingly familiar argument!

Nathan Bransford said...

subets-

Ah!! I knew I heard it somewhere recently, but couldn't remember where. Credit is yours and post will be amended accordingly.

Nathan Bransford said...

Though I don't totally agree that e-books aren't "things" - you get to keep them, even if they're digital.

dogboi said...

While I agree that the model makes sense when compared to the hardcover/paperback split, I think it is the wrong model to adopt. Those of us who read e-books do so for various reasons and for many of us, the main reason is impatience. I don't want to wait for that book to come in the mail, and I don't want to go to the store to pick it up. So what then, do I do, if the e-book is 4 months away?

If I am unethical, I pirate it. Make no mistake about it: delaying the e-book will only encourage people to pirate e-books. I'm not saying that I would pirate books (because I won't), but there are many people who will. Many will do so under the guise of principle: They believe content should be available in the form that consumers want it in. (While I agree with that principle, I don't agree that it is a legitimate reason to pirate content.)

So the publishers will lose sales to piracy. They will also lose sales to disinterest. Usually, 4 months after something is released, I'm not longer interested in it. There are newer things to be interested in. Those companies that are willing to publish e-books at the same time as the hardcover will get my business. The rest, not so much.

And really, we all know why the publishers want to do this: It is not about saving hardcover sales; it is entirely about taking control of content value, since Amazon and Walmart have the power to devalue content.

Anonymous said...

An eBook is a product that can be consumed now, rather than going out and picking up a book. An eBook is like an iPhone app. I can buy it on a whim. Buying a book in a bookstore is a completely different experience.

I'm still waiting for digital rentals. Why should I have to BUY an eBook? Why can't I just pay for a subscription and rent books? Think MS Zune music subscription service.

Digital purchases is so last year;)

Anonymous said...

I am a new follower to your blog and enjoying it so far. As for the topic, I can't believe this was even a subject matter. I completely agree with you but can't for the life of me see why is was even questioned. Thanks for the info!

Anonymous said...

The comparison is born of similarities to distribution models. Sometimes films are made before they are sold. Once they're made, they may make the film festival circuit in hopes of securing a dist. deal. Failing this, the next best thing is to strike a cable TV deal, and then (sometimes in the same deal), a DVD deal. Lowest rung I guess would be straight-to-DVD.

So with books, where the creators of the product are sometimes (oftentimes--almost all of the time?) not able to secure national distribution deals with major publishers after creating the product, the eBook offers a 2nd (or 3rd?) tier of distribution. In a parallel channel, however, those who have national hardcover deals ALSO have ebook distribution, in the same way all theater movies eventually go to DVD. But for some writers, eBook is the only shot at life. Hence the comparison (the similarity is not technological, but has to do with distribution opportunities).

I may have just typed a lot of meaningless driverl, I'm not sure.

jayinhouston said...

I'm curious why the publishing industry doesn't model its digital market like the music industry.

Why not give a few page snippet for free, similar to the 30 clip of the song and then allow the reader to buy sections or chapters of the book. 99 cents per chapter, or $2.99 for a quarter of the book.

Consumers consider 99 cents an insignificant sum, so they toss it around freely.

If the book is engaging, they'll gladly fork over the rest of the dough to read through the end.

If it sucks, you already got a few bucks out of them.

The consumer assumes a smaller risk of buying a crappy book and therfore takes more risks and makes more purchases. The publisher wins in either case. Big-time authors will be able to sell "full book only" while up-and-coming writers will have to make a name through quality.

The music industry is still going strong. The money is still there, it's just spread thinner. Maybe that's terrible for authors though.

Just a thought.

Heather said...

I don't understand this argument, either. But if publishers want to make that comparison, they can look at how easy it is to download a movie that is still in theaters straight to your computer. Do they want that to happen with their books, where it will be even easier to scan the hardcover and release it on Napster for novels (Novelster? Bookster? Napvel?), because pages are much smaller files than movies? I'm still hesitant about embracing the whole e-reader revolution (though I did put a Kindle on my Amazon wish list), but I know that the smart thing to do is keep up with the times.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@12:05-

I think that comparison makes sense for first publication/first movie release for indies (both books and movies), but usually the comparison is between blockbuster books and blockbuster movies as an explanation for the window between hardcover/ebook and theater/DVD release.

subets said...

Nathan - Heh, thanks. I'm just glad someone else thinks along those lines. :)

I'm not sure ebooks register as "things" in a consumer mind, because reading an entire book electronically is so common and easy to do legally, for free: anything on Project Gutenberg, or ezines, or blogs, or John-Dies-at-the-End-style novel releases. Readers make no claim to it, they just enjoy it. The music industry is still fighting the same uphill battle to make consumers see songs as "things" that should be paid for, although you can snatch them out of the air via radio for free.

Bane of Anubis said...

It is a specious comparison, but I think it's one the publishing industry would like to foster.

Thermocline said...

3D TVs are already on sale. How many years before we start seeing e-readers that display 3D images?

The collapse of the pop-up book industry is looming and no one seems to care.

Anonymous said...

@jayinhouston:

You can download samples to the Kindle.

jayinhouston said...

And Amazon and everyone else is trying to carve out a slice of the market before Apple tosses its hat in the ring and takes over. That's why they're eating losses and trying to muscle the publisher now.

If the rumors are true of a 70/30 revenue split favoring publishers, Amazon and everyone else will have to follow suit or the publishers will distribute exclusively through Apple. Then, with that type of a split and with the dominant consumer electronic manufacturer onboard, publisher will have no choice but to embrace ebooks. And they'll be as profitable as hardcovers by then.

It's awesome to watch capitalism work. Competition in the marketplace is a true spectacle to behold. It's a damn shame there are many out there who fight it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:05 here.

OK, I see, Nathan. I'd say that there's a much smaller 'experience gap' between harcover books and eBooks than there is between theatrical releases and DVD flicks. Reading is reading, after all--the brain is either picking up the words or it's not, whereas seeing a movie on a bigger screen with better sound literallyl changes the perception of the work. I suppose the tactile experience of a harcover, along with the physical permanence of it lends it a slight edge over ebooks, but not all that much.

To me the big issue--and the real reason publishers want a delay between physical publication and ebook release--is the piracy threat.

Also, someone mentioned free chapters in e-form, but Amazn's Sneak a Peak or whatever they call it is widely used, and major authors usually have sample chapters in pdf format on their websites.

jayinhouston said...

Last point. There are many bands who can write a great song. There are only a few who can produce a great album.

iTunes has let the majority at least make a little something off writing a great song.

The same is true of books in many cases. There are several people who can keep the masses interested for 25 pages, but only a few who can keep them interested for 250 pages.

Wouldn't a piecemeal purchasing option subsidize author earnings?

Wouldn't it allow the consumers to determine talent?

Maybe not. I doubt it happens. It makes too much sense in too many ways.

Chris Bates said...

Some men you just can't reach.

Also: I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.


As for the ebooks: same day release. Give the ebook customer what they want... which, I assume, is an ebook. Crazy way to run a business, I know.

Matilda McCloud said...

Jay--

I would love to be able pay a few dollars to read 25 pages because I put down or can't get through over half of the books I buy or take out of the library. Sometimes after I read the first page, I put it down when I find out it's written in the present tense for the whole book (ick).

atsiko said...

I guess I'll never be able to relate to some of these arguments. I buy a book and I read the damn thing. If I want a sample, I do that in the bookstore, but buying most of my books off recs, I don''t have this apparent issue with buying a book I'll never read.



Nathan, I completely agree that e-books are nothing like dvds. I think the paperback comparsion, in terms of market and distribution, is much more applicable. I never buy hardbacks, ever. I always get MMPB. It's a pain in the butt. In my selfishness, I don't see why e-book readers should get their product before I do. So, hey, you want e-books out the same time as hardbacks? Get the MMPB crowd on your side as well. The HB part of the market is nothing in comparison to us two put together.

Rick Daley said...

Agreed. Carpe Diem.

If we're clear on the movie / DVD sequence, after we settle the hardcover / ebook sequence can we tackle that whole chicken and egg thing? It's been driving me nuts.

Laurel said...

I love Apple.

Whitney said...

So, my new and used bookstore has a chance?

Anna said...

I'm sorry, but books are just so much simpler than all of this. Want to read? Open book, turn on light, done. Short of sitting in darkness and being illiterate (and, perhaps, sitting too close to an open flame), it is foolproof.

Speaking for myself, I'm growing tired of the ongoing debate regarding e-book's merits. Either you're on the bandwagon, considering joining the bandwagon in the future, or sticking with your paper-bound books. Can we all move on, please?

Chris Bates said...

@ dogboi: "So the publishers will lose sales to piracy."

Yep. Just like the film and music industry.

Unfortunately that is the current lay of the land. And it will remain that way forever after. The smart publishers will attempt to factor that into the P&L. Maybe they need to work on additional revenue models as book tie-ins?

Authors are also going to have to step up to the plate and get involved in book marketing and 'self-selling' to survive. Yes, the dreaded platform theory.

Nathan is a fine example. He has a book deal. He has this nice blog here, plus a couple of thousand eyeballs. Now he's over at Huff Post - a few more eyeballs. Is his Jacob book going to be pirated? You betcha. If any author's work is worthy of attention then it will be pirated.

Delaying ebook release is not going to alter that. Nor will it save that hardcover revenue stream in five years time. In fact it's essentially a below the line cost that publishers probably will never recover.

The successful new author won't be a shy retiring, bookish individual who leaves everything up to the publisher. The big authors will be media friendly and their ebooks will be just a slice of their income.

After all, not ever actor/artist/musician is rich and famous.

Nathan Bransford said...

Anna-

I mean...... calculus is simple, you just do the calculations and you're done. Navigating a maze is simple, you just make some turns and you're done. Everything's simple if you ignore the details.

Chris Bates said...

BTW James McQuivey has a great post here about book pricing:

http://blogs.forrester.com/consumer_product_strategy/2009/12/whats-a-book-really-worth.html

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't mind something like a one week delay; I can see people who would otherwise have bought the hardback being too impatient to go out to the store and acquire it (or wait for their copy to show up in the mail), esp. for bestsellers who have such a fanatic following that they can support midnight release parties.

Four months? That seems like an awfully long delay. All the hype of the original publication will be over by then, and people will have forgotten about it. Or pirated their own copy by then.

Brandon said...

Excellent points by both Nathan and commenters. I have yet to own a Kindle/eReader/what-have-you, so I don’t have a strong opinion on either side of the outrage over the announced, deliberate delay of e-Books after hardcover releases. However, this comparison between the publishing world and movie industry is terribly flawed.
Oh, and I love the image at the beginning, Nathan. An MS Painter after my own heart. :)

Anonymous said...

Could it be that people are comparing e-books to DVDs because of their movie habits? In other words, I know people who will not go to the theater to see a film release. They'd rather wait for the DVD release. Some have home theaters and prefer DVDs. And people with kids usually pass on theaters because of the expense. Personally, I can't stand sitting next to other people for that long.

Maybe people are thinking of e-books this way. They'd rather pass on the hard cover edition and wait for the cheaper e-book release.

I agree with your post. But this might be why so many people equate e-books with DVDs. E-books haven't fully reached the point of being equated with hard cover print books in the mainstream.

I write for several e-publishers. And my books are out in digital format before they are released as print books. But the mainstream isn't getting it. And traditional publishing keeps floundering and waiting to make a decision.

It won't last for long, though. I've seen a lot of them start to copy e-publishing models in the past six months. They don't have a choice.

The other day I asked an editor about royalties on e-books sales for a print book I was in that had been released as an e-book. The editor, I swear on this, didn't even know that his own book had been released in digital format. He thought I was joking until I provided him with amazon links.

Scott said...

How about this analogy . . .

OnDemand/DVD = Hardback/EBook

First you have the theater release, then the OnDemand (on Comcast cable) release, and then the DVD (sometimes there's only a few days between the release dates). With some Hardbacks, you have the release date, and then a few days later the EBook. DVD is more expensive than OnDemand, btw, so OnDemand would be equatable to the EBook!

Personally, I like OnDemand better, because unless it's an extremely excellent movie, or one I totally enjoy seeing over and over again (LOTR, Mamma Mia, The Women - 1939 version), I'd rather by the cheaper amount, watch the movie once, and not have something else I have to dust on a weekly basis . . . which is the good thing about Ebooks - I don't have to dust them.

S

Kate said...

I can see it as being similar to watching a movie in the theater and renting the dvd. I've never bought a dvd in my life, but I watch far more movies on video than I watch in the theater.

When going to a movie in the theater, it's paying for the experience. Seeing the action on the big screen not on a small tv screen. But forking out $9 for movie tickets is a lot more than $3 to rent the video. I tend to buy about as many hard back books as I watch movies in the theaters. In most cases, I'm willing to wait until something comes out in paperback before forking over the cash.

I do own a kindle and read more e-books than paper books. I actually find e-books easier to read, but still don't value the product as much. My e-books are tied to my reader, and five years from now when I end up buying some new reader from some other manufacturer, I'll likely loose all the e-books living on my kindle. So if I really want to have and to hold a book, I'll still buy it in hard back. The same way some movies need to be seen in the theater.

Having three release dates, the hard cover, then the e-book, then the paper back makes a lot of sense to me. For big name books by big name authors, there will be people willing to pay extra for the hard back just to get the story six months earlier. Also letting word of mouth do it's job for six months before launching an e-book add campaign might help paper book sales too.

Anonymous said...

Calculus was always mind-bendlingly difficult for me. Integral calc, that is. Differential calc is pretty simple. But when you get into the integrals and esp. triple integrals, my mind gets all mushy.

But that's what got us to the moon.

Bane of Anubis said...

Not my mazes.

Annalee said...

Personally, I think it would be awesome if ebooks were like DVDs. Like, if they were loaded with extra features like a bundled audio edition (synced up to the text, so that readers could listen to the whole thing, or just highlight that one proper noun they're not sure about), clips from author readings, extra illustrations or minigames (for children's books), maybe a few ink-covered rough draft pages, some commentary, and that awesome scene or two that ended up getting cut but are worth sticking on the dee-book.

Not that half of those are the slightest bit realistic or practical, but man, I'd plunk down full hardcover price if my favorite authors were putting out ebooks that had dvd-esque features to them.

Selorian said...

The DVD comparison doesn't make sense to me either. Neither in a distribution nor pricing sense. To me it seems like grasping at straws to legitimize a bad decision.

I have a post with some discussion on bundling, pricing, and the release of ebooks at http://cliffordfryman.com/blog/publishing/e-book-strategies-for-traditional-publishers/ . Some of the ideas may be of interest to you.

Munk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan –

Amen! I agree with you. There are soooooo many books available right now, people I know who own a Kindle just read older books until they can buy newer books for their Kindle. They don’t buy hard cover or paperback versions anymore; they just wait for the Kindle version. They do, however, go to the movie theater AND buy DVDs because they're paying for the theater experience plus an entirely different experience at home.

Someone posted a link on your blog yesterday to an article about Stephen R. Covey’s new deal with Amazon. Here’s a link to another article about the deal. The best-selling author will use RosettaBooks, an eBook publisher, to take a new series of his books directly to Kindle, rather than waiting for his traditional publisher, Simon & Schuster, to first publish hard cover and paperback versions. RosettaBooks, in turn, will give Stephen R. Covey 50% of their profit on his eBooks, explaining that "There are superstars, and superstars are entitled to more." This is an amazing time for small press eBook publishers! Recently, my own publisher – who has, for years, published non-mainstream books for authors published by the big publishing houses – publicly announced eBook publishing services for traditionally published authors. I would think that literary agents are in an awesome position right now, as they could negotiate hard cover and paperback deals with the big publishing houses while negotiating much faster eBook deals with eBook publishers for their clients.

ali said...

Love your new look Nathan :)

I don't get the comparison either. For one thing, If I love a book (i.e. movie) I don't want to get an e-book, audio or paperback version of the same book (i.e. DVD.) What I want is the hardcover. See, bad, bad reader than I am, I usually either get my first book in paperback or at the library. If I love it, THEN I'll buy it AGAIN but this time in hardcover. I'd buy a book as an e-book first too, but then buy the hardcover.

So, I think it's all apples & oranges. Not just he said/she said.

Marilyn Peake said...

"Also: Rosebud. Just because."--???? Rosebud could actually be a link between the CITIZEN KANE movie (now available on DVD) and the publishing industry, as the movie’s about the American newspaper maganate, William Randolph Hearst who whispers "Rosebud" as he's dying. Just sayin’.

Marilyn Peake said...

Ooooops, typo – I meant "magnate", not "maganate".

Alyssa said...

I admit, I'm kind of surprised that this is a debate but maybe that's because I read too many books that *never* see a hardback release at all. ;) Makes a girl wonder how that sort of thing factors into this equation.

I've been an advocate of the solution that somehow allows publishers to force the Amazons of the world to simply price the e-book release competitively with the hardback release until such time as they would have released a lower-priced e-book. Seems like a great middle ground.

I know just about every kind of reader their is: The kind who can't wait and will buy whatever version comes out firs (me), the type who buys their preferred format no matter what, and the kind who has to shop on price because otherwise they'd only be able to buy a couple of books a year. This solution seems like it would satisfy everyone, and frankly, put some extra money in everyone's pockets since there are plenty of e-books I'd pay the hardback price for simply for the pleasure of getting the book as fast as possible. I don't buy hardbacks because I like them (though I am anal about my collection and want all my books in a series to be the same format. One of the appeals of the e-book for me is that anal retentiveness will go away with no physical objects to focus on) but because they're first. I recognize that I pay a premium for that and I would continue to pay that premium for another format.

For the record though, I am *also* one of those folks who wouldn't have immediately dismissed the connection between DVDs and e-books since a) I never go to the theater anymore since home theaters offer just as good an experience and I don't have to deal with all those *people*.. and b) I absolutely own more than 1 copy of books I love, I have the paper copy AND the e-book/audio version just because my preferred format doesn't always jive with the release schedule. However I know I'm quite the rare buyer.

Lynn said...

Oh my freaking god. Can we take a break from flogging the subject of e-books for a week? Just one week. I'm beginning to think our beloved blogger is getting a kickback. Hmmm.

Munk said...

Media... media... media... forget media for a moment and focus on content.
I am not one to gather DVDs, but I watch them.
I also don't collect books, but I read them...

Frankly, I wouldn't mind if all books were paperbacks, because they are easy to carry and then toss in the share-bin after reading. It's the content that stays with me... I carry around Captain Queeg and Augustus McCrae everywhere I go. I also couldn't care less whether I see the content three seconds or three decades after it is published. The best content will survive media... and what's cool about it, is that words translate well to digital sources. It is not "lossy" as my engineering wonk's like to say. Face it, what you all are really talking about is money... which like gravity and friction, always seems to find a way to ****things up.

By God, Woodrow; it's been one hell of a party.

Mira said...

Yes, I like the reverse argument.

That people will buy e-books first, but if they really, really like the book, they might buy a collector's edition in hardback.

I think someone in the other thread also mentioned adding extras to the hardback - pictures, a prologue, etc., that would make the hardback more attractive following the e-book as well.

I think there's a possiblity that hardcover books could become an art form, actually.

Nathan Bransford said...

Lynn and others-

Please understand that different people come to this blog for different reasons. I know some people come for how to find an agent, some come to hear about books, some come for the monkeys and some come for industry news.

E-books are absolutely dominating industry news right now. This is the news in publishing right now, like it or not, and it's a truly existential challenge for the industry. It is extremely, extremely important to everyone who is hoping to make money off of their writing.

I am still trying to maintain a balance so there's a little something for everyone, but it would be really great if people who don't like e-books could refrain from posting rude comments about how they're sick of hearing about e-books - if you don't hear about them from me you're going to hear about them from someone else. I'm just trying to keep people informed and contribute to a very important ongoing industry discussion.

Nathan Bransford said...

And for the millionth time, just because I like e-books doesn't mean I'm getting paid to flog them. I mean, really....

Allison said...

Just wanted to say I really enjoy reading your entries Nathan.

On topic, I think the publishers will ultimately end up losing money. I'm the type of reader, as are many of my friends, who suddenly finds myself lacking a book at time when it's inconvenient to acquire another one. Not enough time to go to the store, the library is closed or one of my kids is unexpectedly home sick and I'm stuck. The ability to go online and grab a book on a whim when I'm craving one loosens my purse strings and I spend money.

However, if there's a book I want to read and I can't get it right then and there then I'm tightening those purse strings. I'd have to wait for it anyway so I'll add it to my list at the library and pick it up the next time I'm there.

Anything someone can buy online and have instantly is more appealing than a product you buy and have to wait for. This is a country of people searching for instant gratification and when people are forced to wait they often redirect their attention to something else.

It's Lynn again said...

May I be so bold as to recommend eggnog, Paxil and call it a day?

Nathan Bransford said...

lynn-

Feel free, drink/pill it up no one is judging.

Rebecca Knight said...

"Not that half of those are the slightest bit realistic or practical, but man, I'd plunk down full hardcover price if my favorite authors were putting out ebooks that had dvd-esque features to them."

You and me both, Annalee! :D That would be awesome to have video author interviews and stuff "bundled" into the e-books at a higher price point.

Also, thank you for this, Nathan. That comparison to DVDs was making me batty as well. Seriously.

Arabella said...

Cripey, just leave it be and let me read in whatever form it's available! No, I'm not really telling you to shut up; I'm just not sure what the big fuss is. And I agree. An e-book is nothing like a DVD, unless it has the "read the text for me" option, and then, I suppose, it would be more like the theater experience.

Arabella said...

p.s. where are the monkeys? I want monkeys.

Munk said...

Heat. I feel some heat coming off the Lynn-Nathan mash-up... A novel in the making.
Myself, I am likely one of the "others" Nathan mentioned... but I don't hate e-books, in fact I like e-anythings. So, I am not quite sure... this conundrum may be fodder for a short story... stretching it into a novel would be ridiculous.

For the record... Assuming I'm fed and watered, I would take a million readers over a million dollars in a heartbeat.

Dara said...

Nathan, I enjoy reading your posts on eBooks. I can honestly say that what I currently know about them, I've learned from your posts. So, thanks :)

Perhaps this has been answered before, but do you think that someday Kindle books will be able to be downloaded on other eReaders? I love Amazon, as I think they have the best selection of books, but if I get an eReader, I'm really interested in the Nook, as it has the features I'm looking for--except the fact I can't get books off Amazon. B&N has a great selection but it I still think Amazon beats them in that regard.

I think that's one of the main issues (besides price) I have with all the different eReaders out there--it doesn't seem like they're cross-compatible yet. I could be wrong, but I think there would be many more people considering the transition over to eBooks if it was universal. I don't know if that will happen any time soon, but I'd definitely jump on the eBook bandwagon if it did!

Annalee and Rebecca, I'm with you on the eBook special features too! If eBooks had all sorts of features like DVDs, I'd go out and get an eReader right now.

Nathan Bransford said...

dara-

If I had to guess I'd bet there will be a range of products from the tightly controlled (Kindle) to the mostly open (like the Sony Reader and nook). Just knowing Amazon, I'm guessing they'll always retain more control than most and would probably be the last to go DRM free, but I think consumers already have lots of options to choose from.

Anonymous said...

I, too, came for the monkeys. Alas, the entire area seems to be devoic of macaques, chims, bonobos, spiders, orangs, apes, and baboons. Wait, I just re-read some of the posts. There are baboons in here!

And also, now that I think abot it, maybe all you writers are the monkeys who, given enough time alone with typewriters, will produce Shakespeare.

D. G. Hudson said...

You make some very good points, Nathan, and I agree with what you're saying. Are these changes that are happening to the publishing world similar to the thrashing and squirming that occurs when the butterfly evolves out of its cocoon? We may have to suffer these knee-jerk reactions for the new model to finally emerge. But at least change is taking place. I just hope all new writers aren't squeezed out by the desire of the publishing industry to cling to what they consider their 'bread and butter'. That could have consequences since now there are other options for writers. I'm hoping rational thought will prevail.

BTW- loved the last two lines of your post. Paul Newman saying those words and Orson Wells with his memorable line. Great ending.

Walter Agony said...

All this arguing over hardcovers and e-books and paperback and DVD's skirts around what I think is becoming increasingly obvious, which is that there's too much emphasis in general on hardcover books.

It makes sense to sell your most expensive product first, assuming you have a lot of pent up demand -- meaning you're a well known author whose fans will want to have the latest thing as soon as possible. For midlist authors and those just starting out, I personally think the first printing should be trade paperback. Paying $25 bucks for a book that isn't "special" in some way just doesn't make sense anymore. Your best chance of having a hit means slanting the business model toward volume, not margins. I'd rather sell a lot of cheaper books than a small number of higher margin books.

A lot of this talk about delaying e-books, etc is really just mean to protect a format -- and especially a price point -- that is becoming increasingly anachronistic in my view.

I love hardcovers and I understand the dynamics of consumer surplus as much of the next bean counter, but when an author's career prospects are so closely tied to hardcover sales. It makes more sense to launch lesser known authors on trade paperback and reserve the venerable hardcover for special collectors editions and the like.

When e-book prices are being compared to trade paperbacks instead of hardcovers, it becomes much more of a wash and more attractive to push for e-book distribution because you won't have the cash flow risk posed by potential bookstore returns -- not to mention there are no incremental production costs.

The publishing industry should stop trying to protect the hardcover price point and focus more on getting volume up any way they can get it: trade, mass market and e-books.

JDuncan said...

I honestly don't have much issue with the few months delay on ebooks for certain hardcovers. People have to be careful how they argue this thing because, really, publishers are talking about doing this with a fairly small percentage of their releases. Namely those books they are expecting decent sales from they want to maximize the profit. Folks may worry about the whole slippery slope thing, but publishers aren't dumb. They know how things work. For smaller titles that will require more buzz to build, the ebooks will remain available.

I don't buy the whole lost sales if the ebook doesn't come out at the same time arguement. People want convenience and are impatient. Sale is a sale, right? Not when the margin on hardcovers is so much higher. If folks are that desperate they will buy the hardcover. If they don't, why is it any different than those who always wait for paperbacks to come out? Most of it I think is just folks wanting to get that new release for cheap. If one is inclined to read ebooks (I've yet to be able to afford one), who wouldn't want to be able to get hardcover releases for ten bucks? Why does investing in an ereader entitle you to new releases for less than those who don't? Yes, they're different formats, but you're getting a lot more off than the cost of printing the book.

Are ereader folks going to refuse to buy the digital version four months after the hardcover? Seems a bit spiteful to me. People forego the hardcover for the paperback all the time, have for years, and waiting hasn't been an issue. You want it cheap, you get to wait, and for the most part, readers have been fine with that for years. Why is this now different? Just because digital can be released at the same time doesn't mean it should, at least for some titles. For some, it makes sense, at least from the pubs standpoint. These big titles are the bread and butter of an industry with very low profit margins. They can't just drop that overnight in favor of conveniencing readers with cheaper formats. Perhaps when the market changes and enough digital copies will sell to counteract the lower price point and offset lower hardcover sales. We'll probably get there eventually but now isn't the time, no matter what Amazon might think.

Munk said...

- D.G. Hudson -
I don't believe rational thought has a play here. Techno trends are driven by human nature and money. The publishing industry will be slow to adapt, but just like the music industry and it's past nemesis (nemesi?) Napster and others... the publishing industry will eventually converge toward a new normal. AKA storm and norm. Note... nice icon pic. Munk

--Deb said...

One other argument for having the ebook available WITH the hardcover? I have a limited budget for my library enhancement, but lots (and lots) of books I'd like to buy. I can get two-and-a-half ebooks for the price of a hardcover, so my upfront value is greater.

But. Then, since I'm an avid re-reader, if I truly loved the book, I'm going to buy the paperback when it comes out a year later.

The cost of the ebook plus the cost of the paperback is roughly the same as the hardcover would have been in the first place, only by then, I'm buying something I KNOW I like, and will be more likely to buy the book. (Just like I'm more likely to buy the DVD of a movie I've seen and enjoyed in the theater, than one I haven't seen at all.)

To my mind, this makes it much more profitable for the publisher--if I can buy the ebook when that first itch for a new book comes up, I will--rather than seeing the hardcover in the store and saying, "Sounds great, but I'll have to wait until it comes out in paperback" ... and then forgetting about it when it finally does come out. But, if I've read it once, electronically, I'm going to be a lot more likely to remember how much I want it when it comes out in the more affordable paperback.

Steve said...

I think the parallel is accurate and reasonably precise. It needs to be adjusted for the different consumption model between movies and books.

Books are sold as products. Movies are sold as experience. This distinction is confused by the fact that it is possible to buy a DVD as a product, but this is relatively rare. The vast majority of DVD consumption occues via rental. And the price of a new release DVD rental is rarely over $3.50, whereas the price of a movie ticket is rarely under $6.00. If you want to consume the movie socially as a group event, the price difference is even more marked. 2-4 people can consume a DVD showing for one rental fee, whereras they must pay for individual theater tickets.

As in the book versus ebook model, there is a tradeoff between price and convenience on the one hand and quality of experience on the other. The ebook is cheaper to purchase and more convenient to access, but delivers a lower quality reading experience than the paper product.

I don't really care who releases e-books when, since I don't read them. But the parallel between the two sets of media appears to be well founded.

-Steve

Allison said...

JDuncan, isn't the solution then to simply price the new release ebooks at a higher price point? People are accustomed to paying more to have something as soon as it comes out, particularly people who buy electronics. Release the ebook and the hardback at the same time with the ebook priced to generate the same revenue as the hardback. It would still be less expensive since the materials, printing and distribution are no longer an issue, but the publisher still makes the same amount of money. Everyone wins.

Like I said before, catering to the instant gratification demands of the public will earn them more money in the end.

Nathan Bransford said...

allison-

Well, one irony is that right now publishers are receiving the same amount for ebooks and hardcovers already. Publishers are taking a stand on the window for reasons other than strictly immediate revenue.

Doralynn Kennedy said...

E-books and DVDs -- that might be the 21st Century's 'apples and oranges.' Those are fruits. E-books and DVDs are entertaining. As was this post.

D. G. Hudson said...

In response to Munk - I have to agree with your comment about money being a major deciding factor in how these changes take place. But having worked in the corporate world for many years, I know that marketing plays a huge role in many decisions, and marketing plays to the trends. You make some good points in your comments.

I still prefer to think that this is all a phase - it keeps up our interest in the industry as we all sit on the sidelines and watch. There has to be more level heads like Nathan in the industry.

Allison said...

Nathan, the irony you point out just refutes JDuncan's claim that publishers aren't dumb. It seems to me that they're short-sighted and panic-stricken to the point of making illogical decisions to maintain an illusion of the control they once wielded.

Nathan Bransford said...

Allison-

I wouldn't say dumb. I think what is happening is that publishers are nervous that while Amazon will take a loss on ebooks now they won't in the future, so better to take a stand now rather than strengthening Amazons hand. I'm not sure I agree with the philosophy, but they're not arriving there out of stupidity. They're worried that the publishing model that JDuncan outlines will disappear, threatening their business.

J said...

Nathan, do these changes excite you more as an agent or as an author? (Clearly as a reader, you're pumped) And the flip side, too--in which hat do you feel more anxiety, if any?

Daisy Whitney said...

Hi Nathan:

Great insight as always. My worry though is history has taught us when media companies try to exert too much control over how consumers get content, consumers push back. I am all for windowing strategies and it's worked well in TV and film, but I think the risk lies in taking away a window that some consumers (like you, I am also a Kindle fan) have become accustomed to. I'm am author as well, so I am curious how this will all play out and my hope is it plays out in a way that incentivizes readers to buy-rent-borrow more books!

Best,

Daisy Whitney

Susan Quinn said...

I'm also here for the monkeys.

But please keep informing us about e-books, and everything publishing, as you do so well.

I'd like to say I never buy hardcovers, but I bought one today . . . as a gift . . . for my Mom who's getting an e-reader, but I can't gift her the title I wanted. I can get her a gift-card, but it's not the same.

This shouldn't be this difficult, and if it wasn't Christmas, they would have lost my sale.

It's really just bad business to make it difficult for your customers to buy your products.

Anonymous said...

Why are movie theatre tickets cheaper than DVDs? Excuse me, what is the cost if you go to the theatre with a date, or a friend, as the overwhelming majority of people do? It is higher than the DVD price, which is also designed for mutliple simultaneous viewing. (This excludes the cost of the ridiculously high mark-up popcorn, soft drinks, etc.--the theatre owners' chief source of profit.) Cheaper than DVDs? Are you kidding? Furthermore, stop fixating on the physical costs of manufacture and distribution and look at the TOTAL costs of product creation, as every media executive must do. The reason the movie business is so hits-driven is the infinite profit margin associated with the all the ticket sales beyond the point that the blockbuster has recouped its total cost. This also accounts for the wild volatility in studio profits, based on their seasonal hits. If you are going to take on the economics of media businesses, books or movies, take on the totality of their cycle costs, all the way through the supply chain, and not just a fraction. Book publishers are likewise concerned with segmenting their markets in order to improve their odds of recouping total costs and generating an acceptable return on investment. The profit margins on hardcover book sales are higher than e-books, paperbacks, etc., just as theatre gross sales have higher margins than DVDs. Think of the progression along the format sequence in terms of profit margin, and not just price, and you may gain some clarity on the issue.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Definitely agree! The whole point of going to a theater is for the experience. Alright, alright, I suppose the only real comparable point between theater-going and hardcover (at the moment) is that you get access to the story sooner. But you can take a hardcover home and reread it. You can't go to a theater, explain that you've already paid to see the movie once, and expect them to let you in to see it again for free.

I've heard others try to modify the argument to something like VHS/DVD or DVD/Blu-ray. If you liked a movie a lot on VHS, chances are you might have bought it again when DVD became the standard. But that's not quite perfect either: if DVD (or now, Blu-ray) technology were around the corner and you knew you'd be interested, I doubt you'd buy the older format to tide you over until the format you want is really released. At best, you might go rent it. (Like going to a library maybe, in this weird analogy?)

Long story short: I agree with you. Theater/DVD is not the same as hardcover/ebook.

Nathan Bransford said...

J-

I'm really only excited about them as a reader. As an agent and author, all this change definitely makes me nervous and I wonder what the future is going to look like. But change and new technology is impossible to resist, and the only thing you can do is continue to adapt and hopefully innovate.

Lydia Sharp said...

While we're on the subject of DVDs/movies, can I point out that, even though piracy is prevalent and will forever be a threat to all things digital, filmmakers are still making millions at the box office, actors are not on the streets begging for handouts (not all of them, anyway), and there are still film festivals and awards ceremonies being held annually (and the same goes for the music industry, sort of). In other words, chill. The E-pocalypse, as Eric refers to it, is not going to cripple us. Just change us.

Personally, I buy used DVDs at exchange stores for a fraction of the price, but someone had to buy it new at some point, even if it was on sale when they did. And I still spend money at theaters if I feel the movie is worth it. (AVATAR? SO WORTH IT EVEN IF I HAVE TO STARVE THAT WEEK. JUST SAYING)

And I will continue to buy hardcover books for as long as they are available. Between hardcover, paperback, and e-books, it's not a matter of one being better than the others (for me, that is), it's simply a matter of personal taste. I like hardcovers. They can take a beating. Or give one. Whichever.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
"I think what is happening is that publishers are nervous that while Amazon will take a loss on ebooks now they won't in the future, so better to take a stand now rather than strengthening Amazons hand."

That’s my impression of what’s happening as well. I think Amazon’s hand is definitely being strengthened, especially now that publishers like RosettaBooks are helping best-selling authors publish their eBooks directly to Kindle and allowing those best-selling authors to take in 50% of the profit, rather than their usual 25%. Now that Stephen R. Covey, author of THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE and PRINCIPLE-CENTERED LEADERSHIP, has moved his eBook rights from Simon & Schuster over to an eBook publisher who struck such a deal with Amazon for publication of the author’s books on Kindle, I’m guessing other best-selling authors will do the same thing. I’m not the least bit surprised this has happened, by the way. I’ve thought for a long time – ever since Amazon started selling and then publishing POD books, and definitely when they came out with the Kindle – that Amazon's trying to compete directly with publishers. The Kindle allows Amazon to do this much more easily than with POD.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@4:36-

Again, the profit margins on e-books per copy are not currently different than hardcovers for new releases. In fact, when you consider that you have to incur printing and shipping and returns with the hardcovers, e-books are more profitable. If they were abiding by your argument that you start with the most profitable, publishers would start with e-books, if you want some clarity on the issue.

Munk said...

Spot on D.G., I agree. I see your 'phase' and raise you a 'recurring debate'.

I appreciate your philosophic rather than misanthropic view.

Munk

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you're saying but one thing:
I do think of theater as being more expensive than a DVD. I usually don't go to the theater by myself so it s $10xnumber of people going.
Buying a DVD is usually under $20 (on sale).
Renting a DVD is $4 -- by far the most economical option when you have multiple people viewing!

This has nothing to do with the comparison to e-books really, I'm just sayin'...

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Yes, assuming you don't buy snacks, buying DVDs is cheaper than taking the families to the movies, about breakeven for couples (slight edge to theater), and theater wins for singles.

Anonymous said...

I come to hear about books, I come for the monkeys and I do come for industry news.

And there have been nothing but posts about e-books everywhere these days. They range from review sites to personal blogs.

The big thing now seems to be how the bigger guys are trying to muscle in on the little ones, including the authors. Evidently, traditional print publishers are beginning to take interest in e-book sales. And it looks things are going to get messy before they even out, because the people who have been paving the way for e-books are going to put up a fight.

Lynn said...

Snarking aside, it's the handwringing that gets to me. Like watching a soap opera played out every time I turn on my computer. Yes, the publishing industry should be afraid when Amazon tries to compete with them. Amazon has been successful in almost everything they do, so quaking in the boots is a natural response. But I can't help but think that all of this will be better for consumers; they will consume more books in an array of formats, and in my book that makes writers winners as well.

Maybe it's because I'm an unpublished writer with no agent and no publisher, so I'm looking in from the outside and trying to find out how it will affect ME when I'm a big fat published author. Until then, it's like trying to get worked up over something that hasn't yet truly touched my life. I felt this way about the Writers' Guild strike a few years ago. For them, it was a big deal. For me, meh.

Wendy said...

What is this going to do to libraries? I only buy a select few books that I love. The rest of the time, I check things out of the library. Will I be able to read for free in the future? (Well, free after my taxes bought the books for the library.) Or does this digital transition mean the death of libraries?

Marilyn Peake said...

Anon @ 5:53 PM said:
"And it looks things are going to get messy before they even out, because the people who have been paving the way for e-books are going to put up a fight."

Actually, the people who worked long and hard for years on end to pave the way for eBooks aren’t even mentioned in any of the ongoing discussions and are not key players. It’s Amazon vs. the big publishers. As usual, the small companies will probably be bought or put out of business when all is said and done. For example, Fictionwise – one of the early pioneers in eBookstores – has already been bought by Barnes and Noble.

Chris Bates said...

@anon 5:33 - "...the bigger guys are trying to muscle in on the little ones"

I would be very surprised if those 'little guys' like Fictionwise didn't start out their businesses with an exit strategy. In fact, B&N could have been identified as FW's preferred match right from the get-go.

Maybe authors and agents will have to think this way in the future too. Identify a target retailer, tailor your complete sales package and hope for some form of exclusive sales deal.

Who knows? I'm sure we'll see some interesting experiments in the next few years. Exciting times for publishing ... the upside being that plenty of opportunities will open up for new authors and publishers alike.

It ain't all doom and gloom.

shorty411 said...

I agree that e-books and dvd's have nothing in common. In my mind hardcovers or similar to blurays more than anything else. Using your argument, you're not going to watch a blu-ray and then go out and buy either the cheaper dvd or cheaper digital copy of a movie.

Which is why I still believe, not only should ebooks come out at the same time, but they should be included with the hardcovers, much like digital copies of movies are being included with blurays or dvd's.

shorty411 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

Nathan 3:17 - okay that was pretty darn funny.

Um, I didn't even know there were monkeys here. I thought about that for awhile, and then a terrible thought hit me. Maybe I don't know about the monkeys because.......I AM a monkey. I'm not one of the monkeys, am I? I don't want to be a monkey. I hope I'm not a monkey.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that if you stuck me in a room for a hundred years, I still wouldn't be able to write Shakespeare. So, that's comforting.

More seriously, in terms of the e-book topic, Nathan, I sort of teased you about this last Friday. I've been alittle worried since then that I was hurtful. The internet is so tricky. I sincerely hope that I wasn't....and I'm sorry if I was.

Because I'm on the outside of publishing, e-books don't affect me quite as much as those already in the industry. I'm interested, but not as much as I would be if it weren't hypothetical for me.

But when you mentioned wanting to participate in the internet debate, it really hit me. That's important. Your blog is how you participate. In fact, you're probably showing great restraint not talking about e-books in every post. Anyway, my point is, this is your blog, and I hope you'll
write about the important issues that interest you, that you want to have a voice in.

Okay. Going to go look for some monkeys now.

Mira said...

Not that you need my permission. Did it sound like I thought that? I don't. Of course.

I could fuss with that above post forever. I'm just going to stop now.

Donna Hole said...

I didn't like the movie theater-DVD argument either. I go to the movies for the experience of watching on the big screen, with all that noise.

I can't wait to see Avatar in the theaters and I'm thinking it might well be worth the trip to Big Ole Sac to hit the iMax theater. I get motion sick though, so I've been properly warned to take an air-sick bag.

You just can't get that experience in a book: hard cover, paperback, e-book, makes no difference to the experience of reading except how you hold the novel in your hand and how much space you need to store it.

.........dhole

mkcbunny said...

Nathan, I agree with you. I've been working in the movie/DVD business for my entire adult life, and I don't see a parallel relationship between movie/DVD and hardcover/e-book.

There's a much bigger difference between the experience of seeing a movie in the theater and watching at home than there is between a reading a print book and an e-book.

Many of the other things I would have said have already been covered. I'll be excited to see the Apple e-reader, but I love my Kindle and know that it'll be years before I can afford whatever Apple has cooking anyway.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I have my very own Rosebud. Heh!

I can't agree more. A closer comparison (Sorry if I'm repeating - I can't read all the comments) is CDs vs Itunes. And delaying Ebooks is like a label withholding Itunes. Someone said in another thread about forgetting about the product if they don't all come out at once. Definitely! To me it just makes way more work! And if they aren't making a healthier profit on ebooks than on paper books, then shame on the publishers, because it's definitely possible.

Kelly Bryson said...

Okay- ebooks are not DVDs. But can we get a subscription book service like Netflix? (Netboox? That's catchy!) I'm a library girl. I don't waste money on books that I'm not willing to give that shelf space to for years. I JUST bought Harry Potter, for instance, but I bought all of them. Merry Christmas to my 9 year old son!
And Nathan- I am so looking forward to "The Secret Year". That cover is so compelling. I notice it everytime I read your blog.

Laurie Lamb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna Hole said...

Thermocline: I care about the demise of the pop-up book *sniff*

........dhole

Maureen Hume said...

I like ebooks because my nearest bookstore is a few hundred kilometers away and that makes an ebook download extremely convienent. But I also love paperbacks because they're obviously so much more tactile and very portable.
My life's all about practicallties.
I don't get the comparison to movies and DVDs at all.
Maureen. www.thepizzagang.com

GhostFolk.com said...

Thank you, dogboi!

It is not about saving hardcover sales; it is entirely about taking control of content value, since Amazon and Walmart have the power to devalue content.

Here you're referring to the delay of new titles moving from hardcover to eBooks.

I'd say this is just the first step of Publishers taking control of the content they own (and helped create), wouldn't you?

Ellen B said...

Luckily I've never read a DVD/e-book comparison. Because I feel it makes no sense.

GhostFolk.com said...

Just a take: what if Publishers are NOT against eBooks?

What if Publishers were simply waiting to see how a new technology, still in its infancy, might play out before they could best find a fair and reasonable way (for all concerned) to participate?

As in Dog wags own tail.

What if Publishers welcome the new market, still being defined and developed, and are looking forward to the new readers eBooks might generate?

I think all of the above is true. I think Publishers like ALL readers and want to provide them with the best available content skilled editors and amazing authors can provide.

Publishers have to LOVE the time-limit amazon.com has established for eBooks. Are you kidding me? You only get the eBook for a year? Nobody knows if this marketing model will hold, but if it does: goody for the author!

Meanwhile, tell me a Publisher who doesn't like a movie deal. Tell me a publisher who doesn't like a TV series based on one of their author's works.

The eBook market still has to define itself. That's it. That's all. And it is not going to be up to Kindle. It's going to be up to you.

Dan said...

You're right that the hardcover to e-book situation is not analogous to the theater to DVD release gap.

I think hardcovers and e-books are more analogous to each other than to anything else. These are two different mechanisms for delivering the same content.

The hardcover format has some nominal advantages; you can lend or sell it. The e-book format has some advantages; delivery is instant and the book doesn't take up extra room in your apartment. But the functional differences between a physical book and an e-book don't really justify the price premium.

This issue is about the pricing of the content irrespective of the format. E-vendors say a new book should cost $10, and publishers find that untenable, even if the e-vendors are currently paying the wholesale price and selling e-books at a loss. Publishers anticipate that a growing public acceptance of $9.99 as the price of a book will force them to eventually lower prices for both e-books and physical books.

By delaying release of high-profile books in e-book format, publishers hope they can prop up the cost structure.

GhostFolk.com said...

Dan:

This issue is about the pricing of the content irrespective of the format.

No, not really irrespective of the format when you consider the survival of the brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Bookstores, as much as publishers, depend on the current price of popular hardcovers to survive. If all new HARDCOVER bestsellers were retailed priced $5 less than they are now every indipendent bookstore in America would go out of business overnight.

GhostFolk.com said...

What I meant to say, (and perhaps spell a few words correctly):

Bookstores are propped up by the current price structure for new hardcovers (especially bestsellers), too.

By delaying release of high-profile books in e-book format, publishers hope they can prop up the cost structure,

GhostFolk.com said...

Okay, here's the model:
Traditional existing print publishers do NOT compete with bookstores.

Publishers provide bookstores with steep discounts so bookstores can make enough money to stay open and sell the publisher's product.

Publishers will NOT sell a book to you at the same discount.

Not yet, anyway.

Amazon.com is bookstore. It does compete with other booksellers.

B&N, a chain brick-and-mortar among other things, issued it's own eReader to compete with amazon.com (Not to compete with publishers).

What's a publisher to do? Harlequin is one model (they have for decades particopated actively in direct retail sales to readers). They started their own eBook imprint line.

Were three of the big five publishers to do this, what happens to bookstores of, as Nathan's poll suggests, eBooks become a larger and larger share of the market?

What's a publisher to do?

Think it through. For now, publishers are doing exactly the right thing. Thank you, Random House for leading the way.

In two years, it could all change. Or in five years, the eBook market will establish its percentage of the book market (will it take over entirely? will it be 20% of retail sales? Who knows?).

Publishers will create new strategies to participate in the integration of the two markets for their product (content).

Major publishers have not, in my opinion, been slow to act. Now is the right time to protect their product (and perhaps a few thousand bookstores) in the eBook world.

Any sooner would have required publishers to have crystal balls. Balls, they got. But they're not crystal.

Just because you (for instance) were one of the 3% who bought eBooks two years ago does not mean publishers should have changed their entire business structure to suit you. Not yet.

Linguista said...

Rosebud, right back at ya!

I'm on the same page re: paperback argument.

Who's brilliant idea was it to bring DVD's into the mix?

Kelley said...

"But can we get a subscription book service like Netflix?"-Kelly Bryson

Already exists. :)

www.bookswim.com

Rent all you want for $9.95 a mo.

Timothy Fish said...

While hardbacks and e-books may not compare well to theaters and DVDs, the hardback is a physical product and the e-book is a service (sort of). The service that the e-book provides is that it can be made available for a longer period of time. When the hardback is no longer selling as well as it was, the publisher starts looking for a way to get it out of the warehouse and out of the catalog. But the e-book can be left out there for very little cost to the publisher (practically free). They can do the same with POD, but it appears that the publisher can make more money from each hardback sold than they can from e-books and POD. With that in mind, I see nothing wrong with a publisher wanting to sell the hardback first, then the paperback, and then the e-book and/or POD version of the book.

Kelly Bryson said...

Kelley- bookswim.com rents books? Cool. I will check that out. -Kelly

Anonymous said...

"...Then, six months or a year later, the DVD comes out..."

Nope, try five months or sometimes four. I saw Julie and Julia in September (it had been out for awhile) the DVD goes on sale next week.

Daniel Steeves said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Steeves said...

Or you can check out your local library too...free. They should have a nice selection of ebooks and books on tape that are downloadable.

("But can we get a subscription book service like Netflix?"-Kelly Bryson

Already exists. :)

www.bookswim.com

Rent all you want for $9.95 a mo.)

-Daniel

PatriciaW said...

You're right. The models don't compare. However, if you look at reading a book in any form as an experience, then people choose the experience that is right for them.

I may be excited about a book but I hate hardcovers. Has nothing to do with price. They smother me when I fall asleep while reading. I'd prefer it now but my dislike for those hardcovers is so great that I wait for the paperback or the ebook.

I'm an early adopter and I'm gung-ho about ebook reading. Got a Kindle and a Nook. Nothing like the feel of electronic plastic beneath my fingers. I want an ebook. Now. Don't want to wait until all those hardcover and paperback-loving folks are done. Why should I?

I prefer paperbacks. They take up less space than hardcovers or trade. Not big on that whole electronic reading thing. What do they call them, electrobooks? They don't smell right.

I want the least expensive option. Period. I wait for the mass market paperback, if it wasn't published in trade format. But if the ebook is going to be cheaper, I'll wait for that instead. (Might as well use that ereader I got for my birthday.) I've got plenty to read while I wait, like all those books that came out before 2008.

So, ideally, from a reader's perspective, every book is offered in every format at the same time, and the reader picks the right reading experience for him.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Ironically, as the movie industry struggles, one of their proposed solutions to improve revenue is to release the DVD and the theatrical release on the same day.

Chuck H. said...

I get this really weird picture of Struther Martin and George Kennedy racing down hill on little wooden sleds. Ain't never seen a kindle, nook or any other type of e-reader. I do own a bookcase full of leather bound, printed on archive paper classics. Don't know what that has to do with anything but just wanted ot comment.

Zen of Writing said...

I don't see why there has to be a perfect parallel between publishing and the movie industry. I never buy DVDs, e.g., and my reason to wait for them is so I can rent the movie I didn't think was worth $10 and a trip to the theater.

If publishers want to delay the e-book release, it may be that it makes sense in terms of their industry. It may help keep book production and distribution companies from going under, e.g., at least for a little while. It provides bookstore presence, visual cues that an e-book display could hardly do at this point -- but maybe interactive e-book kiosks are coming? It will also help to ensure the existence of durable, hardcover books in a world where not all the people even have electricity yet, much less e-readers.

Or maybe publishers are holding onto a familiar model that should be phased out. Why not release the hardcover, paperback and e versions simultaneously and let them fight to the death?

Claude Forthomme said...

What a pity, I always come late to these verbal battles because I live on the other side of the ocean...Nathan, yes I agree with you and lots of others, including dogboi and subets.
I still think that what's fundamentally wrong with many publishers is their vision of what the market looks like out there. They think the 3 forms of publishing - hardcovers, paperbacks and e-books - COMPETE with each other. I don't believe that. Sure, there's some overlap and the same person might sometime buy a hardcover, sometime a paperback - mostly by chance rather than design (that's the case with me and surely I'm not an exception).
But e-books are something else. They're an entirely NEW product, and if publishers were clever, they would try to emphasize the newness and include nice additional gadgets like music and video bits. The reading audience is an EXPANDING market, once you add e-books. Why? Because it's the kind of technology that's going to attract a whole new digital-savvy crowd! AND it increases opportunities for reading: it lets you read when travelling, standing in line etc
So, if I'm right and it really is an expanding market, it would be logical to publish all 3 forms together...
Some guys like Stephen R. Covey (one of the most successful business authors in the last 30 years) has JUST GIVEN AMAZON DIGITAL RIGHTS entirely bypassing traditional publishers.
THE HANDWRITING IS ON THE WALL!!!

james said...

The E-Book will eventually win out. Just like Amazon did during the Dot.com bubble. They are far and away easier and less expensive to produce and distribute. Doesnt mean books will go away totally, just that e-books will be the preferred medium.

Nona said...

I haven't bought a DVD in a coon's age. I've had Netflix for years and now they let you stream movies whenever you want on your computer. The selection is limited but growing.

Books will probably go the same way -- subscription with unlimited access.

Steve said...

Nathan,

You said "But change and new technology is impossible to resist, and the only thing you can do is continue to adapt and hopefully innovate."

You might want to modify that statement to make it a little less sweeping, because as it stands, I think it is false to fact. Consider these various counter-examples:

(1) Nuclear power:

This is a painful example, as I was on the losing side of the argument, being pro-nuclear. But the expansion of that technology was effectively brought to a halt foe 20-30 years due to political, philosophical and safety concerns which gathered momentum in the wake of Three Mile Island.

(2) Laser Disks. Not sure if this fits, because it could be argued that DVDs are the successor product. But as originally introduced, they never caught on.

(3) "Push" technology sending things to your desktop. At one point this was an information delivery model that was generating a pretty big buzz in the techno-corporate community. It failed, probably because people liked to maintain control over their own info-viewing. We see a faint echo of this in some features of Google Desktop, but it's not really the same.

(4) Web TV?

(5) You could argue this one, but note that the shift to HDTV required a top-down government mandate to achieve success.

(6) Ethanol fuel. Again, this one required quite heavy-handed government action, and it's nonetheless running into heavy resistance as the impact on the production and price of foodstuffs becomes more apparent.

(7) Online Information Services. When was the last time anybody heard of CompuServe, or the Source. AOL still exists, but only because it morphed into an ISP and content provider.

This is fun, but I'd best get back to the day job. The bottom line is that some technologies are eminently resistable. Context is everything.

-Steve

atsiko said...

@Claude:

Non-fiction and fiction are different beasts, in my opinion. I prefer online research and such, but not reading fiction online.

Moira Young said...

On the topic of e-book readers, you might appreciate this rant:

http://www.penny-arcade.com/2009/12/16/

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