Thursday, December 10, 2009
More big news in the ever-evolving e-book landscape as two publishers, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, told the Wall Street Journal that they would be delaying the e-book release of some of their important upcoming titles, HarperCollins told the New York Times that they would delay "5-10 titles a month," and Macmillan said they'd delay case by case.
Why are publishers doing this?
Carolyn Reidy, CEO S&S: "The right place for the e-book is after the hardcover but before the paperback."
David Young, CEO Hachette Book Group: "I can't sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices. It's about the future of the business."
One thing this doesn't seem to be is a short term financial calculation on the part of the publishers. Right now, according to most accounts, including the NY Times, publishers are receiving roughly the exact same amount for every e-book sold as they do for new hardcover sales. Yes, Amazon and Sony and others are selling many e-books for $9.99, but that doesn't mean publishers are making less money per title. The e-book retailers are taking loss leaders on e-books to sell more devices.
Instead this position seems to be borne out of fear of what's over the horizon: publishers are nervous that people will begin to feel that $9.99 is what all books should cost, wreaking havoc with print pricing models, and that Amazon and others will start turning the screws and demanding a bigger share of the revenue. (UPDATE: Along these lines, Mike Shatzkin speculates that this is really about controlling Amazon).
So is a long term fear about what's over the horizon worth potentially alienating some of your most motivated customers, the people who read so much and buy so many books that they plopped down $250 to buy an e-reader?
You tell me.
It seems to me that customers understand that there's a difference between print books and e-books and that they should cost different amounts - people know that printing and shipping paper and ink should cost more than sending electrons through the ether. It's understandable that publishers are frustrated that they can't control what Amazon actually charges, but they can't control actual retail prices for print books either.
And in the meantime, as we've seen repeatedly over the last decade, alienate digital consumers at your peril. People who read e-books want to read on their devices when they hear about a book, and the best deterrent against piracy is making a digital edition readily available for sale at a fair price. Resisting the conversion to digital sure didn't work for the music industry, and publishers are extremely fortunate they've had a decade of breathing room and lessons learned to prepare for the e-book wave.
All that said, authors may well be motivated to delay e-book releases since they may be receiving a better royalty for hardcover sales than they do for e-book sales. So for some authors, it may indeed make financial sense to encourage/force publishers to delay e-book releases if e-book customers will be motivated to go out and just buy the (higher royalty generating) hardcover during the delay period. This probably only applies to the top authors with rabid fans - everyone else will probably want to strike with e-books while the publicity iron is hot. In that sense, a case by case approach may indeed be warranted.
What do you think? Is this savvy business or misguided?