Publishers Need to Take Charge of the eBook Market


I wrote last month a couple of posts on the problem with eBooks.  Both covered a couple of points, the first focused on the prices and features of eBooks while the second focused on dealing with existing book collections, what I call the Reread Dilemma, and a potential way to convert collections from paper into digital.

Both posts received a healthy amount of comments.  I wanted to address some of those thoughts here, as well as refer to several items out in the ether talking about this very topic.  Not to mention, I got to spend some quality time trying out eBooks.

Recent Experience

image Recently, I acquired a Galaxy Tab.  It is pretty nice.  I quickly downloaded an eBook reader application that seems to work okay. (Recommendations for apps are welcome!)  I then put a few public domain books on the device and spent some time reading.  I then focused on one book of which I also had a paper copy, 600+ pages, allowing me to compare compare the experience.

It was nice to have the tablet and then have the book as an application.  As I was going to have my tablet with me anyway, not having to carry the book was a bonus.  When I returned home, I found that I returned to my paper book, even when the tablet was handy.  I didn’t have to worry about battery and flipping around in the book for that scene a few chapters back is much easier.

Yes, I understand that eReaders have longer battery life. Battery life wasn’t the primary issue.

My next experience will be comparing a large hardback with the tablet and seeing which I prefer.  Right now I would say my preferred media depends on the situation.  At home, I definitely like my paperback.

Show Me the Money!

The basic problem around the price for eBooks comes down to the publishers.  They want to receive full value for every book that you buy.  I understand the motivation.  The basic problem is that the choice may not be theirs to make much longer.

I ran across an article published last October from the Telegraph talking about the arrival of book piracy.  The author talks about how even with his limited technical knowledge, he is now able to readily find “free” copies of the books that he wants to read.

Sure enough, I went out and did some searches.  While I couldn’t find every book, I found several titles that I would like to own electronically.  One I tried out (a PDF version) seemed to work just fine.

image I am not about to go out and download a massive electronic library.  I never downloaded illegal music. Those same ethics will limit my actions in the book world.  As Napster showed us though, there are a lot of people with no qualms about downloading and sharing everything.  You can’t stop it.  You can only easier for people to pay for digital content than it is to steal it.

The publishers also need to skip the Digital Rights Management approach.  It won’t solve anything for the publishers.  Sony tried DRM on their downloads and CDs, failing completely. (For the record, many labels tried DRM as well.)  The only answer is to find a price-point where it is easier for people to buy the digital editions than it is to “acquire” the same books for free.  That will keep a large portion of the market that may otherwise live in the edge funneling money to the publishers, and the authors.

The basic problem is costs versus perceived costs and value.  There may be a lot of costs incurred by the publishers, but they need to find ways to sell eBooks in an incremental fashion.  A couple ideas, not all mine, include:

  • Buy a physical, get the eBook for another 2 dollars (maybe a lower price when buying hardbacks).
  • Bring in your physical book to the store, buy a digital copy for 3-4 dollars.

Buying the solo books is nice, but I’m not sure how long those price-points can last.  They need to experiment with prices and determine at what level they start to seriously offset the sales of physical books.  There are set costs for a book, but many are incurred once.  After that, it doesn’t matter how much a book sells.  Printing and distribution are the variable costs, the same costs that are removed when you go digital.

Remember, Difference Between the Device and Format

As I have said before, and Carl Frappaolo discussed recently, it is not about the device.  Those will continue to evolve.  It is about the medium.

There is still be a place for paper-based books.  They don’t require power and have much greater flexibility when it comes to sharing, not to mention the nice tactile features. I still enjoy reading paperbacks over electronic copies, but for hardbacks and larger works, digital is a nice way to go when I’m not sitting in my bed.

I’m hoping the publishers figure things out while they still have a bit of control.  They have distribution channels open already, which the music industry had to build.  They need to work on the pricing before the black market burns them.  The market has started and it won’t take much for diehards to make the transition to eBooks.

5 thoughts on “Publishers Need to Take Charge of the eBook Market

  1. JC says:

    The unwillingness for publishers to embrace digital distribution, especially after what we’ve seen the music industry go through, baffles me. The publisher’s perceived “value” of their product has eroded significantly, but so have their costs (as you mentioned above). Finding a way to pass that value on to the customer, is what they should be focusing on, instead of worrying about their products perceived value.

    I personally use Amazon’s Kindle app. It’s not the greatest interface, as technology evolves, and I buy the next “cool” gadget, I’m confident that there will be an app that is compatible with the Kindle format. I use the Kindle app on my iPad, Android phone and MacBook. It’s nice that it sync’s where you stopped reading, regardless of device, so the next time you pull up a book, you’re not trying to figure out where you stopped.

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  2. If you were to study reviews on Amazon.com, one observation that immediately appears is that all multiple author books seem to receive petty complaints from reviewers complaining that the book feels like it was written by multiple authors! If consumers focused on the knowledge contained within the books and not the minor stuff, then the perceived value of books would surely increase and publishers would be less challenged on the things you mention.

    Look at it through the lens of expense. If a publisher can spend a little less on finding minor grammatical expenses, then consumers can save. Right now, publishers are being asked to INCREASE expense while watching revenues drop.

    It is vital that consumers understand how their behaviors affect the marketplace. If piracy continues to increase, all that will happen is that no one will bother with creating new forms of knowledge via books and everyone loses…

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    • Technically, there isn’t a need for books at all, much less ebooks. That said, the market is growing in both people that read them and in books themselves. I’ve enjoyed them when reading books that would be quite large.

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  3. Melissa says:

    The other big issue with eBooks you haven’t covered is global distribution. This was another major driver for music and video piracy and continues to be an issue. I live in Australia – I can purchase numerous titles in paperback both from local distributors and the big online globals like Amazon, but I can’t get the EBook version. Why?… I realize there are distribution and IP considerations but if the title is available here in hard copy why is this still an issue? As a reader it frustrates me – I want the book now not 10-15 days from now. I’ve never downloaded illegal music or video but that’s probably more due to lack of motivation than any saintliness on my part. Books though…. The publishers need to get their act together and manage EBook publications in a manner that is consistent with the release of the hard copies, and the industry needs to accept that this is a globalised market and distribute accordingly.

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