We have ourselves an e-book debate going on.
The whole to-do was started by a Wall Street Journal article about independent publisher Sourcebooks’ decision to delay the e-book publication of Kaleb Nation’s BRAN HAMBRIC until at least six months after the initial print publication.
Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah stated, “Hardcover books have an audience and we shouldn’t cannibalize it” and also expressed concern about $9.95 e-books. Kaleb Nation’s agent Richard Curtis concurred.
Trident agent Robert Gottlieb was also quoted thusly regarding simultaneous print and e-book publication: “It’s no different than releasing a DVD on the same day that a new movie is released in the movie theaters. Why would you do that?”
The action then moved to the NY Times, where a whole slew of high profile publishing people and authors were quoted as saying essentially, “Thinking about this…… Um, can I get back to you?”
Except for Dominique Raccah, who said, “If you as a consumer can look at a book and say: ‘I have two products; one is $27.95, and the other is $9.95. Which should I buy? That’s not a difficult decision.”
Into the fray jumped Booksquare blogger Kassia Krozser who, after loading her Kindle for a flight, challenged the opinions of Sourcebooks, Curtis, Gottlieb, and the other publishing folk who are skeptical of simultaneous print and e-book publication.
The choice e-book consumers make, she opines, isn’t whether to buy a title in hardcover for $27.95 or as an e-book for $9.99. The choice for e-book users is one $9.99 e-book or no book (or, possibly, a different book).
She writes: “Think about it: all your marketing efforts are getting customers to the point of sale…and then you lose them. These readers are not saying, ‘Well, that format isn’t available so I’ll just buy this one.’
Nope, they’re saying, ‘That format isn’t available so I won’t buy this book at all.'”
Sourcebooks CEO Raccah contacted Krozser, who published Raccah’s guest post. Raccah notes that publishers do not have a great deal of control over e-book pricing, and thus, in her opinion the only leverage at their disposal is when and whether to publish an e-book. She also shares Gottlieb’s opinion that an e-book publication is akin to a DVD edition of a first run movie. Ultimately, she believes the decision about when and whether to make an e-book available should be made on a book by book basis.
Lastly but not leastly, reader Scott Spern pointed me to an article by Slate writer Jack Shafer who cautions the industry about the perils of resisting our coming $9.99 e-book overlords.
Why? The pirates, of course.
Shafer writes, “While publishers, authors, and agents are well within their rights to attempt to maximize profits by forcing e-book prices up, their efforts may backfire. Put off by higher prices, readers who have grown accustomed to $9.99 Kindle editions may choose to flout copyright law and turn to the lush ‘pirate’ markets for books on the Internet.”
So. After all of this, where do I stand?
A step to the center of Krozser and Shafer, but firmly on the ground of simultaneous publication and the land of $9.99 for most titles.
As many of you know, I’m an e-book fanatic and my opinion is partly borne out of my experience reading for pleasure on the Kindle. As a result, I agree with Kassia that 95% of the time my choice isn’t whether I’m going to buy a book on a Kindle or in print. My decision is which book I’m going to buy on the Kindle. (Also I’ve just given bookstore owners everywhere heart attacks.)
That said, for every book there is a percentage of the audience that is so in love with the author or series that they’re going to buy the book no matter what, whether it’s available electronically or in hardcover, and they’re willing to pay whatever it takes to buy it. If Ian McEwan’s next book isn’t available on the Kindle you can bet I’m going to buy it anyway (from a bookstore! Owners, you can breathe again!). And of course, I’d imagine Stephenie Meyer’s legion of fans would still buy the next TWILIGHT installment if it were printed on poisonous razor blades.
So therefore, for some titles with an extremely rabid fan base, it seems like e-books could potentially cut into hardcover sales if there’s a particularly high percentage of fans who are dying to read a title immediately. That’s not necessarily a hard and fast reason to deny these fans the ability to read via their preferred method, nor is it stopping a publisher from trying to derive the same revenue per e-book copy as they receive for hardcover regardless of what Amazon decides to charge. But I also agree with Dominique Raccah that these e-book publication decisions should probably be made on a case by case basis.
Ultimately I’m a bit skeptical that there is a great deal of cannibalization going on when e-books and hardcovers are out simultaneously. Like many people, I have a “books I want to read” list about 10,000 pages long. If something is not available in my preferred format it’s really easy to just move one notch down the list rather than going and buying it in print.