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?
A lot of books are given as gifts. Hardcovers are good for that. You can't wrap an ebook and put it under the tree (unless you're getting the eReader to go with it).
Why isn't anyone mentioning the other HUGE problem with e-books?
They are showing up for "resale" on eBay and pirate sites. The very youth market you are promoting for these books is the market that grew up pirating music.
What makes you think they will PAY for a book when they can download it for free?
Musicians can still profit when they become "huge" via their free music files passing from listener to listener because they can tour and play live.
Writers whose books are circulating via file download have no such money-making option.
karen wester newton says
I don't agree that this hardbacks and ebooks are comparable to movies and DVDs. A book is a book. For one thing, DVDs usually have something extra that's not on the theater screen. For another, lots of people buy a DVD after seeing a movie in the theater.
If publishers want to play hardball with Amazon (I agree with Shatzkin that's probably a prime motivator), they need to be sure they don't hit themselves on the rebound. If nothing else, they should consider providing a means to pre-order the ebook. Otherwise, readers will forget about it by the time the thing is released.
Claude Forthomme says
I guess mine is going to be the 157th comment! That's an advantage because I can say that I (more or less) agree with what everybody else has said so far – essentially that publishers are making a mistake regarding e-books, and a costly mistake too in the long run…
Just one point that comes out implicitly but is not EXPLICITLY spelled out and perhaps it might help the publishing industry to think this problem through.
What if the reading public weren't one but SEVERAL publics? The guy who regularly buys a hardcover edition just isn't the SAME as the one who waits for a paperback edition. AND certainly not the same as the e-book reader.
I believe we are really dealing here with 3 markets – with some overlap, sure – but still THREE SEPARATE MARKETS. So releasing e-books on the same date as regular paper books won't make much difference – on the contrary: it is likely that MORE people WILL END UP reading the book… With word of mouth thus activated (and, as someone commented, saving on the costs of an additional marketing campaign), it could HELP hardcover sales too – a sort of back loop effect – enticing those who think of books as darling objects to adorn their houses to actually go out to the corner bookstore and get a glossy copy to lug back home…
Ishta Mercurio says
Speaking as one of the dwindling few whose print books will have to be torn from my cold dead hands, a lot of these comments depress me.
However, as a consumer of books, I have always been bewildered by the staged-release of hardcover, then paperback a year or so later. If I want a special book in hardcover – maybe because I anticipate reading it over and over, as is the case with my sons' picture books; maybe I know the author and plan to have it signed; maybe the hardcover price has been massively discounted; maybe it's just a really special book – I'll get it in hardcover. Otherwise, I'll get it from the library or a friend and then buy the paperback if after reading it I just have to own it.
People who aren't interested in paying hardcover prices for books aren't going to do it just because the version they want (be it paperback or ebook) isn't available yet.
As an author, I was dismayed to read that authors will make smaller royalties from ebooks. The processes and expenses of printing and distributing books are borne by the publisher, and the publisher's share of the market price of a book is supposed to cover those expenses. If it is less work for them to create an ebook, then they are the ones who should take a smaller cut from the lower price of the ebook. An author puts in the same amount of time, blood, sweat and tears whether the book comes out in eformat or in print, so an author should get the same amount per book for an ecopy as for a print copy.
Ishta Mercurio says
Another thought I have on this, regarding piracy, is that surely the mere existence of ebooks opens the door to book piracy. An electronic file is much, much, much cheaper and easier to copy and distribute than an actual book. I might borrow a book from a friend to read, but there's no way I'm going to fork out to actually phococopy the whole thing so I can own it. (Not that I would do that anyway, because it is illegal and immoral, but you can see my point.) But a file can be copied with a couple clicks of the mouse. And if people with ereaders are waiting for months to get the delayed release of an ebook, I imagine that they would rather pay nothing for a pirated copy than pay the full price for the ebook.
No… I know I'm fighting against the tide, but I don't like ebooks.
It's very, very misguided. If you're going to ignore the rules of the market, the market will crush you and teach you it doesn't want to be contolled and that it actually can't be controlled. The music industried learned it the hard way when it offered digital music downloads only with DRM, which customers don't like. So they downloaded it from the net for free. Until the music industry learned their lesson and offered music downloads without DRM handcuffs. The movie industry had to learn it the hard way, when they wanted to release movies at different times in different regions (usually starting with US). But people wanted to see the movie earlier, so the downloaded the movie from a US source for free, depriving the right holders of the other regions from their income.
The publishing industry seems to have to learn this lesson the hard way, too. If they think they can delay e-book releases, people will scan a hardcover book and download it for free from the net instead of buying a legal copy. It's like with that (sorry to say) idiot who purchased the rights to publish Stig Larsson's third novel in the US but wants to publish it only in May. People want to read it now, so they get it from UK (either as an import or, you guessed it, for free from the net). It's not that they can't read it in British English…
Either embrace the market or perish. If the market demands e-books, the choice you have is satisfying this demand or going out of business. That's really it.
In terms of authors and their e-books, they may need to do more than they have traditionally. For example, musicians have to do tours, music videos, re-releases, anniversary releases, etc… Authors may need to develope their own 'cult of personality' as opposed to the fire and forget methodology. Even Stephen King, whose hardcovers average $35 bones each has rereleased his paperbacks for $4.99 to reflect the economic realities going on now. Authors may have to become part salesmen and part showmen in the future.
The real utility of e-books though should to to completely eliminate the stupidity of college pricing on school books. It should also be something useful in all other forms of education as materials can be updated quickly and without reprinting, merely redownloading.
I think this is a great example of hysterical panic from an industry that has gone from having total control of their product to having little or no control. The sad thing is if they delay E-books they will not get the desired results. They will not regain control like they want. They will only encourage and enable pirates and private individuals to sell or share copies before the E-book is released. They need to look at how well the music industry fared by restricting electronic music. Without the music industry’s resistance there would have been no Napster. Amazon isn't the enemy, just like iTunes wasn’t the enemy. When a "Bookster" site comes up because they restricted availability of E-books and people with Kindles can't get their favorite authors right away, publishers are going to be in trouble.
Maybe I'm atypical here, but my personal reading model is:
LIBRARY (hardcover vs. paperback, I could not care less)
I buy rarely because there are only a handful of books I like well enough to re-read.
What happens when (as someone said), ebooks become the book universe? How can libraries work with e-readers and ebooks?
Nathan Bransford says
Libraries and e-books already are compatible.
See this post: Top 10 E-book Myths.
This is like music downloading. Apple doesn't make any money with itunes, they make money selling ipods, and the music is a loss leader. So they want to get the content for next to nothing and are fighting with the music industry over it. Now Amazon wants to follow the same model with the Kindle. One difference is that Amazon does make money now selling books. So the lines aren't drawn as clearly.
James Ison says
It's an awful idea. It will either make me wait which will irritate me and I may not buy the book when it does come out in digital format or I will say forget it and move on. I WILL NOT BUY ANOTHER PHYSICAL BOOK. They take up space in my house. I am an avid reader I read 2 or 3 books a week most of the time and it's all too much to have that many books around.
Give it to me digital or I will find another author simple as that…
Publishing is making the EXACT SAME mistakes that the music industry did. Delaying books will increase piracy. You know how most books get pirated? not from cracked versions of DRM'd books as they would have you believe. But people take a copy of the hardback or paperback and run it through an auto feeding scanner with OCR. I won't personally pirate a book because I am just like that but it is happening due to a LACK of digital editions not becasue of them.
I'm a big book buyer, and I buy almost nothing is paper any more (in any format), because there's no more room in my house. It's been said a lot already, but I'll repeat it – if it's a choice between hardcover and nothing, then I will choose nothing. Piss me enough, and I'll boycott your titles altogether (and yes, I alreadu have publishers on my "no-buy" list).
For the authors among you, no, you're not competing with yourself; you're delaying (and potentially losing) a sale.
Here is the letter that I'm sending to publishers.
I was appalled to learn that Simon & Schuster plans to delay the release of ebooks. The concept is ridicules. Why would a company want to delay revenue? Do you think that those of us who only read ebooks will rush out to purchase a paper copy of your books? I can GUARANTEE you that we will NOT. We are more likely not to read your books at all.
In 2009, I read over 300 ebooks. That means that I PURCHASED over 300 books spending almost $2000. My primary ebook reader is a Kindle but I supplement it with my iPod Touch or Blackberry storm when a book is not available in Kindle format.
My book wishlist consists primarily of not yet released books. If ebook releases are delayed, I can guarantee that I will move on to other publishers who are NOT delaying the release of their ebooks…and I won't look back. You don't want me annoyed waiting for the release of books in the format that I want to read them in.
Claude Forthomme says
I completely agree with Noumena, T.Anne and many others who don't want to wait to read their e-books. And it does show I'm correct in perceiving that the e-book market is quite SEPARATE from the p-book market.
WHEN will publishers understand that? There's actually a LOT of money to be made from the e-book market…
And why not conceive of giving readers of e-books a rebate on a hard paper copy of the book in case they like it so much after they've read it that they want to have it as a decorative object in their home?
I agree with most everyone here. I have always purchased a large number of books (both hardcover and paperback), but decided to get a Sony reader so I wouldn't have to carry so many books when traveling. I also like the convenience of being able to download a book immediately without needing to go to the store. I have no problem with paying a higher premium for a new release ebook, but I find these publishers' decisions to delay the release of ebook high-handed, greedy, and short-sighted. I like to read books when they new and relevant…not 4 months later so this really bothers me. Therefore,I will NOT be purchasing books OF ANY FORMAT from publishers who have decided to implement this strategy.