Delaying Ebook Releases: A Publisher Weighs In

July 15th, 2009 · 27 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

I am honored to bring you the following post from Dominique Raccah, Publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks. The other day, I wrote an article in response to Sourcebooks’ decision to delay the ebook release of their upcoming title Bran Hambric. Behind the scenes, there was much debate on this topic, and Dominique offered her thoughts behind this decision. I am so pleased that she chose to make them public here.

In this time of change, there is nothing more important than open dialogue between stakeholders: publishers, agents, authors, readers, booksellers, distributors. It’s easy to think one side is right, the other is wrong, and while I still believe my own position has merit, I believe even more in listening and understanding how Sourcebooks came to make this decision. It’s okay to disagree; it’s more important to understand the perspective of others.

After you read, let’s talk. Let’s debate. Let’s have a real dialogue. I know I want to hear from all sides, and I know Dominique is open to all points of view.

What are words worth, I wonder?

by Dominique Raccah, Publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks

Given responses to the Wall Street Journal article on Monday, I thought it might be useful to explain some of the thinking that went into the decision to delay the ebook release of our very hot upcoming children’s book, Bran Hambric.

And that includes this background: We need a sustainable author/publisher model, and it’s probably not the model of old. But the new music model of low-priced content and sales of concerts and ancillaries is probably not a viable model for book publishing. Authors, unlike musicians, don’t typically have paid live performances (and t-shirt sales are usually few). They have words. And we need to have a real conversation about what those words are worth (and that’s what the pricing issue is actually about) and how do we keep them worth enough to support authors, authorship and publishers. And yes, we can (and I suspect will) have a conversation about whether that last piece is worth supporting and at what level.

But here’s the thinking:

  • I agree wholeheartedly that digital formats should be readily available, immediately (you can see from other decisions we’ve made how important digital is to us).
  • We are being told (repeatedly) that ebooks are inherently less valuable—they are not physical; they are not easily ported; they can disappear at any time; etc. The value issues of ebooks are not issues that can be solved by a single publisher.
  • Eretailers are suggesting that the “right” price point for an ebook is maximally $9.99. And they are proselytizing the price $9.99.
  • We can’t control what retailers charge for books or ebooks. The choices book publishers have are:
    • To make the product available, and when
    • To have a relationship with that retailer
  • So that’s the fundamental decision we get to make. It’s not, what’s the right price for this author…or for a book that he’s worked 10 years on (yes, Michael Malone’s new hardcover The Four Corners of the Sky is also not available as an ebook)…it’s just do we make it available and when?
  • Formats have windows. We know when we (book publishers) put out different formats in the lifecycle of a book. So we shouldn’t be releasing ebooks at the same time that we release a hardcover book. We should be releasing ebooks when we release the trade paper or mass market of the hardcover and can then price appropriately to that. To me the decision is analogous to a new release in movie theatres; we don’t expect that movie to be immediately available on DVD.
  • There are some who say, digital and print don’t cannibalize and you’re going to miss sales. But isn’t this the same as people (myself included) who say I’ll wait until it comes out in paperback or I’ll wait to see the DVD? And don’t those people sometimes forget and not buy or rent? So yes, there’s a risk that sales will be missed, but isn’t that a risk that has always existed in format choices?
  • If you continue with the lifecycle concept, the vast majority of the books we (Sourcebooks) publish will release in e-formats at the same time as p-formats because we are primarily a trade and mass paperback publisher. And in fact our xml workflow structures towards simultaneous release in multiple ebook/ereader formats.

I would also argue that music is absolutely not the right model to compare books and book publishing to. And newspapers are even less appropriate. However, that’s a really long conversation, and I’m a publisher not a pundit. We should make the choices that are right for our authors and their readers.

We are at the beginning of model building. If hot frontlist titles are to be available in e-formats, they need to be priced by the publisher, at a reasonable discount from the hardcover retail price (to take into account the devaluation of eformats). I am totally open to that. But that’s not an option currently available. I think people may be willing to pay the premium to have the new new thing, or they may want to wait until the price falls with the trade paper edition, at which point the e-book price should be adjusted and $9.99 may make perfect sense.

I agree with Kassia that it’s dangerous to expect consumers to play by the rules of last year’s business model. I’ve taken action in this one situation and I certainly wonder if there are other options that are neither mine nor the $9.99 option. And I also agree that we need to experiment, and I see our industry beginning to do that. But this pricing and release-date situation doesn’t feel like an experiment. This actually seems more like a dictate that could have enormous ramifications, perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but certainly long-term on the future of authors and books. And I think all I’m saying is, let’s think about this. It’s too important. As a publisher, we have to be strategic, book by book (and it’s important to remember that we’re talking about 1 book; Sourcebooks has 850 ebooks available). These are big decisions for our authors and ourselves. So in situations where the e-format release could hurt the author’s launch, what if we were to wait?

File Under: The Future of Publishing

27 responses so far ↓

  • Paul Mikos // Jul 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Dominique Raccah is the first of the publishing sheep marching toward the $9.99 ebook slaughterhouse to stand up and suggest that we don’t have to keep going the direction we’re heading.

    What if consumers could get an “advanced copy” of the ebook with the purchase of the hardcover?
    Sure, you’d be paying a premium but you get the ebook now and a hardcover you could gift or resell. Or what if Barnes & Noble and Amazon launched a program with the Public Library Association to give consumers the option to keep the ebook and donate the print edition to a struggling public library?

    It is fun to dream up new possibilities and business models, it is easy to bitch and complain and second-guess, but it takes real courage to act. 

    Thank you Dominique.

    More thoughts on the Amazon pricing conundrum and the future of publishing 
    http://bit.ly/bVqVI

  • Mark // Jul 15, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Excited to see Dominique responding to the talk about her decisions. I am sure other publishers are having these conversations too. Great to see this out in the open. I have a couple of issues with what she says however:

    “we don’t expect that movie to be immediately available on DVD”

    Well actually we do. And we can see that market expectation driving the popularity of torrent sites like Pirate Bay. When content is made available and made available upfront and at low cost the demand for torrents dries up. This is a market mechanism not a threat. For all intents and purposes windowing is dead. Piracy killed it.

    “We can’t control what retailers charge”

    Second, I don’t dispute that words need to be properly valued to sustain a vibrant community but I do dispute that publishers are ideally suited to make that valuation. Let the market decide. $9.99 is the right price. The reatailers haven’t said so, the reading public has.

    The operative word here is “control”. As a consumer I don’t care that publishers are between a rock and a hard place with regard to retailers and pricing. You can battle all you want. Consumers know the truth. Words are abundant. Time to read is scarce. They have the control.

    Cannibalization may seem like a boogieman but that fact is publishers margins are in trouble anyway. To remedy sell more books at lesser cost and stop using availability as a control lever for price.

  • RfP // Jul 15, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    ‘we don’t expect that movie to be immediately available on DVD’

    Well actually we do. And we can see that market expectation driving the popularity of torrent sites like Pirate Bay.

    I’m generally persuaded by rebuttals along the lines of what Dominique Raccah said above: “isn’t this the same as people (myself included) who say I’ll wait until it comes out in paperback or I’ll wait to see the DVD? And don’t those people sometimes forget and not buy or rent?” Extending that idea, a lot of those aren’t lost sales; they’re people who wouldn’t have bought regardless of the timing. Sure, now and then there’s a Twilight-like craze during which hordes of fans might go looking for downloads ahead of publication, but for most authors the bittersweet truth is that that isn’t the case.

    As a consumer I don’t care that publishers are between a rock and a hard place with regard to retailers and pricing.

    I care a great deal about potential effects on *authors*. And for that matter, a few publishers consistently impress me, enough so that I would hate to see them squeezed. What’s not clear to me is the relationship between the publisher’s financial challenges and the author’s, given the different royalty schemes that some houses have implemented for e-works.

  • robert gottlieb // Jul 16, 2009 at 3:00 am

    Publishers have always released a less expensive version of their book after the hardcover was released. We are not reinventing the wheel. It is not a new concept. The price is the price. Just because you can download Microsoft products as opposed to going to a shop and buy them does not change the value or the pricing to the consumer.
    We
    Whether ebooks or print authors and publisher have a right to make a profit. We do still live in a capitalistic economy. There are no free rides. Does anyone think because they can pay debt on line that they shouldn’t have to pay the fees associated with being a borrow? The answer is no. Some consumers think authors and publishers should work for free. To all those that want something for free I suggest you take a deep breath of free air and not ask their employer to pay them a check at the end of each working week because they want to work for their employer for free because everything should be free now or cheaper.

    The internet is simply another way to deliver goods and services. The price point is up to those who wish to sell.

    Formats are around for a reason. Films in theaters are around for a reason, DVD’s are around for a reason, and businesses such as film and publishing are around to make a profit for themselves. The people (talent and industry), such as writers live off the results of their work otherwise there would be no industry and then everyone can down load air and watch themselves breath.

    There will be a continuing debate about copyright and such for many years to come. But those who want to use some else’s copyright must pay for it or seek out non-copyrighted material and feel free to not pay anything for it’s use and to read it when ever they like.

    RG

  • Kassia Krozser // Jul 16, 2009 at 4:35 am

    Robert — Of all the arguments put forth in this discussion, the one I find least compelling is the theatrical/DVD comparison. It rings false to me. First, of course, we know that the theatrical experience is far different than the DVD-watching experience. We also know that studios are, in order to recoup production, prints, and ad costs are pushing the DVD release as close as possible to theatrical release because they recognize the revenue from theatrical alone simply isn’t enough to bring most feature films into the black — that DVD revenue is often a deciding factor. Finally, the studios work very hard to ensure that the DVD package contains extras that make it attractive purchase, even for someone who has already seen the movie (while we do know there are additive aspects to book sales, I would suggest that they are not a huge factor yet).

    The argument also loses steam when you realize that the music industry has, for years, released different formats in a day and date manner. It was, oddly, when they refused to extend this practice to digital music that their business model fell apart.

    I do not, on any level, advocate piracy. But to discount it as a response to lack of product is dangerous. We know that people are happy and willing to pay for goods and services as long as basic criteria are met: a reasonable price, conveniences, and usability. We’ve discussed the fact that the publishing industry is not doing the best possible job when it comes to these aspects. Again, I don’t think piracy is a good response from the consumer level, but I wish more people in publishing would ask themselves why ordinary people engage in piracy. I think the real reasons would surprise you because while there is a small percentage of people who simply will not pay if they can get something free, there is a large contingent who are simply, unbelievably, angrily frustrated with the industry’s deployment of technology.

    Put another way, you have customers who turn to pirate channels because they can’t read their legally purchased books. Think about: people are buying books they can’t read, then turning to alternative channels to remedy that situation.

    (I also don’t buy the idea that every pirated unit is a lost sale. Recent data has suggested there is a positive impact on sales due to piracy, though more study is clearly needed. And piracy does indicate demand, as we discussed in the Ursual Le Guin article — again, no legal product existed and given the vintage of the book, it’s safe to guess many of the pirate downloads were additive “sales”.)

  • Kassia Krozser // Jul 16, 2009 at 4:44 am

    Mark hits on a key point when it comes to pricing: consumers are settling into a price point for digital books they believe is reasonable. Publishers can argue fairness, but the truth of the matter is that the average person who buys and reads books doesn’t care about nor understand the publishing business model. All they know is what they are willing to pay for the product they’re receiving. Readers don’t know that the business thrives despite economic maneuvers that scare people who pay attention. They don’t know that many advances don’t earn out. They don’t know why a book is priced one way at one point, then another at another.

    But they do know what they purchase when they get a digital book. I think it’s really important to listen to consumer sentiment. If publishing professionals want to make their argument for price compelling rather than emotional (and I’m not suggesting that is the case here), then publishers need to make their product worth the price being paid. We’ve talked — too much! — about lack of quality control in digital books. We’ve talked about the fact that we get less for our money when it comes to digital. We’ve talked about the fact that in many cases it feels like a book is merely on loan, subject to recall at the whim of someone else.

    (This is, again, why the DVD argument is not apt — less product, fewer rights.)

    In this debate so far, consumers have made it clear that there is incredible potential for lost sales. In a world where getting reader attention is hard, I find it scary that you can get a person to the point of purchase, only to lose them because the product they want is not available. Think about that. Credit card out, sale lost.

  • Chris Hoopes // Jul 16, 2009 at 6:32 am

    From my perspective, I can see Dominique’s point of view. Even so, it looks like an attempt at holding on to a publishing system without truly looking at the market.

    Using the movie/DVD analogy doesn’t work for me. The main reason: I’ll go see the movie at the theater. If I like the movie, I’ll also buy the DVD. If it is a movie I don’t think I want to see in the theater, I might RENT the movie for a night to decide if it should be a part of my DVD library.

    The big difference to me is that with movies, there is much more opportunity for multiple sales to the same person. I want to see the movie on the big screen, and I want to have it in my library for additional viewing later.

    With books, most people are going to be purchasing in one format or the other. Very few people who purchase the hardcover are going to buy the paperback, plus the ebook. I know, from my own personal experience, that if I find an extremely good book, I may purchase the ebook to go along with my DTB, but I wouldn’t do that for every book.

    I also have to agree that not offering a digital copy can mean a lost sale. Now that I have a digital reading device, I find myself looking for the ebook. The book really has to stand out for me to want to purchase in non-digital format.

    Even more so, ebooks are much easier for making that “instant sale”. I have found that if I like a book in a series, I’ll go and purchase the other ebooks in that series. I can go to many different online sites to search for ebooks and make that immediate purchase. It is much more gratifying to have the book in a few minutes rather than driving to the book store in hopes that it is in stock, or waiting days for shipment from online retailers.

    As for price, I am probably one of the few who doesn’t always look for the $9.99 deal. If a new harcover somes out at $24.99, I would have no problem purchasing for the same price, and would be very inclined if there was a small (say 15-20%) discount for the digital version. I just hope that when the mass paperback version hits the market, the digital version reflects the new pricing.

  • Guy LeCharles Gonzalez // Jul 16, 2009 at 7:09 am

    “I’m a publisher not a pundit. We should make the choices that are right for our authors and their readers.”

    Kudos to Dominique for putting it so plainly. Most pundits have no skin in the game and are often speaking from a very narrow point of view, using themselves as the benchmark. The publishing business is very different from music and movies, which is why the analogies break down under scrutiny.

    There is no one-size-fits-all solution; every publisher and author will have to find the model that works best for them.

  • Elizabeth Burton // Jul 16, 2009 at 8:02 am

    I purchase hardcover books via BOMC2–i.e., I get one once a month–for $10 in book club edition. I never otherwise buy hardcovers.

    I attend a movie in a theater maybe 2-3 times a year. If I could purchase a DVD of a new movie for the price of seeing it in the theater, and it was something I was sure I wanted to see, I likely would purchase that DVD.

    The same applies to ebooks. I’ve preferred them for a decade, partly because space considerations limit how many print books I can have around but also because the ebooks I’ve read were priced like that book club hardcover: $10 and under.

    The problem with Ms. Raccah’s argument is that she’s already made up her mind–and hasn’t really taken the time to explore how dedicated readers of ebooks think. It seems her ideas of what that is come from a combination of media reports and the blog comments of the vocal majority.

    Before Amazon set their $9.99 price point, they did what all publishers should have done and should be doing. They had people lurking on Yahoo groups and other forums where committed ebook readers gather. They paid attention to what those people said, and proceeded accordingly.

    Blowing off missed sales because “people may forget” to buy a less-expensive format 6 months or a year after the hardcover release overlooks the fact that those same people who forget will likely have purchased other books in the interim, books with a price they consider more acceptable. Or in the format they prefer.

    Having a new book available in electronic format in addition to the hardcover will make me more likely to purchase a book by an author with whom I’m not familiar, and I know from ten years’ experience I’m not the only one. If I’m forced to either pay $25 for it, or wait, I’ll have long moved on by the time a delayed ebook becomes available.

    For most of this last decade, dedicated readers of ebooks have given most of their money to small independent ebook publishers for the very reason that they refuse to pay full hardcover price for an electronic book. That’s money mainstream publishers could have been sharing.

    Y’all need to stop listening to pundits and self-appointed experts and start listening to your customers. Contrary to how it might seem, Harlequin didn’t invent ebooks, and there are multiple thousands of readers in a market the mainstream publishers haven’t even tapped yet. Consider paying attention to that group instead of thinking that your customer base is the same one you’ve always had.

    Wouldn’t adding a new reader base be just as financially helpful to those authors and trying to force people to spend money they aren’t inclined to spend?

  • Alan Huizenga // Jul 16, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Well, I’ll toss in a publisher’s perspective again. If the $9.99 price point becomes rule, then the publishing model will have to change, period. We discount our eBooks by the cost of goods, which is the only real savings the publisher can pass along to the consumer of an eBook. The costs for editing, design, marketing, and paying advances are still being incurred regardless of the format. If people are unwilling to pay more than $10 for a digital format because of the perception that they’re getting less, then they’ll always have the option of purchasing the physical product.

    I am pushing our company to release eBooks without DRM, which I believe should silence the argument that eBooks can be taken away at any time. There is the concern for piracy, but I believe we can’t really control that anyway. DRM only keeps the honest people honest. If the eBook is DRM-free, then the consumer has full rights to use it for his/her personal use (within the context of the author’s rights). The best way to control content is to be the best provider of it.

    It is still way too early to make predictions on where the pricing debate will end up. If consumers determine that digital editions are only worth $9.99 and those eBooks become a greater mix of the end revenues, then publishers will be unable to pay the huge advances that are commonplace now, and will be forced to offer a higher percentage of the returns instead. That is why publishers are concerned with Amazon’s position in the market. What’s to stop authors from going directly to the distributor?

    I still believe the publisher will play the key role of gatekeeper. It is not feasible to say that everyone will spend hours trolling the Internet for free content on a specific subject or genre. Quality products and time-saved will still be factors in a consumer’s decision making. Therefore, publishers must begin developing relationships directly with consumers.

  • Mike Mullin // Jul 16, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    “We can’t control what retailers charge for books or ebooks. The choices book publishers have are:

    * To make the product available, and when
    * To have a relationship with that retailer”

    I’m confused, how do ebook prices get set? And if retailers can pay the publisher whatever they want to, why do they pay for them at all? Doesn’t the publisher set a wholesale price, and what the retailer controls is just the markup?

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  • Karen Syed @ Echelon Press // Jul 17, 2009 at 6:05 am

    As a publisher who does not deal in hardbacks, I can only make comparisons to what I know. For a while we did simultaneous releases of trade paperbacks and eBooks and that was not at all successful for us. Now we do eBooks first and then trades.

    THis is actually working nicely for us. The eBooks are an extremely effective tool for marketing and are very cost efficient. We sell the eBooks to the targeted market and use the buzz to generate the launch of the print version. This is a new model for us, but seems to be working.

    As for pricing, we set the price for the eBooks, all our distributors require it. They sell it for whatever they want, but none have gone over the srp. Our average price for eBooks is $6.00 and that works well for us.

    There isn’t, in my opinion, any reason to go above that price. It is good for us, and it is good for the reader.

    Karen Syed
    http://klsyed.com

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  • Literature Crazy // Jul 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I agree that the eBook/DVD comparison isn’t entirely valid (because of the added features that come with DVDs and the intangible “experience” factor that comes from seeing a movie in the theatre that isn’t the case with hardback v. eBook). However, I think the comparison of eBook/paperback is accurate. Paperbacks (either trade or mass market) are the same content (no extra frills or what-not) compared the hardback, but are released at a later date for a cheaper price. You get that cheaper price because the materials are cheaper, sure, but also because you’ve waited and aren’t paying for the “instant release” of the hardback edition.

    It seems to make the most business sense to either hold off on eBooks releases until paperbacks are relased and selling at the $9.99 price point or releasing at the same time as hardback for a higher price point (10-15% cheaper in electronic format).

    I think what’s missing from this is why everyone is allowing Amazon to control the table. It’s a free-market economy (in theory), they can’t have a monopoly (and if they do then there are other issues for the SEC to consider), so cut them out of the game and make your eBook available through other channels that respect variable pricing options based on release dates.

  • Kat // Jul 17, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I know it’s been said before, multiple times, but I think it needs to be said again.

    Ebook readers and hardcover readers and paperback readers are all different audiences. People who buy hardcovers only don’t usually purchase paperbacks and vice versa, with the exception for books they must have, etc.

    This COULD be true for certain consumers of ebooks. If it’s not available as an ebook and they want it badly enough, they may just purchase the hardcover. But that assumes that readers HAVE TO HAVE the book NOW. Which often isn’t the case, especially for casual readers.

    While some people who have e-readers may be voracious, others like the convenience of it and don’t read paper books otherwise. After a year or six months, unless they REALLY wanted that book as an ebook, they won’t even remember it was released. The same is true for paperbacks. Unless it’s a book that really weighs heavy on the memory, unless I see it at the time in the bookstore, I don’t remember to come back and buy it a year later unless I write it down or see it again in a bookstore. And we all know you can’t see ebooks in the bookstore.

    But aside from that argument, which can probably be picked apart pretty easily, I wanted to address Dominique’s solution, and her arguments. Like Robert said, we’re not reinventing the wheel. But I think at some point, probably SOON, it needs to be reinvented. Waiting until the paperback comes out to distribute ebooks isn’t a new model, it’s the same model with a different format.

    Ebooks aren’t paperback or hardcover or PRINT. I think one of the best potential solutions I have heard is to offer a premium on the ebook price, and lower it later. But that, too, poses a problem because those darn consumers, well, they just spent an awful lot of money on their Kindle, and they want to be able to use it.

    This is where a good argument for publishers developing an ereader would come in. Publishers claim they aren’t in that market, but that’s a little myopic. How are they NOT in that market? And because Amazon controls the price of ebooks and readers, the audience feels entitled to get what they payed for. A problem for publishers who have no control, but will get blamed when the book isn’t available for release.

    Formats are another issue. Publishers haven’t figured out the most cost-effective way to make and distribute ebooks, largely because there are SO MANY formats, and no one agrees, blah blah. But the customer knows, inherently, that it costs less, a lot less, to produce an ebook. No printing, paper, and production costs. They see a problem with paying only $5 or $10 less than a hardcover for a product that they know could cost publishers as little as 0.50 cents to produce (maybe even less than that?). And I know as a reader even I think hardcovers are overpriced for what you get, most of the time. Which is why I buy paperback books, or more recently, ebooks.

    So now we’ve come full circle. I know this is a tough issue, and publishers actually have to look at the numbers and see what they’re losing. The question is, do they see lost sales in the ebook numbers, or potential hardbook sales that would increase past hardcover numbers? Ebook readers are not necessarily potential customers for the hardcover. The reverse could be true in certain cases, but you are likely dealing with different audiences, one who is technologically savvy and only interested in the product when it comes out, the way they want it to be. So, old paperback model won’t cut it anymore. Time to put on your thinking caps, everybody.

  • Justamouse // Jul 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Alan Huizenga said, “The costs for editing, design, marketing, and paying advances are still being incurred regardless of the format.”

    What if advances went the way of the dodo and royalty rates were adjusted to higher levels?

    Editing, design, marketing are all on the plus side of the equation, then you have advances, which are a negative. They’re speculation, and often they don’t pay out. Then that loss hurts the market, and the reader, who is ultimately paying the price for the publisher’s loss. What does that loss do to the author? The shine wears off the penny and they either get less of an advance, or no second contract.

    What if you offered writers the choice of higher royalty vs, advance and then priced the book accordingly?

    George Lucas waived his directors fees, negotiated his licensing rights -which the studio thought worthless. We all know how that decision turned out. Not that every author is going to be the next JK Rowling, or such, but I truly think that less speculation would result in less loss and we all benefit from that.

    The reader would get a better price. (Maybe saving that few dollars would enable them to buy another book. ) The publisher wouldn’t lose as much $, the author would have a more stable career, and the best of all, publishers would be able to take more chances on books that push the envelope. There would be more diversity for readers.

    Personally I buy almost NO hardbacks. Linda Howard is the only one I’ll shell out the geets for (an unashamed romance reader, here). Well, I lie a bit, I just got Stephen Mitchell’s Gilgamesh: A New English Version in hardback today. But, I believe that’s considered a classic. *g*

    Just one reader’s opinion.

  • butch drury // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    “What are words worth?” did wonder she
    In both formats p and then e
    Strange all this difference should be
    Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!

  • Richard Hargis // Jul 18, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Perhaps we can come up with a “value added” feature to the p format to make a higber price more palatable. Audio? Video? Tactual? Where are thosse Madison Avenue guys, when we need them??
    Rich

  • Heather S. Ingemar // Jul 20, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    “Authors, unlike musicians, don’t typically have paid live performances (and t-shirt sales are usually few).”

    AND WHY NOT??? It would be so fricken cool to revise the whole ‘live reading’ idea into something closer to the music model. Be a whole lot more fun, too.

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  • Lester Smith // Jul 24, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Two points:

    1.) I’m used to waiting for a paperback version, and delaying an ebook release for the same reason does seem to fit that model. Good point.

    2.) Authors do have a “concert” option not commonly conceived of. As Mike Stackpole (a Star Wars novelist, among other things) has pointed out, side adventures for characters from a novel are perfect for release on an author’s Web site–even under a purchase model. Just a thought.

  • Jolie // Jul 27, 2009 at 8:07 am

    As a customer and aspiring writer, I think the model needs to change so that the paperback (and preferably the ebook) are released before the hardcover.

    The customer viewpoint first: I buy hardcovers in two cases only.
    1. I’m just that eager to read the book because it’s part of a series I love, or it’s written by an author I trust to deliver a great reading experience.
    2. I have already read the book in another format or via the public library, and I liked it so much that I want a durable copy I can keep in my personal library for years.

    In other words, I only buy hardcovers if I’m familiar with the content and/or the author. I’m unwilling to pay $25 for something unfamiliar. I am, however, willing to pay the trade paperback price for an unknown book/author if it sounds like something I’d enjoy. And I know I’m not alone in this practice.

    I think that the model of releasing a book in hardcover first should be reserved for series with reliable sales, bestselling authors, easy bets such as celebrity books, and books that are HEAVILY promoted before their release.

    Now my perspective as an aspiring author:
    I am terrified of launching myself into a field where careers can be tanked if they start out too slowly. If my debut novel comes out in hardcover without sufficient promotion, it is likely to sell poorly because many people won’t want to take a hardcover-price risk on a book by an author they’ve never heard of. If this happens, I may not get a trade paperback and/or ebook release at all, because I won’t have “earned” it via good hardcover sales. Furthermore, I probably won’t be able to get published ever again because of my sales record.

    On the other hand, if I debut in trade paperback and ebook (perhaps with a limited hardcover print run for libraries, if they want my book right away), my chances of building an audience are much greater. And if my sales in paperback/ebook are good enough, then it’s time to do a run in hardcover.

    On the question of when to release an ebook, I think publishers ought to decide on a case by case basis for the time being. Paper books still make up most of sales; ebooks are still an experiment both for publishers AND for consumers. But I suspect that in most cases, releasing the ebook immediately is the best choice. Not all ebook consumers are also paper book consumers; there is a distinct market for ebooks. Some people buy ONLY ebooks (I would too, if I had invested hundreds of dollars in an ebook reader). By making a portion of your market wait months for the release of their format, publishers risk losing those sales altogether.

  • Jim Strasma // Aug 16, 2009 at 7:08 am

    Piggybacking on the note just above, my reason for wanting books available on the Kindle immediately, rather than 6 months or a year later is that I am committed to eliminating physical books from the bookshelf space they previously occupied in my house, just as I have already eliminated the bookshelf space previously taken by nearly a thousand purchased CDs, all of which are now boxed in the attic, with the entire music library fitting easily on my 60GB iPod.

    For me, the decision not to offer a Kindle version of a book at the same time as the hardcover does not mean a delayed sale. Rather, it means no sale, as we have an excellent local library from which I can borrow most recent hardcover books of interest to me long before a paperback version is offered.

    I also find my recent reading dominated by low cost books, up to a dollar in cost, often offered briefly in the Kindle store to introduce a new author. For that price, if the book sounds at all interesting, I’ll give it a shot. But once its price is the more typical $6-15, it has to be very good indeed to inspire a sale. (A recent case of such a sale is “The Shack”, of which my wife had already bought several copies in paperbook to give away to friends. We decided to buy one more for ourselves, but to make it electronic so as not to take up shelf space.

    Note: books I plan to give away will remain purchased on paper. Another recent example is Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover”, of which we last winter bought 6 copies directly from the author’s Web site to give away to friends in financial difficulty.

    As a former author and small-publisher myself, I well recall getting only a dollar of royalties for a book, so do see why buyers expect lower costs for books with no need for printing. Printing never cost me less than a dollar a book, and shipping was also costly, so it makes sens to share the savings of eliminating both with the buyer, especially since they are also giving up the right to resell their used book or pass it on to friends.

  • “Debut pricing” for ebooks: a better idea than withholding them - The Shatzkin Files // Aug 23, 2009 at 9:49 am

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