Except for the annoying crashes that require hard restarts (which require the acquisition of a paper clip), I’m pretty happy with the Kindle reading experience. It’s not a device that will light the world on fire, nor is it the “iPod of ereaders” (stop with the dumbness, people). It’s a good gateway device, however.
The next generation of ereader will surely be more of everything.
Of course, the fine-tuning of the perfect ereading device is not the issue. The ebook business is building itself without the perfect device. eBooks are not going to be the next big thing; they’re going to be a thing. A part of a complex mix of reading choices. With that in mind, let’s think about ways we can blend ebooks into the publishing culture without pain.
I lied: there’s going to be pain. The pain will come for those (textbook industry, anyone?) clinging to old business models. So let’s play. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order.
- Rethink Royalties: A few things here. I’ve read a lot of blah, blah, blah about royalties and profitability from ebooks. Most of it makes no sense at all. In keeping with that tradition, I’m going to throw out a royalty rate for ebooks: 30% of wholesale/what the publisher receives. Calculating royalties off retail is a silly artifact of a business that ceased to exist long ago.
30% might seem high (and it’s a starting point, not a rule), but there’s a bit of logic here. This leaves 70% of every dollar received for the publisher. That amount offsets distributed overhead, including editorial costs, distribution and storage and data centers, knowing that retailers are currently doing most of the fulfillment, and other costs, because there are fare more costs than I can list here.
Getting hard numbers is, well, hard, so I can’t do a tidy little P&L.
While I cannot make guarantees, offering a reasonable royalty to authors is a gesture of good will, especially since many authors remain wary of this new business model (even though it’s not really so new). Which leads to:
- Resist Rights Land Grabs: Maybe it’s because my background is in the motion picture industry, where rights are often granted piecemeal and distribution terms are clearly defined, but enough with the hoarding of rights. It’s a given that the notion of “in print” changes with the availability of ebooks.
And it’s natural for authors to balk at the idea that a publisher can, theoretically, own distribution rights for decades. While I am not one who believes books will disappear from our lives, I do believe that we’re due for many changes — some of which might even stick — in the publishing business. Of course publishers want to lock down rights to content in order to be positioned to meet new opportunities, but it’s insane for authors to give up their stake in said opportunities.
Publishers are already seeing a slow trickle from established authors (see: Terry Goodkind) who are seeking better deals outside the traditional industry. It is a dangerous thing, alienating your bread and butter. Rethinking royalties and negotiating rights in good faith are fine starts. You’re not the only game in town.
- Get Over Your Fear of Piracy: Piracy exists. I mean, we’re still living in an age where pirates board ships and make off with goods (the mind boggles that this is possible, but there you have it). Piracy exists. You can throw up every lock in the universe, but, if someone want to pirate, they’re going to pirate. Stop living in fear. This goes for authors and publishers, but right now, I’m talking to authors.
Let’s stipulate that a few things are debatable: the number of “lost” sales due to piracy and the actual pervasiveness of true piracy. It’s stealing content, but given the lack of profit motive in most of these instances, shouldn’t we be looking deeper at root causes and reasons?
For example, look no further than Kirk’s post on reading Thomas Pynchon on the Kindle. Given the number of times he’s purchased various versions of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (because you need the rare Japanese CD edition), I know that he’d happily pay good money for an electronic version of the Pynchon catalog. There are no legal versions of these books available.
This is such a pervasive problem that I’m thinking I need to start a new BS feature: Not Available on the Kindle. I was emailing back and forth with an author, and thought, “I should just buy the book now.” Grabbed my Kindle and discovered that this book, published in 2007, was not available in a Kindle edition (it was recently released in paperback, and a Kindle edition is now sold).
Authors need to be more proactive about getting their books out there. One thing that is absolutely certain is that you cannot make sales if you do not make your books available. I think there’s an economic theory behind this.
Withholding content doesn’t stop piracy. Withholding content doesn’t increase sales. And withholding content because you have this precious notion of how your book should be read is just plain arrogant.
Oops, did I type that?
- Discourage Proprietary Solutions (or, Support The Reader!): Wal-Mart is shutting down its music servers. Customers who bought into this DRM’d content are being told to burn it to CD or lose it. Imagine, for a moment, that a year from now, Amazon pulls the plug on the Kindle. Decides it was a grand experiment, but too costly in the long run. Imagine that Amazon further decides to shut off access to the Kindle servers, meaning people like me lose access to their purchases. Yes, I know, but it’s a proprietary format, and we all know how well those fare in the long run.
This is not a far-fetched notion. Wal-Mart is the latest in a string of retailers to do this to consumers. I believe that one of the many reasons music piracy remains so robust is because consumers simply cannot trust the people in the industry to do the right thing by them.
I hate that I am locked into the Amazon system with my Kindle (though, honestly, given my life schedule, Amazon is generally my preferred retailer for many products). There is no competition for my reading dollar, if I want to do my little part for the environment and reduce the number of physical books coming and going from my home by reading as much as possible on the Kindle. I should be able to buy a book wherever I choose and read it however I choose.
Of course, this swings the other way: I can’t read my Kindle books on my laptop. Or my iPhone. I am locked into one retailer. Do you really want that to happen? Do you really want your customers owned, lock, stock, and ereader by Amazon?
The real bottom line is that nobody from publisher to retailer to reader should be locked into anything. It’s a crazy way of thinking when you know full well that tomorrow won’t look anything like today.
- New Business, New Pricing Model: Now that you’re in league with the publishing devil, you’re understanding why the music business is hating on its bargain with the music devil. The music folks created the iTunes business model, more through aggressive failure than active lobbying. They finally got the business they wanted, but the other side of the bargain was loss of pricing control.
Granted, nobody in the music business wants to sell songs for less than ninety-nine cents. They’re angry because they want to sell for more. The music industry’s ostrich-like attitudes are the topic of another rant.
I like the idea of flexible pricing. For example, I see a 2008 edition of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice listed for $7.95 for a print copy, with no Kindle edition available (I do know that I can get free electronic versions of this book from other sources, but follow along with this example. Thanks.). Now I have at least two print editions of this book, including a really old one that I stole from my mother, but I wouldn’t mind a well-formatted version, perhaps with some nifty indexing that helps me navigate the text. And I’d like it to be, oh, in the two dollar range.
I think one telling sign when it comes to the value of books, versus the perceived value (as defined by retailers), is the used book market. It’s not a slam dunk comparison, but there is some value in noting how these books are valued in this so-called secondary market.
- Think Beyond The Book, And Don’t Forget Serialized and Subscription Content: I can’t remember where I read it, but someone declared serialized content dead. As providers such as DailyLit have shown, there is a market for serialized content. It’s all about the right content and the right market (and, yes, right marketing).
Another concept that excites and intrigues me (and also ties into the “think beyond the book meme”) is subscription content. I’m already getting the Los Angeles Times delivered to my Kindle on a daily basis, and, yes, actually reading more of the newspaper because it’s more convenient for me. What about literary journals or other periodical content? I’d love a broader range of subscription content, and I’m happy to pay for it.
Yeah, this plays into the device/content independence thing. I want a cloud system that lets me control my access to the content I’ve purchased.
For related thoughts, Jane’s post “10 Things Epublishers Should Do for Readers”. Great minds and all that.