I kind of wanted to stay out of the way of the ScrollMotion Iceberg iTunes application. While I have issues with the execution — can’t the publishing industry use something akin to, oh, collective clout to create a real iTunes store for books instead of foisting endless application after application (and associated management of said applications) upon us? — I applaud the fact that people out there are thinking of ways to bring books and people together.
On the the other hand, I also feel like Iceberg is a clear example of the utter contempt some people in the publishing business have for their customers. I’m not sure if they think we’re stupid or desperate or what, but nothing could exemplify this contempt more than the pricing applied to the (limited number of) titles available as Iceberg editions*. For the heck of it, I’m going to focus on the most appalling example: Brisingr by Christopher Paolini.
When the ScrollMotion App and titles and prices were announced, I had one question for the publishers involved: are you on crack? Seriously, what were you smoking in that meeting? I know, I know, you want to control the market, you want to control prices, you want…what? To, oh, maybe sell some books? The hardcover price of our poor example book, according to Amazon, of Brisingr is $27.50. The Iceberg edition is $27.99.
Are you trying to kill the market? Are you trying to be funny? Do you truly think outrageous prices are the way to bring in new, younger readers? Do you think we’re stupid?
Don’t give me that crap about fixed costs and creating an e-edition and all that. Creating an e-edition does not increase your overall costs that much, unless you’re putting all your energy into silly, consumer-unfriendly DRM. I am well aware that this book is in the throes of its hardcover release, and, based on the general prices of all Iceberg books, it’s obvious that the publishers involved are desperately trying to mirror current list prices (never mind that these books are easily obtainable at far lower prices).
Let’s go through this one more time: ebooks are a new, different market. You, dear publishers, have been given that rarest of gifts: a new revenue stream (think: home video for the motion picture business). These books are not competition. While there are more than a few readers who would love the luxury of choice of format/style/device when it comes to purchasing and reading books (you’re reading one), the ebook customer is different than the print book customer. Even if your ebook sales are growing by leaps and bounds each quarter, they’re nowhere near the volume that print achieves.
You’re dealing with a different animal, and — wahoo! — you now have the opportunity to change how you do business. Let’s start with smarter pricing. No, let’s start with the idea that you, publishers, are not the only game in town. You don’t “own” these books, your authors do. Your job is to prove that you can distribute these books better and more profitably for those authors. While, certainly, selling Brisingr at $27.99 is potentially a lot of money for both you and the author, how many copies can you realistically expect to sell?
At one point do you say, “Well, we tried selling books on the iPhone, but it was a failure.” Will you look in the mirror while you say this?
Especially when you consider the competition; note these search results for Brisingr ebook. Selling this book, regardless of how sacred you hold your publishing windows, at $27.99 shows that you’re out of touch and clearly not understanding your audience. Let me try this another way: do you honestly think there’s a contingent of readers out there who stayed on the sidelines, wanting this book, but swearing to stand firm until they could buy it on their iPhone?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you won’t be like the music industry. Too late. Already you’ve let Amazon force its vision of pricing on you. Already you’ve decided you know the market better than the market knows itself. Already you’ve let free become more desirable than paid. That is what the music business did. They created a business model that made paying for music the least-best option: from convenience to price to selection.
You can do this, of course, and spend a fortune fighting piracy the hard way. Or you can treat your customers with respect and acknowledge that some things have changed. I don’t think I’ll ever convince you to stop holding back trade or mass market editions of books during the hardcover window. For some reason, you think it’s just fine to risk loss of reader momentum during that year or so between format releases (you do all that lovely marketing upfront, but do you sustain this effort?), but maybe I can convince you that you’re not stealing from yourselves by offering reasonably priced, readily available e-editions of books from Day One.
While you’re at it, you might want to consider who buys iPhones and ebooks. The selection offered up by ScrollMotion — a selection you must have offered up yourselves — is targeted toward men and young adults. Where is the women’s fiction? Do you all even have a clue who buys ebooks? Do you think it’s just teenagers and geeks? This is the least grown-up female-friendly selection of books I’ve ever witnessed.
I seriously thought about buying an Iceberg book and testing the reportedly nice interface for myself (though I have questions about maintaining the integrity of the printed edition — does that really make sense for most books?). Then I thought about what that would be doing: I’d been enabling and encouraging. I’d be telling you that you can squeeze nearly $30 out of me for an ebook. An ebook I couldn’t return if I hated it, unlike a physical book where I could either return the thing or sell it to a used bookstore (or give it my mother or a friend or a stranger on the street).
You’d think you could do it again. I’d rather you respect me in the morning. I’m a bit sorry that the ScrollMotion folks have to suffer for some bad choices made by publishers. It’s not a good message to send to innovators.
Of course, it was an even worse thing to say to your customers.
* — And what’s up with those books that aren’t even available in the US? Couldn’t you have licensed, oh, books that everyone can buy?