Stupid Publishing Tricks, Part 1,110,099

September 29th, 2009 · 25 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Okay, so Sarah Palin finished writing her 400-page book in four months*. That’s some hard working. Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, took one look at the manuscript and pushed the release date to November 17, 2009. As with Ted Kennedy’s memoir, initial print run will be 1.5 million copies.

Fine. All well and good so far. Nothing to consider, nothing to worry about. Unless the books don’t move, in which case, well, hmm, those poor trees.

The problem comes with this kind of thinking:

As with the Kennedy book, the digital edition of Palin’s memoir will not be released at the same time as the hardcover. “Going Rogue” will not be available as an e-book until Dec. 26 because “we want to maximize hardcover sales over the holidays,” Harper spokeswoman Tina Andreadis said Monday.

Publishers have been concerned that e-books, rapidly becoming more popular, might take away sales from hardcover editions, which are more expensive.

People, please. Get over yourselves. Yes, the ebook will drain away some hardcover sales — many of those customers are already lost to you. They choose ebooks for their own convenience, not yours. There is absolutely no evidence that withholding the ebook will encourage ebook readers to purchase the hardcover instead. None. Zilch. Nada. Not one iota. Zippo.

It’s more likely that withholding the ebook version will result in a lost sale. Let’s be realistic about this. The salacious and/or interesting parts will be excerpted and analyzed in the media (blogs, magazines, news sources) almost immediately after publication. Or, if the New York Times remains true to itself, before publication. That’s going to siphon off a good portion of the potential audience.

The ebook customer, a reader who for various reasons opts against print books, is going to carefully weigh the decision to buy this book over a month after initial release. If that reader remembers to make the purchase at all. This is a customer who makes a choice against print. They will not shrug and say, “Well, I guess I don’t have a choice. Gimme the hardcover.”

Maximizing hardcover sales over the holidays only works if a reader must absolutely have that book. Is the Sarah Palin memoir — premature, as many memoirs seem to be — going to be so compelling that it will be a huge holiday gift item (beyond her base)? There needs to be something amazing in this book to sustain interest over the long-term. Something that compels the ebook reader to make a purchase well after the good stuff has been dissected and analyzed.

Given the history of books of this nature, I’m not feeling it.

I suppose I am baffled by the business decision to alienate a growing segment of the reading public in an effort to protect another, especially when the result is most likely to be no sale at all. Makes no sense at all.

* – Yes Virginia, I am fully aware of the ghostwriter. Still, that was fast.

File Under: The Business of Publishing

25 responses so far ↓

  • Bradley Robb // Sep 29, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Once again, I find myself in complete agreement with you on this. Having worked as a music journalist during that industries shift towards the digital, I find the theory of cannibalization a bit absurd.

    During the early adopter phase (which eBooks have been in for two decades now), it does a company good to embrace change. Doing so embraces branding and builds quality relationships with customers. And last time I checked, the company-to-customer relationship is the hallmark of the digital revolution.

  • Brian O'Leary // Sep 29, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    At the least, they could have said “we need the extra time to create an e-book with an index that captures the breadth and depth of the content that former Governor Palin has provided us.”

  • Mark Barrett // Sep 29, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    I think the human beings making these decisions are probably doing the best they can, given that they are freaking out every day about what’s happening around them.

    The music industry couldn’t do it (and still can’t). The movie business had no idea — none — what VHS would mean to them as a future revenue stream, and fought the VCR revolution tooth and nail for years.

    I can’t think of any industry, from big steel to airlines to media that has been able to look the inevitable in the face and make decisions accordingly. All bureaucracies and institutions exist first and foremost to protect themselves, and that’s what’s happening here.

    Which is fine with me because it’s giving me an opportunity to scurry along the baseboard.

  • Kassia Krozser // Sep 29, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    I think I was far more forgiving in 2004. Of course, I was younger then and less prone to impatience.

    Change is hard. It’s ugly and painful and scary. However, the inevitable has been staring the industry in the face for well over ten years. It’s not going to get easier to face these facts. Because, as you note, there is scurrying along the baseboard (and those baseboards are growing crowded). The music industry is fascinating to me because the industry may crumble, but the artists have opportunity. Not that I’m saying anything…

  • Kassia Krozser // Sep 29, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Brian — you totally nailed it!

  • Alan // Sep 29, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Dan Brown’s latest sold only 5% volume in ebooks – that’s 5% of 2,000,000. Apart from the staggering number of 100,000 ebooks sold right off the bat, that hardly eats too deeply into his print sales.

    These people are idiots.

  • Kassia Krozser // Sep 29, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Alan — based on deeper looks into the numbers, it’s possible the US ebook sales were higher. Nobody knows for sure. Those sales didn’t eat deeply into his overall sales, you’re right. And I think that’s the point. Sales are sales, financial models should factor various inputs into the final numbers.

  • Allen // Sep 30, 2009 at 2:51 am

    This looks to me like a panicked response to the recognition that Harper have print-ordered too many copies. They are desperately trying anything that might drive readers to the hardcover edition and therefore minimise the returns hit in January / February.

    My guess is, therefore, that the manuscript has turned out to be much less exciting than they hoped or expected. So it looks like it shall flop.

    Happy days!

  • War of the publishing models: Sara Palin’s pub dreads e-books, while Tina Browns gets nimble with E | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home // Sep 30, 2009 at 6:00 am

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  • Mike Shatzkin // Sep 30, 2009 at 7:25 am

    I quite agree with you, Kassia. But I’d add two data points worth knowing.
    1. The Ted Kennedy book in print has color photos which are a part of the $35 retail value. As we know, the most popular ebook formats would not do that material justice. I believe that factored in to the Hachette decision to hold back the ebook.
    2. If price IS the problem, then the publisher should just offer the ebook for sale only on their own web site at whatever price they think is suitable. Then nobody can discount it and the ebook-only reader you describe (of which “I is one!”) can be satisfied.
    Of course, there will still be plenty of complaints about the price and the DRM (not from me but perhaps from you?), but the publisher (and author) will be counting shekels while they hear those complaints, which tends to diminish the sting.

  • Beth Yarnall // Sep 30, 2009 at 10:18 am

    I’m one of those who won’t be spending my hard earned moola on Sarah Palin’s words of wisdom in either hardback or eBook format. You’re right, if there is anything interesting (snort) or salacious (double snort) it will all come out before Dec 26th.
    Let’s get a grip people, a sale is a sale unless of course they’re printing Dan Brown quantities of hardbacks and in that case (smack on their heads) stupid, stupid Harper.

  • Wednesday Midday Links RoundUp: Big Changes at Simon & Schuster | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary // Sep 30, 2009 at 10:29 am

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  • Theresa M. Moore // Sep 30, 2009 at 11:00 am

    It’s silly all around. In general ebooks are used to promote the printed version, so yah, it’s a stupid publisher trick. As for promotion of the hardcover edition, if the publisher wants to sell more books they should drop the hardcover editions altogether and sell trade paperbacks. Most people cannot afford to buy the hardbacks.

  • Ehrgott // Sep 30, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Kassia – 2004 . . . less prone to impatience? Not so sure about that.

  • Kris_W // Sep 30, 2009 at 11:24 am

    The cost of hard cover books vs. e-publishing has nothing to do with this specific example. Most of the people who purchase this book have no intention of reading it. The thing could have cartoon figures inside and come with a box of colors for all they care. They are using book publishing to launder campaign contributions and the publisher should be ashamed of itself for this deceit.

  • The Path To Becoming A Power Writer | Fiction Matters // Sep 30, 2009 at 1:16 pm

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  • M. Lewis // Sep 30, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I won’t be buying this piece of garbage in any format.

  • Anthea Lawson // Sep 30, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Don’t you think the fact that e-book sales don’t figure into compiling the NYT Bestseller list could be part of this? After all, I’m sure the publishers don’t want any of those ‘countable’ sales to be diluted in the first weeks/month of publication (no matter how untrue that perception may be). Of course, it didn’t hurt Dan Brown any – and it’s true that Kindle sales are now counted by USA Today toward their bestseller lists. Still, ‘hitting the list’ shouldn’t be underestimated as another motivation for delayed e-book releases.

  • Holding back the ebook – The Shatzkin Files // Sep 30, 2009 at 7:34 pm

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  • Remembering English // Oct 1, 2009 at 1:37 pm

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  • Kat Meyer // Oct 1, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Funny, that if publishers were only putting the reader experience first, the decisions would be so easy. On every single question really.

    e.g.: Should we put the ebook out at the same time as the initial hardcover release?

    reader perspective: yes. that would be great.

    publisher – okay. let’s do it then.

    happily ever after and….cut!

    Given that all the arguments against simultaneous release are easily proved silly, why do publishers continue to be so seemingly irrational?

    I had a lovely instant message conversation today with a mutual friend who was, in all earnestness, trying to understand why publishers are doing this. I told him a mishmash of what has been discussed here. Control/cannibalization/pricing wars — all of these possible excuses have one thing in common: FEAR. The publishers are afraid of what might happen if they do something new and different and just meet customer demand. That’s messed up.
    I hope they get over it.
    soon.
    for everyone’s sake.
    xo
    ~ Kat

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  • Anysia (Booklorn on Twitter) // Oct 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Unfortunately, the holding back of ebooks comes from the same thinking that holds back the publication of paperbacks to maximize the sales of the hardcover. For many reasons, I pretty much refuse to buy hardcovers. I also have a short memory, so I rarely (if ever) remember to go back and buy the paperback when it comes out (by then my library has it anyway).

    What I can’t understand is why publishers can’t make the same amount of profit on a paperback as a hardcover. Can’t they figure out the markup so that a sale is a sale and profit is format-agnostic? Or is that asking too much?

  • CT // Oct 5, 2009 at 11:25 am

    The cost of hard cover books vs. e-publishing has nothing to do with this specific example. Most of the people who purchase this book have no intention of reading it. The thing could have cartoon figures inside and come with a box of colors for all they care. They are using book publishing to launder campaign contributions and the publisher should be ashamed of itself for this deceit.

  • Reader Views // Oct 10, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    I so agree with CT – book buyers are impulse buyers. And, they want the book in hand. An e-book just doesn’t feel/look the same as a hard cover.