Simple Consumer Psychology

September 5th, 2007 · 3 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

The beauty of the various entertainment industries is that there are many parallels to be drawn. Despite their apparent differences — sound, pictures, and words — are built on common distribution methodologies, they use the same accounting principles as their base (tweaking as necessary), and they make the same mistakes.

As noted about a gazillion times, the music industry completely lost control of the online music market. Given the size and portability of music, it made sense that songs would be the first major non-hyperlinked phenomenon of the Internet age. When faced with the chance to take the lead, to sell music like there was no tomorrow (and, as we’ve learned, there really wasn’t), the music industry chose to “fight” piracy and form study groups.

“Maybe,” they reasoned, “in about four years, we can announced the new way forward.”

The music biz is now mired in perpetual catch-up. Whatever trend catches the fancy of the consumer escapes the people who release music. Not the people who make music. The people who sit in shiny buildings, sometimes with a window, and plot release dates and plan marketing blitzes and puzzle over new ways to make payola less illegal. Over and over again, the best way the music industry can come up with to save itself is to take the music away. Most recently, Universal decided that it didn’t like the iTunes pricing.

“Fine,” they said, “we’ll take our songs and go home.”

It is my belief that the best way to build a better pirate is to restrict access easy, reasonably priced, legal access to entertainment media. When you listen to publishing professionals speak about their online efforts, their digital distribution plans, they talk about “protecting the author”. This is a simple code to crack: they want to protect the status quo.

Book distribution today is messy and inefficient. Lots of books are printed. Shipped. Warehoused. Shipped again. Put on shelves. Moved around on shelves. Remaindered. Shipped again (or pulped). Etc. In many ways, the way books are presented to consumers makes the readers feel like an afterthought. It is our job to stand in front of miles of shelves and “discover” books.

Luckily for publishers, this is exactly what readers like to do.

Except there are pressures on readers, many pressures. One, of course, being that those shelves only hold so many books. No bookseller in the world (not even Amazon) can stock everything. Ordering a book is a fine alternative, unless you need the book right now. Making two trips to the bookstore when one was a hassle is not always the best way to make customers happy. Online ordering and direct shipping helps, but what seems like a saving on one side might be lost in the freight charges.

Digital books have long held out hope for many reasons. Publishers get the importance of digital media, believe me. In many ways, they are way ahead of readers in understanding the critical need to digitize their assets. To make those assets available.

“Because,” they say in meetings, “it is for the future.”

But what is happening in this bright and shiny future we are building is a strange thing: the trend is to restrict access to our media, not make it more open. Songs are locked into devices or number of plays. Movies “expire” within days. And books are DRMd to the point where they’re untouchable.

“Piracy,” they tell you, “piracy is bad.”

Today, a book is purchased and then all control is lost. If I buy a book, I can pass it on to my mother, who can pass it on to my sister, who can give it someone else, who can then sell it to a used bookstore or donate it to charity or even toss it in the garbage. Once that book leaves the retailer, it is mine to do as I choose. This allows me to foist great reads on unsuspecting souls.

Digital rights management — aided by laws — restricts this freedom. If I am allowed to freely share a book I’ve purchased or to make a copy (which, in digital terms, is like sharing), then I have become a pirate. Pirates are bad. The author is not “protected”. The publisher is not protected.

As with other entertainment industries, the online market for books is not making up for lost bricks-and-mortar sales. Pricing is outlandish. You can almost guess that the prices of ebooks from major publishing houses is the result of a day-long brainstorming session…you know, one where everyone just wanted to get the right answer so they could go home early.

If publishers decide to take away the ability of consumers to share books — electronically, that is — then they need to create an incentive for consumers to take chances on unknown authors and risky plots. Filling the sales gaps between physical and digital media requires a fundamental understanding of the consumer.

For those who are wondering, this does not mean pricing an ebook at $24.95. It means accepting that different formats have different pricing structures…and different audiences. It means stopping with the format windows. Make the book available in various forms immediately. At a price that makes risk-taking affordable.

As the music industry has learned — in the most painful ways possible — giving consumers what they want (accessibility, format, portability, price) is the best way to get them to engage in legal online purchases. Take away freedom, and pirates will reign.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

3 responses so far ↓

  • Alex // Sep 7, 2007 at 2:06 am

    Nice post, Kassia. I really enjoy your style. BTW, I run a big Article Directory and if you have some articles for distribution, you are very welcome to post them.
    All the best,

  • caitlin // Sep 7, 2007 at 10:47 am

    very thoughtful. plan to share this post with a few foklks. thanks, Kassia!

  • Joe Devon // Sep 13, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    Interesting stuff. Unfortunately there’s actually too many points I wouldn’t mind kicking around with you from this article and I don’t know where to start…also I can’t remember any of them. I was also half tempted, after noticing the category name, to simply write, “I *am* the future of publishing,” and chuckle to myself but then I remembered that I don’t know you and you might not remember offhand what category this is in and maybe then we’d have a real mess.
    Anyway, like I said, lot’s to say but not sure where to start so I’ll just say that it was an enjoyable read.