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The second thought is really a looking-at-it-backwards inversion of one Martyn’s comments in his blog post Create Digital First:
…we are the start of a digital consumer offer but it is…based on yesterday’s physical cost model, processes and perceptions. Merely taking the finished book and generating a digital rendition that mirrors the physical one is what music did with CDs. Is it logical to merely replicate the book and create just another rendition? We don’t envisage the same demand change as music experienced in selling just fragments (tracks), but it is possible to see the selling of instalments or part works, where all the complete ‘book’ may not be bought.
Or looking at this another way, couldn’t the book be the fragment? I wrote a little while ago about the idea of extensibility, that books could be surrounded by, in William Gibson’s words, a ‘quasi-spectral hypertext’ that extends the frame of the text beyond the information contained only on the page. This is the kind of thing Harlequin are beginning to explore with their Enriched Editions.
So if consumers are open to new pricing models and new ways of configuring book content, especially fragments and parts of works, doesn’t it also stand to reason that the basic text of a book could be the fragment, and consumers pay a premium for enriched versions that have value-adds? This would bring it more into line with the DVD retail model of included special extras in limited editions. It would also help publishers to differentiate between general retail audiences and niche fan audiences.
Hey neato! I was just on the Tools of Change blog and realised that they’ve now released a series of DVDs aimed at publishers needing to develop knoweldge and understanding of the future of publishing.
The set includes four DVDs covering:
- digitising your backlist
- making mobile work
- XML for publishers
- search engine optimisation for publishers
They’re a little pricey for me to get the whole set but then I’m not really the target audience. However, I’d love to see some additional topics covered, particularly marketing and promotion (the DVD on search would delve into this a little bit). I also wonder how a similar offering might be targeted at authors and self-publishers.
I interviewed Cory Doctorow a couple of years back. I asked him if film companies had the right to protect their multi-million dollar investment in a film by trying to stop online sharing of movies.
He said: “That’s kind of like saying the Catholic church invests three generations of labour into the construction of a cathedral, how will religion continue after this Protestant Reformation of yours, right? Well, I don’t think the important thing is cathedrals.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/arts/articulate/200604/s1616706.htm
Same goes for books. I think once someone comes up with a user-friendly, cheap, eye-friendly and nice-to-use ebook reader, it’s game over.
I like books. I like to buy Stephen King books, because I’m a fan. I think I would do this regardless of ebooks. BUT, a lot of books I read, I’m kinda *meh*.
So basically, I think a lot of people will buy most of their books in electronic format then, if they really like the book, may go out and buy the dead tree version.
Yeah it’s a good observation, Gary, and Cory Doctorow is certainly the poster child for free e-book distribution. If I was ever in a position of negotiating with a book publisher about digital rights I’d be arguing pretty hard to implement some of his strategies.
But for me, this whole topic is not really about e-books. Sure, e-books are coming and they are part of the digital transformation that is overtaking traditional publishing. But I think too many people get side-tracked by the e-book debate (will it be a format or a device? When will it tip? etc) and forget that there are other ways that technology can change or threaten your business.
Amazon is already proving it with their moves to form a vertically integrated supply chain from POD publishing to direct-to-consumer book sales. Given that POD is now cheaper than traditional print for runs under 1,200 copies I would think this is a far bigger threat to publishers NOW than e-books are likely to be even in the near-future. It should be of interest to Australian publishers especially since print runs are smaller here.
Some bricks-and-mortar booksellers, like Borders US, are moving to establish POD centres inside their bookstores, and offering author services to along with it, such as in-store events and distribution within their retail chain. They also promise new special areas of their stores which will give such titles physicla shelf-space. With retailer-supported distribution, this takes self-publishing to a whole new level and is encroaching on some pretty significant areas of publishing that used to be solely the province of trade publishers.
I also think some populous nations will jump right over the e-book device debate altogether. In fact, they already have. Phone manufacturers have already stopped shipping 2G phones to Japan. You can only buy 3G there now. And mobile phone penetration in Japan is higher than 100%. So when there are more phone subscriptions than there are people in the country, and those phones are also high-speed internet browsers, integrated media centres with increasing memory capacity, why would a device that only reads book be of any interest? This is the same country, by the way, that last year shot five novels written on mobile phones into the top ten bestselling books list. Those readers didn’t need an e-book device to become fans of the books and turn them into hits.
The thing about structural changes in markets, though, is that they always create new business models and lucrative opportunities for those who can be the first to work out how to exploit them. So the thing I don’t understand is why every publisher isn’t experimenting like crazy to to find those opportunities. (Of course, some are experimenting, and I’m very happy about that and keen to point it out wherever I can)
The biggest opportunities may not be in e-books at all, but it in cheaper, more effective ways for publishers to connect with communities of readers, to brand and market their authors and to wring more long-tail sales from their backlist.
I read blogs daily that cover the ongoing changes in publishing, especially in digital channels. Through my little pipeline of RSS feeds, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and assume that, because the publishers I’m reading about are diving in to digital experimentation and thinking about new ways of doing business, that all publishers are doing so. In a few chats I’ve had recently with Australian publishers, agents and staff at writers centres, it’s clear this is not true.
Even The Economist, a conservative journal better known for its coverage of international trade and politics than the publishing industry, is observing the ways technology is changing publishing.
Publishing has only two indispensable participants: authors and readers. As with music, any technology that brings these two groups closer makes the whole industry more efficient—but hurts those who benefit from the distance between them.
When The Economist starts calling the race it’s time for publishers still in a default mode of ”wait and see” to move to “evolve or die”.
[Image Source: libraryman, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0]
Apropos of a conversation I had with an industry pro on Friday, this nifty little comment from Galleycat:
…with the industry in as much flux as it is right now, it’s better to experiment and risk failure than to sit on the sidelines and then try to learn how to do what works after somebody else figures it out.
GalleyCat was referring to online promotion in the book industry, a panel he was on at BookExpo America (BEA). It’s an important observation in the context of book and author marketing, but I think it can also be applied across the whole digital publishing spectrum. If publishers adopt a “wait and see” attitude, they cede the market advantage. They may be worried about risk, or they may wonder who, among their industry rivals, will be the first to really seize the opportunity. However, are they sufficiently worried about people from outside publishing who are encroaching on their space – Amazon, Google and, before long I’d wager, Apple? Because when one or all of these behemoths turn their eye to a market, they colonise it. Seems like better sense to dive in, even if you’re not sure whether the water’s warm.
By the way, GalleyCat’s notes about online promotion from that BEA panel are fantastic. Go read them here.