S-o-u-r-c-e-b-o-o-k-s. As in Sourcebooks, Inc., an independent book publisher that recently announced it is thumbing its nose at e-book readers.
In an article titled "Publisher Delays E-Book Amid Debate on Pricing" from the July 13 Wall Street Journal (I'd link to it but WSJ are stingy with their online articles and the link would expire in a week), the chief executive of Sourcebooks says they are delaying the e-book release of the latest in their Brian Hambric series* for as much as six months after the dead-tree version hits shelves.
* I'd never heard of it, but apparently it's pretty popular with the Harry Potter crowd?
"It doesn't make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99," said Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, which issues 250 to 300 new titles annually. "The argument is that the cheaper the book is, the more people will buy it. But hardcover books have an audience, and we shouldn't cannibalize it." An e-book for "Bran Hambric" will become available in the spring, she said.
Let's break that down a bit, shall we?
First, "It doesn't make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99." Um, it doesn't make sense to whom? Wiser folk than I have repeatedly done a great job at breaking down the various costs involved with publishing and shipping dead-tree books. Sometimes those costs even include being forced to accept unsold merchandise.
When you take away those costs and replace them with a digital product that by nature is in unlimited supply and costs you nothing to distribute how much larger is your profit margin?
Consumers are savvy. They understand these things. No one, especially Kindle owners who cherish reading, wants to cheat publishers or authors out of hard-earned money. But no one wants to be gouged either. Like it or not, the market has settled on a $9.99 price point for new novels. As a publisher you either embrace it or risk alienating a growing percentage of your readers.
Second, "But hardcover books have an audience, and we shouldn't cannibalize it." Maybe you can help me with this one because it just baffles me. Are the profit margins for publishers that much higher for hardcover books than for e-books? If so you're doing something wrong. And if not, why does it matter in what format your fans read your works?
Is it a sentimental clinging to the venerable printed word? Is it a growing fear that as the e-book market grows and the dead-tree format shrinks there will be less of a need for publishers at all?
After watching the music industry completely fail at accepting and embracing digital technology and seeing the resulting consequences, it's almost unfathomable that any other major media industry would make the same mistakes. But the publishing industry is heading in that direction.
Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A. and Geoffrey A. Fowler. "Publisher Delays E-Book Amid Debate on Pricing". Wall Street Journal. 13 July 2009.
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What I'm reading on my Kindle: Nothing! I'm reading a dead-tree edition of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.