Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Print Tail Still Wags the Ebook Dog

I've been anxiously awaiting Thomas Friedman's new book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. I'm fascinated by both Friedman as well as the book's insanely long title. I first heard about the book earlier this year and discovered the Amazon catalog page for it a few weeks ago. At that time I could have pre-ordered either the print or the Kindle edition. That was the case until yesterday when I was finally able to download the free Kindle sample.

I have one question for both the book's publisher and Amazon: Why won't you let us download an upcoming book's sample before the book is formally released? I know the answer: Both publisher and Amazon are still following an outdated tradition of coordinating the release of any content with a new book on a specific date. September 5th was apparently the date the publisher decided the embargo could be lifted on this one. Why? Because that's the date they fired up their marketing and PR engines, making sure all their efforts were focused on the book's first sale date.

I have two words for this approach: Stupid and out-dated. It's a print model that's still being used in the e-world.

What's the harm in letting a prospective customer like me download the sample of this book a week or a couple of months before the print book is available? None whatsoever. I end up reading the sample and probably pre-ordering the Kindle edition before September 5th. I also probably tweet/blog about it and that's what the publisher is worried about. They want to control the messaging that surrounds their products and they insist on everyone starting at the same time...except for anyone who received a pre-release or galley copy of the book, of course!

I know...the brick-and-mortar stores would complain if their online competitors had earlier access to some of a new book's content before they did. Should that really prevent the online retailers from serving their customers? I don't think so.

I find it incredibly frustrating when I discover an upcoming book with a Kindle edition page that only lets me pre-order but not sample it. Rather than being stuck in a model from yesterday, both publisher and Amazon have an opportunity to try something new: How about selling me the sample (or something a bit longer than the sample) before the book actually publishes? For a $20 book, sell me the first 3 chapters for $5. Then if I decide to buy the entire book, apply that $5 sample charge to the $20 price so I can buy the rest of the book for $15 more. As a consumer I won't buy too many pre-release samples like this but there are certain cases where I definitely would, and Friedman's book is a good example.

The Kindle edition of this one was ready for distribution well before September 5th. There's no good reason it, or a sample of it, couldn't have been offered for sale before the 5th. Let's drop yesterday's silly marketing/PR restrictions and start living in today's e-world. And hey, if this causes more print book diehards to finally make the jump to ebooks we'll all be better off!


Neal said...

think publishers need to act a little more like magazines too you can have print, digital, mobile format, tablet format, whatever you like. People like a book for the couch but a chapter for the tube to work and amazon software lets you pick it up wherever too. reader are the new subscribers.....

Anonymous said...

I'll be for this as soon as Kindle gets on the stick about adding a feature that puts the book cover as the screen saver.

The huge advantage of the paper version, other than as a weapon, is advertising. It's a tiny billboard that advertises in all those places where people are reading (coffee shops, subway trains, etc).

As an author I want the most advertising when the book is available so potential readers can go out and buy it once they've been tipped to it.

Fingers Murphy said...

Totally agree. Publishers expend a lot of effort to get excerpts placed in magazines and other publications, when the web is there for them already. They could make the samples available months before the official publication, whether for free, or a small price. If I were them, I'd be doing this with every book. It's the best way to get word of mouth out there and working before the book even comes out, and it costs nothing.