walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

ebook snarkery

I posted a link to slightly better coverage of a BEA panel in an earlier post. Here it is again:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10146/1060670-44.stm

In it, Scott Turow (yeah, the only one you've ever heard of, now president of the Author's Guild, not mentioned in this article, possibly because the reader may be assumed to know it already, more likely because the writer was unaware of this) "questioned the business decision to offer a hardcover and digital version of a book at the same time", noting the likely impact on price and "suggesting that e-books eventually would wipe out the paperback market based on their low price."

Turow didn't limit himself to asinine remarks that indicate he has not a single clue about marketing and customers. No, he felt compelled to add this:

"He called e-book users members of the "flying class who can't wait to turn their toys on.""

That's right. He's a bestseller. Odds on, most people who read Turow only read 2-12 books a year. He can safely slag the major consumer of books who buys a hundred books a year -- and prefers e-books. After all, they're not reading Turow. A whole lot of other authors out there who are _not_ huge bestsellers with numerous movies derived from their work might want to contemplate whether the president of the Author's Guild is representing their interests well by slamming the primary book consumer.

Here's what Galassi of FSG (the imprint of Macmillan I'm mostly likely to actually buy a book from ... which is damning with extremely faint praise) had to say: "It was a mistake to ever let Amazon put e-books out simultaneously and charge the price that they did. All of a sudden all editions are happening at the same time effectively. I think it's going to have a negative effect on the paperback editions."

Where to begin?

Regular readers of my whinging and ranting know that I firmly believe that most books are bought by a tiny number of people who buy, literally, a hundred or more books a year -- but most people who buy books buy single-digits of books in a year. Kindle is successfully separating this tiny community from the herd -- despite the fact that there's every reason to believe this group is predominantly female and not particularly young and very anti-gadget. The book industry as a whole persists in not understanding any of this, but, to be fair, most participants lack the data to help them understand this (altho you do have to wonder why they can't figure it out from their social circle, even if work oriented: the book industry itself is overwhelmingly female and anti-gadget. Well, except the ones in charge. Oh, and the women are kind of on the young side. Never mind.). The result? While e-books are still a tiny, actually, scratch that, at 10% a fraction of the overall market, it's a particularly disturbing fraction of the market.

Specifically, the "heavy user" book consumer who buys a kindle is also the kind of book consumer who buys new releases.

Obviously, this isn't entirely true. But the way Amazon primed the pump aggravated the situation: they made the kindle a great value proposition for people who bought a half dozen or so new hardcovers full price a year, or who bought a dozen or so new hardcovers at a typical discount. Payout varied depending on the particular scenario, but the kindle made sense for people who bought new hardcovers -- much more so than it made sense for people who bought used hardcovers and paperbacks. It is worth noting, however, that a lot of the "heavy users" will buy more and/or newer if and when they can. A romance novel lover might try a lot more authors instead of the tried-and-true if the cost of doing so (and the difficulty of _acquiring_ new authors, which should not be underestimated) is low enough. And the reader who makes lists of new books she'd like to buy and then picks them up discounted, or lightly used or in paperback when she can justify the cost might suddenly start buying a lot of new releases on the kindle if the price is comparable.

The publishers have absolutely no way of distinguishing between these situations, and it matters. At least some of them think that if the kindle release is "windowed", then a lot of these people will buy the hardcover instead so they can have it right away. There are probably even a few people who would -- but a lot fewer than they may think would. Some of the bought-new-in-hardcover that switched don't want the hassle of hardcovers. They've already had to adapt to what is available; they'll just substitute. Some didn't ever buy-new-in-hardcover; they bought kindle so they could move up the foodchain a notch, instead of carefully negotiating library waiting lists, chain store discount tables, abebooks, Amazon.com used books, Half Price Books, Powells, etc. where they could get a new book for a used price. They certainly aren't going to go buy a new hardcover at full price because the kindle is windowed; they'll just wait.

Publishers who window are taking a huge risk if there's any kind of advertising on the title: that advertising is choreographed to make a title stand out from the crowd. Every day you encourage a reader to wait to buy a title is a day the reader has to forget why they wanted to buy it in the first place. If _The Big Short_ or _The Checklist Manifesto_ had been available on the kindle when I first went to go look for them, I would have bought them -- I can almost guarantee it. But I sure as hell didn't want probable-crap cluttering up my life any more than I already do. And sure enough, a few weeks go by and it became obvious that there were better choices (_Econned_ for _The Big Short_, notably).

And _all_ of this ignores the new reality: a bunch of people who have owned kindles for a year or more and who are not measuring ebooks against a physical book. They are instead measuring physical books against an ebook -- and the physical book experience is such a loss the term of art is "DTB". Dead Tree Book. In this group, the kindle edition is the book.

This has happened plenty of times before. People like to compare to the music industry, but in this case, I think another relevant comparator is the lowly diaper. Once upon a time an un-adjectived diaper was made of cloth, and the new alternative was a "paper diaper". Most parents used diapers (cloth) and occasionally used "paper diapers". Now, an un-adjectived diaper is made of things I have trouble remembering how to spell (maybe sodium acrylate?), and the old alternative is a "cloth diaper", which is constantly trying to convince people it's new and better and just like "regular diapers" -- no nasty pins any more. Most parents use diapers (call it paper, for want of a better term), and some may use "cloth diapers" as well.

We're sort of at the paper diaper/brand name stage. But there's a trend here, and if I were running a diaper service, I'd be concerned.

Returning to our "heavy user" and Galassi lamenting the conflation of editions, however, I would think that an industry that convinced a used cloth/new paper/used paper reader to move _up_ to an e-edition, purchased around the time of the big advertising push -- I would think that industry would be kinda happy. But they aren't thinking of it in those terms.

Galassi's comment about "letting" Amazon charge $9.99 and under for new-in-hardcover releases is humorous. Until quite recently, media reported consistently that the big 6 were all collecting the exact same amount of money from each of those sales as they were collecting when Amazon sold an _actual_ hardcover. It apparently didn't occur to anyone at the big 6 to write a pricing rule into their contract with Amazon -- what did they care if Amazon chose to lose money on particular titles sold to a tiny fraction of the buying public? Walmart and company were doing the same and worse on heavily promoted titles. I think everyone got so comfortable with the idea that people didn't "want" ebooks based on the insane hassle of acquiring a Sony Reader and navigating the Sony bookstore and then paying undiscounted full hardcover price that they _forgot_ all those qualifiers (difficulty of buying reader, difficulty of navigating content source, insanely high price for content) and thought it was about the ebook is some sort of Platonic essence sense.

What a shock to discover that all of us people who quit watching TV to hang out on teh intartubes on our laptops, and all of us people who quit poking CDs into our stereos to listen to music on our iPods or on our laptops, and who gave up our magazine and newspaper subscriptions to read news online -- what a shock to discover we might actually read a book on some sort of electronic device, too.

I mean. Practically medieval.
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