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Potholes in the evolutionary path

In spite of this New Yorker article complaining that the Kindle isn't perfect (the author seems to prefer LCD to e-ink; go figure), the digital revolution is now clearly underway in publishing. Hence, we should pause for a moment to evaluate what will make a publisher succeed or fail, and thus go the way of the dinosaurs. A recent post by blogger Mike Shatzkin about this topic outlines the stages of moving from mostly print to mostly digital publishing.

Shatzkin references the recent NY Times article on scheduling ebook publication (the one I was interviewed for but not, sadly, quoted in) which describes the recent decision by Sourcebooks to delay release of ebooks when publishing hardcovers, to keep the ebook from "cannibalizing" hardcover sales.

Soucebooks' management is clearly thinking, "If we release the HC for $25 and the ebook for $10, they will all rush out and buy the ebook and not the HC, and we will not make as much money." I can see why they would think this, but I see it as a big mistake. The reason is, if you release a new HC, it gets reviewed. Later releases in different formats do not merit a review, so unless you advertise them, no one will know the book is out in a new format. So, if the book comes out, the Kindle/Sony/whatever eReader owner sees the review, says, "Looks, good!" and tries to buy the book. Not there. Does he then go buy the HC? Definitely not, if said eReader owner is me. Probably not, for other eReader owners, unless the author is one to whom they are utterly devoted. Nor will they necessarily visit a book store and notice when the book comes out in mass market on the new releases shelf. They each own an eReader so they don't need to shop in bookstores. If they need something to read, they will find another ebook. So instead of getting $10 from each of these folks, Sourcebooks gets zero dollars.

Not a good thing for them, in the long run.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 30th, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
Digital Delay
Yep, I agree 100 percent. The only way you could know that the cannabilizing is an issue is if you knew the owners of ereaders were the same subset of book buyers who bought hard covers when they came out. While I'm sure a few of them are, odds are, you're talking about a very small percentage compared to a much larger percentage that will buy the ebook only. It really kind of boggles my mind that Sourcebooks believes buyers will succumb and buy the hc simply because the ebook isn't out yet. People don't think this way, at least I don't. If I used an ereader, I'd be buying something else, and if it's something I would want to buy, I'd just be waiting the six months for it to hit the ebook store.
Jul. 30th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Digital Delay
Exactly! It's like once you buy an iPod, you're just not going to want to carry CDs around.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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