Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Publishers to go the way of the Dodo

Book publishers must have seen this coming for a very long time and what surprises me most is that they have done absolutely nothing about it. They haven’t learnt the lessons of the music industry and decided that if they just ignore the problem it would go away. Well it hasn’t!
We’re talking about the web and electronic delivery of content. The music industry first ignored it then when it was too big to ignore tried to squash it. When that failed they tried to cosy up to it with Apple etc, but now they resemble a once great white shark twitching on the shore struggling to survive.
I reckon the book publishers are just ending the “ignore it” stage but for all that has gone before it looks like they are going to attempt the same trick that failed for the music industry.
It really doesn’t have to be this way. Publishers should see that an easy to use spur of the moment system where consumers can just purchase content at the click of a button can only mean more sales and less costs. But the fear of losing control of the supply line is what is stopping publishers embrace the new order. Publishers fear that if they go pure digital what do they really offer the author that the author can’t just do for themselves?
Well I think the publishers are underselling themselves. Imagine for a second a world where anyone who wanted to be an author could just write a book and “publish” it themselves. We would end up with thousands of new books every day and because there would be no critical analysis of quality 99% of them would be rubbish. This would make finding a good book incredibly difficult. What publishers really offer is that they can become the gatekeepers to ensure that most of the rubbish never reaches the mass market. We should be able to know that if we purchase a Harper Collins book then at the very least the author is able to write and has been approved worthy of mass publication.
Also digital delivery has huge advantages for the publisher, author and consumer. The publisher doesn’t have to spend a fortune on printing presses and delivery of the physical book. The publishing process would be to create a simple download of an e-book and make it available on the publishing network. Then the delivery process is consumer driven by the download and purchase of the e-book. This purchase will occur and complete without any input from the publisher.
The stumbling block at the moment seems to be the publishers want to hang on to the established life-cycle of new books. First they selling the hardback edition for about double the price of the paper back. Then 4 months later when all the people who really wanted the book have brought the expensive version they release a paper back for the masses. This doesn’t really work in the e-book world because there is only 1 edition. Also consumers are not willing to spend the $15 for a new paperback on an e-book nor should they have to. The costs of “publishing” an e-book are pennies. Consumers are willing to pay the author and publisher their cut but not to pay for non existing costs.
We can only hope that publishers wake up to the new world before it’s too late because I do believe they have a role to play. But if they continue fight and procrastinate then the world will move on without them and we’ll end up in world where the publishers will be consigned to history.


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