People like to read.
There is something about reading that is totally unlike, say, watching a movie or listening to music.
It does not matter if the book is written on actual paper, on a computer screen or on a handheld device designed specifically for portability and long battery life.
I read recently (on http://daringfireball.net/) that some publishers are not sure how to handle this newfangled technology stuff. At first glance, it is easy to think that this could be the same as the problems surrounding music and movies – but there is a fundamental difference between those types of content, and books:
Traditionally, publishers release a book in the expensive hardback (or hardcover) format for a period of time, and then later release it for a much lower price in paperback form.
Given this business model, it makes sense that they would try to sell as many hardback books as they can, before they then drop the prices and then sell the paperback edition. Of course some people prefer the hardback because it is more robust, has larger print or larger pages, or it just feels like a ‘real book’ – but for the most part, after the paperback has been released that’s what most people buy.
The problem with the digital distribution of what we would probably call ‘content’ is that there is no ‘hardback’ or ‘paperback’, there is just the content. And the publishers just don’t know how to deal with it.
To someone who has been working in software development since 1987, this complete lack of clue baffles me. It’s not rocket science.
What the publishers need is proper marketing. To me this seems obvious, but I suspect that they don’t believe that they can continue to make their current level of margins with a business model based on digital distribution of their books.
However, printing a book costs money, as does distributing it. Once a book is written and typeset, it has to go for a print run. Then it needs sending out to all the shops where they also need to make a profit – what’s more, the shops do their own local marketing.
So here is my suggestion for the publishers:
- Market a book ahead of time.
- Generate real demand for the book, and pre-announce it.
- On the launch date, offer it for sale through a distribution channel (lets say Apple’s forthcoming online book store – it already works for music) at a higher price that would give the publisher a healthy margin.
- After a set period of time, reduce the price to a point where the margin is comparable with the cost of the paperback.
Go on, I dare you. But no pussyfooting around with that marketing – without it you might as well pack up and go home.
This kind of approach is tried and tested! It works with hardware, with DVD movies, and it works with software. The ‘early adopters’ are the people who want to buy the item (or buy the DVD, buy the hardback, or whatever) right away, and then there are those who would wait for the DVD to be put in the ‘bargain bin’ (or buy the paperback).
Music and movies are still struggling, with the distributors still desperately hanging on to their ‘old’ models of production and distribution – but are slowly coming round to more digital-friendly ways of allowing people to buy their wares.
Books will be next.
Because when all is said and done, people like to read.