Tag Archives: publishing

Funny I Mentioned That

I wrote the other day about getting an ebook copy of a work whenever you buy the print copy and that this could also apply to CDs and MP3s.  Lo and behold, I saw this article today: How Download Cards Connect Physical Music to its Digital Future:

Enter download cards. The foreign slips of paper and plastic started showing up all over record stores at the beginning of 2007, each scrap entitling the owner to a full MP3 download of the record they just bought. Now fans could take the songs on MP3 players without hunting for illegal downloads or buying the album again on iTunes.

I hope that more labels adopt this and that it spreads to other mediums.

Is An Ebook a Book? And What Does It Mean When You Buy It?

I’ve been weighing in on a fairly interesting post on the Amazon Kindle forum.  The focus is on the idea of getting an ebook version of a physical book when you buy it.  Myself and the original poster think that it’d be a great way for a publisher to add value to their product (I hate using that phrase, though):  a sort of bonus, a thank-you, an incentive for the customer.  Some of the others in the thread feel that that’s basically asking for two copies of the book for the price of one, which “is stupid” to roughly quote one of the participants.

I, of course, disagree.  But it brings up an interesting point that I think lies at the center of the whole ebook problem:  is an ebook a book?  And what does it mean when you “buy” it?

A fundamental level to the problem is the basic question:  Is an Ebook (or an mp3) an actual thing?

This becomes important.  My argument on the whole “buy hard copy, get ebook with it” thing is that I’m paying to read the story.  Some of my money goes towards offsetting the physical costs of the book, such as printing, shipping, storage, and so forth, but the whole idea is that I give money and get a story. If you disagree, you’re welcome to buy blank books all you want.

There’s been various chatting from all sides of the industry regarding the pricing of ebooks: from Apple to Amazon to the big publishers to average readers and indie authors.  Regardless of how you slice that pie, I operate under a few rules of thumb that I have yet to see any significant evidence against:

  • ebooks benefit from the editing done on the original copy of the book; short of formatting issues and concerns, a book won’t undergo a brand new round of rewrites and edits.
  • ebooks also benefit from the cover art of the original version.  It’s possible to commission separate art, but the cover is a book’s identity in a sea of other snowflakes.  I don’t know of many books where the publisher would willingly deviate from the physical book’s art.
  • ebooks have little in the way of material costs:  no printing, no shipping, no storage.  The bandwidth for their delivery is on the order of pennies.

As such, I have one big rule of ebooks:  they should cost less than the dead tree version.

But this particular argument goes beyond that–it’s the third point above that’s quite important.  With not-much-more outlay, the publisher also has another version of the product that they can deliver to me for practically free.  I think it’d be pretty nifty if they included it whenever they could.  Maybe it’s only on a hardcover or trade release.  That’s fine.  Also, any additional costs in producing the ebook are offset by the fact that the publisher is also trying to sell the ebook copy of it.

This argument breaks down if you subscribe to the theory that an ebook is a separate and discrete book in and of itself as compared to the physical copy, but I still remain unconvinced of the whole matter.

The whole thing is a lot like the CD/MP3 and piracy storm cloud.  Lawsuits and suchlike have acted as if the mp3 version is just as “real” as the CD version.  To me, they’re not: I can just as easily see a music label or artist offering free mp3s of an album that I just bought.  They don’t “lose” anything for sending me the MP3s.  I haven’t somehow received two CDs for the price of one.

Note also that this does not work the other way: I don’t expect someone to send me the CD or book if I buy the digital version.  Part of the deal of the digital versions is that they’re cheaper because there’s nothing physical about them, and I’m okay with that most of the time.  If they send me the meatspace copy of whatever it was just because I bought the digital version, they’re out of a discrete and countable unit that they could have otherwise sold, and that’s dumb.

Earlier, I mentioned the idea of paying for the privilege of reading a book.  Even the Kindle Terms of Service support this idea (as much as I didn’t want to admit it at first): you’re not buying a kindle book when you “buy” it in the Kindle store:  you’re paying for a license to read the work.  That idea forms the basis of books in general.

Since I’ve already given you my money, how about throwing me a digital copy of it while you’re at it?  It’s that much more likely to make me want to buy something.  Instead of a one-or-the-other war between physical and ebooks, another way the industry can embrace them is by pairing them together.

The Great Physical/Electronic Media Disparity

By now, many people–people both smarter than I am and in better positions to speak on it–have made clear their thoughts and feelings regarding the Amazon-Macmillan tug-of-war.  As I checked in with the world before I sat down to write, I see that Macmillan titles are returning to Amazon now (at least the dead-tree versions).

What concerns me most at this point is the stance of the publishers: “printing and shipping costs are only a fraction of a book’s production costs,” they say.

I can agree with that.  What I don’t agree with is them using this stance to justify higher ebook pricing.  “We have to pay the author and editors and typesetters and artists and…” goes the list.

To which I say:  so?

They’re already doing that–for the print copy.

You might have to adjust artwork a bit for an electronic copy, but that’s not the same as having artwork commissioned from scratch.  That work has already been done.

Same with the editing.  Considerations might have to be made, but the vast majority of that work has also already be done for the print copy.

About the only major cost in producing ebook copies of a print book would be the conversion into a digital reader format and fixing any mistakes that arise from that process.  No small task, sure, but justified because it opens up an entire new market for the book.

The only time the publisher’s cry of “printing and shipping costs are only a fraction of a book’s production costs!” rings true is if they produce an ebook–and only an ebook–and all that above-mentioned work is done specifically and only for an ebook.  Then I’ll believe it.

I believe that ebooks should cost less to the consumer than the physical product.  I feel the same way about CDs and MP3s.  I recently bought physical CDs because the price of the physical product was only $3 more than the price of the MP3 album on Amazon.

Why would I spent that much money on a digital product when I can get the meatspace version for not much more?

The same goes for books.  To me as a consumer, $10 is way too high for an ebook.  I can perhaps see $10 as the hardcover new-release equivalent of a book, but that’s as far as it goes and even that’s as stretch. Above $10 is absurd.  The deep discounts often given to new-release bestsellers narrows the margin between print and electronic copies.  Why would I pay $15 for an ebook when I can get the new-release copy for $25 or less?  By pure math, yes, I’m paying much more as a percentage, but you have to look at the actual value provided, as well.  My print copy will always be around.  I can read it, lend it, take it with me, and never worry about someone coming to take it away and tell me I can’t read it anymore.  Nor do I need eyes surgically implanted because someone decided to change formats or “replace” the current batch of readers out there.

The advantages of ebook copies are:

  • lower price
  • searchability
  • you don’t have to carry boxes full of them when you move

But beyond that, for me as a consumer, there just isn’t anything else there. Remove the advantage of a price lower than the meatspace copy and I’m left with no reason to buy it at all.