I haven’t been online more than a minute at a time, but I received the following letter about 2 days ago from Dominique Raccah. My apologies to Raccah and to y’all for not posting sooner.
Sarah, hold the tooth-file until I tell you the reasoning behind this heinous decision and then gnaw away if you so desire.
Please keep in mind we’re talking about one hot frontlist children’s hardcover (Bran Hambric)—trade paper and mass market originals won’t be affected. We have exactly ZERO hardcover authors in the romance category right now (though we would love some!!)—when we have a Debbie Macomber or Nora Roberts on our list, we’ll definitely want to have this discussion again. Please. Right now, every trade paperback and mass market romance title that we publish, is published simultaneously in both print and e-version.
So why this book? Here’s the thinking that led to this decision (and obviously people will disagree):
* I agree wholeheartedly that digital formats should be readily available, immediately (you can see from other decisions we’ve made how important digital is to us).
* The inherent value of ebooks is an open question—they are not physical; they are not easily ported; they can disappear at any time; etc. The value issues of ebooks are not issues that can be solved by a single publisher—it’s going to take a community.
* E-retailers insist that the “right” price point for an ebook is maximally $9.99.
* We can’t control what retailers charge for books or ebooks. The choices book publishers have are:
—To make the product available
—To have a relationship with that retailer
* So that’s the fundamental decision—not, what’s the right price for this author or this book…it’s just do we make it available and when?
* So, if we are saying that the price of an ebook is maximally $9.99 because the format is simply not that valuable to people, then that’s comparable to a lower end trade paperback or more expensive mass market book.
* Book formats have a lifecycle—hardcover is traditionally succeeded about a year later by the trade paper, so we should be releasing ebooks at the same time that we release the trade paper or mass market of the hardcover and can then price appropriately to that. To me the decision is analogous to a new release in movie theatres; we don’t expect that movie to be immediately available on DVD.
* If you continue with the lifecycle concept, the vast majority of the books we (Sourcebooks) publish will release in e-formats at the same time as p-formats because we are primarily a trade and mass paperback publisher. And in fact our xml workflow structures towards simultaneous release in multiple ebook/reader formats.
* I think, if hot frontlist titles are to be available in e-formats, they need to be priced by the publisher, at a reasonable discount from the hardcover retail price (to take into account the devaluation of e-formats). I am totally open to that. But that’s not an option currently available.
* I think people may be willing to pay the premium to have the new new thing, or they may want to wait until the price falls with the trade paper edition, at which point the e-book price should be adjusted and $9.99 may make perfect sense.
* Another thing of strategic importance to the author is that e-book sales that displace p-book sales can also impede a book from reaching a bestsellers list.
As a publisher, we have to be strategic, book by book. And that’s the way we made this decision for this one book, Bran Hambric. I don’t know whether I should point out that we have more than 850 ebooks available. So we value ebook readers and are working hard to convert all of our titles into ebooks.
What worries me is the author side of this equation. I worry that if we devalue (price lower than is viable) the author and the book, this digital transformation can’t work. We aren’t like the music industry. All authors have are their words. They don’t have live performances for which they get paid (or at least most don’t) and few get to sell t-shirts.
In fact, I would argue that music is absolutely NOT the right model to compare books and book publishing to and newspapers even more NOT. However, that’s a really long conversation and I’m a publisher not a pundit.
The exciting thing is that we’re at the beginning of model building—and this kind of vibrant conversation (including heated exchanges and teeth gnashing) should move us all forward. Thank you for allowing me a chance to explain. I’m sorry it took so long to get this to you. And I look forward to seeing you this week at RWA 2009.