Withold my ebook? No no no!

As reported at Dear Author from articles in the Charlotte Observer and the Wall Street Journal, Simon and Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy, Brian Murray, chief executive of News Corp.‘s HarperCollins Publishers, and Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group all announced that they plan to delay digital book releases until months after the hardcover releases in 2010.

All you people who have digital readers (I’m raising my hand, too, here), it’s your/our fault. Reidy is quoted as saying:

Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said Wednesday that the rise of e-books has led to a “cannibalizing” of new hardcover purchases.

“We believe that a large portion of the people who have bought e-readers are from the most devoted reading population,” Reidy said. “And if they like the e-readers they are naturally going to convert because the e-books are so significantly less expensive.”

I don’t know how much more complex a bad solution they could come up with here, but sticking it to the customer in order to protect sales of a dwindling product is the most ludicrous thing I’ve heard in a long ass time. It’s boneheaded and short sighted and insulting. Basically we’re being told that our dollars are not acceptable as sales currency because we bought the wrong format.

I think the only proper way to answer a solution this insanely complex in its lunacy is… rhyme. Let me make this as simple as possible in this hypothetical response to the publisher’s insistence in pushing the hardcover on a digital book customer.

 


Do you like this hardcover book?
You should buy it! Look look look!

I do not like a hardback book
I will not read it, not that book.
I want to read it, yes, I do,
but not that hardback, no, thank you.


Will you buy it here, or there?
You can buy it anywhere!
This hardback book is just for you.
The only kind we offer you.

I will not buy it, here or there.
I will not buy it anywhere.
I do not want a hardback book.
I want to buy a digital book.

Would you buy it in a store?
If you buy one, will you buy more?
You can buy it here, or there.
You can buy it anywhere!

We only have this hardback book.
There are no others, if you look.
This hardback paper is for you,
and if you buy one, you can buy two!

I will not buy it in a store.
I will not buy one, two, or more.
I will not buy it here, or there.
I will not buy it anywhere.

I will not buy a single one.
Our transaction might be done.
I do not want your hardback book.
I want to read my digi-book.

We do not sell digital books.
We only sell the hardback books.
If you want e, you have to wait.
Until the hardback sales abate.
This digital is just a fad,
and in our viewpoint, very bad.
The only books are ones like these:
Buy in hardback, won’t you please?

I will not buy them, don’t you know?
This is why your profits blow!
I want to read your books, right now!
I want to read them anyhow!

I want to put them on a Kindle,
or Nook or Sony, and not be swindled.
I will not buy a hardback book,
not now, not later, you backwards crook.

Your clueless thinking blows my mind.
E-sales are climbing! Are you blind?!
See this finger, nice and high?
You can kiss my sale goodbye.

I’ll go online and find my book,
scanned page by page by pirate crook,
and you have lost all sales from me,
both now and in the future. See,
I do not want your hardback book.
I want to read my digital book.

Categorized:

Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Laura (in PA) says:

    The cover story of the Money section of USA today was about ereaders and ebooks, and seems to be in response to this announcement:

    http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/technology/2009-12-11-ebooks11_CV_N.htm

  2. 2
    Mamaphoenix says:

    This is so nearsighted. Ebooks cost less to produce and enable easy purchasing and additional sales via backlists. Guess what pub I am now avoiding?

  3. 3

    As a reader, I feel a bit irked… Book consumption-wise, I’m omnivorous, happy with paper or screen, but I don’t like acquiring things, so I’ve been really pleased to buy ebooks—cheap, handy, and they require nil storage space and create far fewer dead trees. I’m not thrilled with the idea of being manipulated by my own impatience into buying the “right” format. Then again, I only buy perhaps one paper book for every fifty I read from the library, and I’m used to having to wait in a request line for the newest releases. I guess I’ll soldier on.

    As an ebook author, however, I think Sarah’s homage should be written across the sky by a crop duster in environmentally friendly purple smoke.

  4. 4
    Eva_baby says:

    What are they trying to encourage piracy?  Because really that is the one area of growth I see coming out of this.

    I can see e-reader owners being pissed at what they perceive as manipulation and punishment.  Some will shrug and say “oh well, I’ll get it from the library if I really want it that bad” but others will push back and either decide not to buy the book at all or to acquire the book illegally.

    I can truthfully say that my book purchasing over the last several months since I’ve gotten my e-reader has exploded.  I like the cheaper prices and the ease and convenience of acquiring the books.  Something like this does make me feel like I am being punished for being a good consumer.  So my response to these pubs is basically: “fuck all y’all!”  If I really want it I’ll get it from the library.  I won’t buy it even when it comes out digitally.  I will buy from those who actually want my money.

  5. 5
    Mary G says:

    Are there really that many folks that buy hardcover anyway? I ask because I’ve bought something like ONE hardcover in the last 10 years (and my book expenditures make even me blush) – I’d discovered the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher and was obsessed… bought them all and the last one in the series was only in hardcover – and I caved.

    One book, in 10 years, and I’ve probably bought something like 1000 books in those 10 years.  The math doesn’t make sense to me even in the hardcover vs paperback scenario – never mind epub.

    The stupidity makes my head hurt.

  6. 6
    Sarah Frantz says:

    I don’t understand why they don’t just see digital as….another sale! It’s still a sale of the book. Why does it matter whether it’s HC or PB or e? It’s still selling the book.

    If they’re all het up about best-seller lists, they should be agitating those lists to include digital sales in their counting. Then it won’t matter.

    And my literary critic kicks in (sorry, I can’t keep the bitch down): the originary text for this poem has the “I will not” voice of the digital reader caving and saying “Oh, you’re right, so sorry”. Maybe that’s what they’re hoping for. But I think digital readers are the ones offering the new experience here. It’s the digital readers with the green eggs and ham in this situation, not the one “offering” the same-old hard cover.

  7. 7
    LauraP says:

    Hmm, I don’t see it that way at all.  How is waiting for the e-book release – at a less than hardback price—different than waiting for the paperback release, also at a less than hardback price?

  8. 8
    Michele says:

    It sounds like the real reason for this is the fact that Amazon has set its ebook prices so low that THEY can’t even make a profit.  (that, according to the USA Today article).  Publishers want control over the price points, and they have been able to deal with reasonable discounts offered by their sellers (BN’s 40% off hardcover, etc.).  Amazon’s prices, in their mind, have the potential to crash the ebook market altogether by undercutting the entire bottom line.  Other ebook providers can’t compete on the Amazon price model, and the competition is good for the market.

    This is a power play to get Amazon to play nicer with the publishers…unfortunately, the consumer is the one being caught in the middle.

  9. 9
    Cathy M says:

    I agree with Mary G.  How many people would have bought the hardcover anyways?

    I’ve bought 1 hardcover in the last 15 years or so (Deathly Hallows) and I can’t imagine buying another one.  But I’ve bought hundreds of paperbacks in that time.  And I accept that there’s a 1 year wait (or so) between hardcover releases and paperback releases.

  10. 10
    Azure says:

    LauraP:

    If the publishers guarantee that the ebook will cost less than the hardcover price, and if the wait were something like a month or two, and not 4-6 months, then I’d be fine with this idea.  But something tells me that’s not how this is going to play out.  They publishers will wait four months, then try to charge us hardcover price for the ebook.

    I got to thinking about something reading about these idiot publishers.  A lot of times, I buy a book the day it’s released and don’t get around to putting it on my reader for a month, anyway, because I don’t want to constantly be having to plug the reader into my computer.  The thing is, I still buy the book.  I don’t wait for the reviews.  Now, I’ll wait for the reviews and that will cost some authors a sale.

    Brilliant strategy the publishers have here.  As Ms. Reidy acknowledges in the article, people who have embraced ebook technology are hard-core readers.  So in an effort to boost profits, you’re…alienating the people who buy the most books?  How does that make sense?

    spam filter: method58.  I suppose the publishers have a method to their madness, and it’s 58 different kinds of wrong.

  11. 11
    SB Sarah says:

    I do know that the ultimate result in Sam I Am is that he tries the green eggs and ham and finds them unoffensive. But the situation wherein publishers are trying to force me to adopt something I’ve already tried repeatedly and give up something that I have also tried and now prefer made it seem equally logical that in this case, I/Sam I Am would not back down. No matter how many times they insist I should by a hardback, I already know that I do not want it, and will not be bullied into adapting something I do not want.

    Regardless of who I am, Sam or not, Michele is so right – consumers should not be collateral damage in a price war between publishers and vendors. Which makes me want to add another verse:

    What’s this I see? No books for me?
    You withhold the ones I want from me?
    Well, then. To publishing I say,“F U.
    I’ll go find something else to do.”

    (I think there’s a Wii under the menorah for Hanukkah tonight).

  12. 12

    I will not buy them, don’t you know?
    This is why your profits blow!

    And that’s where my coffee hit the keyboard…:-)

    Great poem, Sarah. And I agree with Sarah Frantz, who said,

    I don’t understand why they don’t just see digital as….another sale!

    Makes no sense to me, and I’m an author… And while I do have hundreds of hardbacks on my own shelves, they’re almost all used books I love and re-read and literally want to keep forever, that I’ve snagged at used bookstores and library sales. Or they’re non-fiction books that I use for my research, since some of those are only available in hardback.

    When it comes to new fiction, except for a very few books that I know will fall into the ‘love and re-read’ category above, I buy either the trade or mass market paperback. Or I get it for my Sony Reader.

    But as Sarah Frantz points out, they’re all still sales.

  13. 13
    Laurel says:

    Delightful verse!

    The thing that has me all bunched up about this is that everyone is reacting to the current market. It’s a tech market; they evolve in months and turn on one product, like Kindle. eReaders are growing, as even publishers have somehow managed to recognize. As the market grows and industry adjusts to the demand of this format, eBooks will be cheaper to produce. Somebody will actually start making an eReader that does not require a techie degree or teenaged boy to manipulate into reading a book no matter who the seller was (truly agnostic).

    As it stands right now, publishers make the same dollar profit off an eBook as a hardcover, making them more profitable than a paperback. Instead of trying to protect the old model, why don’t they embrace a new one? They are publishers, for heaven’s sake. If Amazon decides to stick it to them later or the $9.99 model is unsustainable (which it will not be…see above about production cost going down) what is to stop them from going direct to consumer? If a true price war erupts they have a very good anti-trust case since Amazon is so dominant in this arena.

    If I were in publishing- and so glad I’m not- I’d be investing in an eReader I could sell for $100 and building a better mousetrap on the production end of eBooks instead of alienating “the most devoted reading population.”

  14. 14
    AG says:

    How is waiting for the e-book release – at a less than hardback price—different than waiting for the paperback release, also at a less than hardback price?

    Have to agree with Laura P here. I’m getting a little tired of the self-righteous indignation of e-book fans. So what if you have to wait a few months? How is that any different from what any paperback fan (possibly you now e-book readers) has been doing for years? In other blogs, I have actually seen e-book fans claim that they’ll pass on a book completely (read: forever) because it’s not available in the format they want when they want it. So demanding! I can’t help thinking that those readers are the ones who are missing out on really good stories simply because their e-reading devices have somehow robbed them of the art of patience.

    A better question to ask, I think, is “should all formats be created equal and released on one day?”

  15. 15

    Oh, and Happy Hanukkah!

  16. 16
    Ford MF says:

    Ebooks cost less to produce and enable easy purchasing and additional sales via backlists.

    Because ebooks are the cheaper format, it’s not really different from delaying publication of the trade paperback until the HC has run its course, or not releasing a DVD of a film until it’s been in the theaters a couple weeks or months.

    For what its worth, I’m a professional book retailer, and while some consumers might not be crazy about the idea (similarly, I get angry customers all the time who want to know why the new novel they want to read didn’t come out in $8 mass market at the same time it came out in $28 HC), people who work in the book industry in pretty much any capacity other than as employees of Wal-Mart or Amazon.com LLC are pretty uniformly convinced this is a healthy step.

  17. 17
    Suze says:

    Before I bought my Sony, I bought paperback books.  Several a week.  I very, very rarely bought hardcovers, and I was aware of the year-long wait for the paperback version of a book to come out.  I was okay with that, and if I just couldn’t wait the whole year, the hardcover would be available at the library sooner than a year later.

    When I buy paperbacks (at a bookstore as opposed to the grocery store), I wander down the aisles, covers catch my eye, and I see books and am REMINDED that I like that author, and will pick up a new release.

    Buying ebooks is a whole different brain space.  I don’t keep detailed lists of upcoming books I’m interested in.  I mostly shop at Books on Board, but it’s difficult to browse.

    Shopping for ebooks, I can browse the latest releases, or I can search by author.  I can browse by release date.  I CANNOT browse by author, so I forget about authors I enjoy, but whose names aren’t seared into my brain.  Because of this browser-unfriendly shopping environment, I’m finding my book purchases have gone down since I bought the ereader.

    The likelihood of my remembering, by the time the electronic version comes out, that I was interested in a certain book is getting slimmer every day.

    But I digress.  Why is it so important to preserve hardcover sales?  Because the profit margin on them is so much higher than all the other formats?  To me, that says they’re gouging hardcover buyers.

    In conclusion, this delaying to preserve hardcover sales is dumb.

  18. 18
    AngieW says:

    I have a two-fold reason for not liking this whole publisher backlash against e-readers. 1) We’re military. This means I have finite space and finite number of pounds that I can move every 2-3 years. Hardbacks? They’re heavy and taking up precious space and poundage. Also, so very easy to ruin by careless movers (like the one who stuffed a bunch of books willy-nilly around my cast iron cookware and killed all of the spines).  2) No matter how many book lists I make, I forget to go back and look them over for new titles.  The lack of a digital option for me equates to a loss of sale for the publisher.  I’m just not going to remember 6 weeks to 6 months down the road.  Maybe—BIG maybe—I’ll run across it on Amazon when I’m searching for new series. 

    If the publishers don’t want my money then I’m perfectly happy to spend it elsewhere.  Shoes aren’t heavy and are much better at surviving movers than books…

  19. 19
    Laurel says:

    In response to the argument that this is no different than waiting for the paperback:

    It is different. Paperbacks are less profitable than hardbacks for the publisher. eBooks are not. The publisher would not sacrifice dollars in order to give the consumer the format they prefer. Furthermore, hardbacks traditionally have represented a premium, a preferred format for a lot of readers. Even after paperbacks are available the hardcover is still more expensive. In the case of eBooks, however, the reader prefers the cheaper format not simply because it’s cheaper but because of the convenience and experience.

    If something is available on DVD they don’t withhold the version you can download from Netflix to try to force a sale instead of a rental. Not quite the same, but close.

    The only people who stand to lose money here are brick and mortar booksellers and I’ve no idea what the solution is for them. Real books will never go away, but eBooks are going to continue to grow in popularity.

  20. 20
    Corrina says:

    I’d be curious to the answer to this question:

    Would ebooks be more expensive if hardcover books didn’t exist?

    With just ebooks, you do eliminate the cost of printing off the top. So far, so good.

    But the cost of paying the writer, editor, cover artists, copy editors, etc., stays the same.

    Uncertain is the cost of distribution.

    Probably less expensive, given that transportation of physical books is not involved. However, it takes money and manpower to operate a website and solve those issues. It also takes time to properly format that ebooks. How much, I don’t know, nor do I know the comparison between the physical book distribution and web presence/marketing.

    So, ebooks likely should be cheaper. But how much? It might not be as much as we think. Right now, the lower cost is being subsidized by the higher profit margin on the hardcovers.

    Eliminate the hardcovers or having the hardcovers completely disappear because of lack of sales *might* (emphasis on *might*) legitimately cause the price of ebooks to go up.

    This is the case with comic books in that the sales of the monthly comic, which absorbs the cost of the creative team and the distribution, and that helps keep the price of trade collections down. All those manga volumes are $7.99 or so because they’ve appeared elsewhere in monthly form, people were paid then, and so the collections are low-priced because profit from them is gravy. All they have to cover is printing them.

    However, an original graphic novel would cost more. It would bear all the costs of creation.

    So, I would *love* to see some numbers on cost of original book production in hardcover.

    I want to know how much of those costs are eliminated with ebooks and how much of those costs stay the same, and get an answer to just how much the profits on the hardcovers are subsidizing the currently lower prices on the ebooks.

    Because the other solution to holding the ebooks for later release might be to release them at the same time at a higher price.

    Would we like that better, if that’s the case? Or no?

  21. 21
    Bonnie says:

    About waiting for for the ebook is the same as waiting for the paperback:

    It’s not.  I want to buy the book at an ebook hardcover price when it comes out.  I don’t want to wait for the paperback price. 

    We don’t get a choice.  So, lost sales for them because most likely, I will have forgotten about the books.  Unless I start making a list, which I just won’t do.

  22. 22
    Laurel says:

    Corrina:

    That is an interesting suggestion- offer eBook on original release date at a higher price. I’d be fine with that but I’m sure some other people might not. As I said, lots of us digital readers prefer the format, not the price difference. Cheaper is an added bonus.

  23. 23
    April says:

    A—freakin’—MEN!

    As an ebook reader, I’ve spent MORE money on books!!!  Why?  Because I will pay for the convenience, the lack of having all of these books to swap, sell or store, to be able to own a book AS SOON AS the whim strikes—not months later.

    So, the publishers want to stick it to these consumers that are loyal and ready to sink all this cash into books that we can’t feel, touch, OWN.  We’re ready to spend this cash because it’s CONVENIENT.

    Take away the convenience and we might as well be on a library waiting list.  Will I buy Stephen King’s hardcover because it’s not available in ebook form and I don’t want to wait?  No f—in’ way!!!  At this point I’m not even sure I want Stephen King’s new release.  I’m tired of his pompous a$$ and his pompous publisher that thinks they can save publishing by distanting the loyal consumer.

  24. 24
    Cathy says:

    Eh, my original comment got eaten.  I assure everyone it was well thought out and terrificially erudite.

    Summary – I can buy an e-book on hardcover release day for $10.  I am willing to pay this much to download it and start reading over breakfast.  If I have to wait 4 months I may have read discouraging reveiws, gone to the library, borrowed it from a friend, or already spent my money on new releases that month.  Also, if I’ve already waited 4 months, assuming I still want the book, why not wait a few more and then get it at the paperback prices?

    I’ll be glad when publishers get out of this “the sky is falling!!!” mentality and realize the innovation and growth are something to be embraced and that – hey! – if they get out on the forefront of something they stand to make buckets of money while their competitors are still sitting around dealing with cases of unsold hardcovers on their way to Dollar Book.

  25. 25
    c.g. says:

    I understand the line of thinking that the publishers are simply ranking ebooks along trade paperback and mass market now, and I don’t think it’s a completely unreasonable argument.

    However.

    I don’t know the numbers so I can’t say this with proper authority, but watching my habits and the habits of everyone I know, I’ve thought the hardcover model was starting to fail even before the advent and explosion of ebooks.  The majority of hardbacks are too expensive, especially in this economy, and no one wants to lug those babies around.

    Other than Deathly Hollows, the few hardbacks I’ve bought this decade were out of the $5.99-$7.99 clearance section.  Hell, I know a number of people who started buying more YA because the books were both good and cheaper.  If I’m reading a hardback I got it from the library, and it drives me crazy that it’s too inconvenient to carry around with me.

    The market is changing.  The most devoted readers prefer paperback or ebook.  Publishers need to get over it because I can’t think of a damn thing they could do to increase hardback sales.

  26. 26
    Theresa Meyers says:

    And this is why their profit margins are falling. That’s right, piss off your best customers, instead of realizing that you might as well cater to them if you want their money.

    Interesting corolation with this post by Michael Hyatt on future of book publishing:
    http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/michaelhyatt/~3/CWo0Le-ahYw/the-end-of-book-p
    ublishing-as-we-know-it.html

  27. 27
    Theresa Meyers says:

    And this would be why they are still seeing profit margins fall. That’s right, piss off your best customers by refusing to cater to their purchasing preferences. That’ll help the bottom line.

    Interesting considering post today by Michael Hyatt on the future of book publishing. Basically it’s history repeats itself. Silent film to talking film, black and white television to color, VHS to DVD. Once technology changes and becomes widely used and accepted, people generally don’t go back unless its out of nostalgia.
    http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/michaelhyatt/~3/CWo0Le-ahYw/the-end-of-book-p
    ublishing-as-we-know-it.html

  28. 28
    JenD says:

    I think the problem is that they’re assuming all readers are the same. We all want the book no matter what, and that’s just not the case.

    I’m a huge reader. I read constantly yet I don’t buy hardbacks. It’s not because of the price. I hate dealing with the size, I can’t hold it in my hand, the cover is annoying (what am I supposed to do with that anyway?) and the book doesn’t travel well. I am Not A Hardback Buyer. Full stop.

    Delaying me buying the book that I want will Never make me buy a hardback. It just won’t work. That’s akin to going to a restaurant and asking if they have Dr. Pepper.

    “Do you have Dr. Pepper?”
    “We have root beer”
    “Right, that’s nice, but do you have Dr. Pepper?”
    “Uhm, we have milk”
    “Err… OK, but do you have Dr. Pepper?”
    “We have a lovely salad dressing.”
    “Right, well water it is”

  29. 29
    ghn says:

    I do buy Dead Tree. Even HCs, occasionally. But these days I buy a lot more ebooks than Dead Tree – mainly because if I want to put my books on the bookshelves, I must buy more shelves.

    Simple as that.

  30. 30
    SB Sarah says:

    I’m getting a little tired of the self-righteous indignation of e-book fans. So what if you have to wait a few months? How is that any different from what any paperback fan (possibly you now e-book readers) has been doing for years?

    I’ve also said many times that I don’t like the fact that Amazon so deeply undercuts the price of hardbacks for the Kindle to $9.99 and then to $7.99 – just as harmful. I’m happily willing to pay the hardback price for the digital book that is released in hardback. I see ebooks as another format that could be as profitable if the prices are kept in line or close to the price of the currently available lowest-price paper version. I think delaying the ebook is an attempt to make me buy the model that works for the publisher, not the model that works for me as a reader.

    It’s like a publisher saying that large print books are being delayed so that those who are visually impaired will purchase the more expensive unabridged audiobook instead. Forcing a consumer to purchase one format over another for revenue based reasons is insulting and poor business all around. As a consumer I’ve demonstrated that I’m willing to pay more for a digital format book that is only available in hardback, and openly dislike as a reader and as an author the fact that the accepted price is so low as to be ludicrous. It’s not so much self-righteous indignation as spluttering dumbfoundedness at the decimation of a rapidly growing profit stream that could in a few years help support the changing financial marketplace that is publishing.

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