Thursday, March 10, 2011

Point in time observation

The rise of the e-book is mirroring the path I was afraid it would mark. Between the two camps of "print books will wholly disappear in the near future" and "there will always be print" lies what I think should be the logical and clear road: that there is room for both. One should not have to supplant the other.

And I think in a more rational world, this would happen. However, I've been blasted on the internet for pointing out how many e-books cost more than their print versions, and many more are within a dollar, but this is so easily visible now that there shouldn't be a question to anyone who's taken issue with this notion in the past.

I read of a survey recently where the number one thing that kept readers from buying more books was... wait for it... price. Yes, I've written too many words about this in older posts so I won't retread that ground now. But if publishers are going to charge roughly what they charge for print versions of their books, then the appeal of the e-book has to change for the typical non-independently wealthy reader such as most of us.

An e-book reader is a godsend if you want to read public domain works that simply are not within reach as a physical book. The unabridged diaries of Samuel Pepys, the works of Richard Burton (no, not the actor--you knew that, right?), and more can finally be more accessible than a Project Gutenberg file on your computer. Being able to increase the font size is a marvelous thing for people with declining eyeballs.

To a lesser extent, there are a number of readers who are not bibliophiles, who merely want to read the text and not be encumbered with the disposing of the book. All well and fine.

But if e-books, with no printing, distribution, consignments, returns, and perhaps most expensively, the sponsoring of shelf and table space a publisher pays for bookstores to trip each customer as they walk into the store, why in god's name would you price the damn things so high?

My point is that the BIGGEST, most substantial benefit of e-books should be that it makes books, at least in some form, more accessible. Because without all of the physical issues, the costs should go waaaaaaaay down. And yet, they've gone up, especially when you consider the agency model which has taken away the ability of a bookstore to set the book's price.

So to circle back to the beginning of this post, publishers are mucking up the whole thing. In this environment print books aren't going anywhere, and I hope that the pricing is about at the limit of what publishers can charge.

Bring back mass market paperbacks (not the inch-taller, two-dollar more abortions), lower your hardcover costs, price e-books closer to three or five dollars (in other words, follow the lead of the writers who are making many sales and much money by self-publishing without going through a traditional house), and you will move more books.

If a library buys a book, they can keep it in service as long as they like. Thanks to recently (stupid) publishers' terms, a library can allow an e-book to be checked out one user at a time (like a physical book), but after 26 check-outs the library has to purchase it again.

There are many issues with publishing today, and there have been for years. When the day dawned where individual houses were gobbled up and merged into just a few divisions of mega-corporations, the business of books was probably doomed. Sensible e-book pricing and marketing might have helped things, but much like the government, when the people who can enact the change don't want to be affected by the change, it ain't gonna happen.

If small press publishers can keep their prices down, I see rosy futures for them. On the other hand, with fewer and fewer bookstores or outlets to move them, an internet presence is likely key.

Incidentally, this post was going to be about something else, but I lost my way. Fortunately, there's always tomorrow.


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