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Let Your Book Find Your Audience. Become Format Polyamorous
Are we ready to stop the print books vs. ebooks battle?
I thought these kinds of “the sky is falling” conversations were all but over, but then ebook sales growth “slowed” to 41% for 2012 (instead of its three-year run at triple-digit growth).
Here, at the slightest glimmer of a respite, some in the industry are pulling us back into the cage to declare triumphantly, “SEE, print books are never going away!” I think they might have included a “humph!” at the end, too.
In this case, “slowed” growth is akin to reports that The Flash decided to go for a 4-hour long run around the earth instead of his typical 1-hour clip. Or, if your perspective on the digital transformation of the publishing industry is more gloomy (and cosmic), it’s like saying Galactus decided to only eat 1/4 of a planet instead of the whole thing. Go ahead and uncork the champagne bottle with that “useless” Kindle now…
I’m joking around, but only slightly. What kills me about this ongoing battle is that while each side has an interesting interpretation of the same data (Wired vs. Salon), both are basically missing the point. To me, the far more interesting and important transformation that’s happening is the evolution of traditionally printed content to a digital format. At this point you may be thinking, “evolution? it’s already evolved to a digital format. We have ebooks don’t we?” And you’d be right. We do have ebooks. But if we can take any cues from other industries that have experienced a digital transformation (tv, film, music, etc.), we should know that ebooks won’t be the end of it for publishing.
In the TV and film industry, the transformation didn’t end with VHS tapes or DVD’s, or even with digital downloads. Now we have video on demand, Netflix, and other streaming services.
In the music industry, we didn’t just move from vinyl records to CD’s to mp3’s. Now we have iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, NoiseTrade, and others.
While online piracy is still a concern for businesses in the entertainment industry, an objective observation of piracy will note that the majority of those who consume pirated tv shows and films would not have paid for the content to begin with. Instead of cannibalizing sales, you’re actually reaching more people. We’re ideologically opposed to piracy, but we still benefit from it by converting non-fans into fans. Fans will ultimately end up paying.
If publishers would like to stay ahead of the curve (instead of reacting to changes), then they need to get serious about making their published content accessible to audiences wherever they want to find it, including the cloud. I’ve heard the term “format-agnostic” passed around. It’s the idea that publishers trying to sell their books shouldn’t care about what format their book is sold in, they should simply focus on getting people to make a buying decision in favor of their book.
I’d like to challenge that term (not on the basis of what agnostic actually means, though) and suggest my own term that pushes the concept further: format polyamorous. Love for many formats.
Print books will never go away, because there’s a group of people who prefer the printed page, and are willing to pay traditionally higher prices for them. Ebooks will continue to perform well (maybe not triple-digit growth anymore), because there’s a group of consumers who prefer to read on the go with a digital device, and are willing to pay a certain price for those. Libraries are another interesting way to distribute ebooks to readers. What I’m talking about is the price elasticity of demand for a product, and the various customers you can reach by modifying the product and its price.
Are publishers actively seeking other ways to distribute the content of a book for various groups of people who are willing to pay for it to be uniquely delivered to them?
There are many possibilities for digital content distribution, including ones that we can’t even imagine right now. But for starters, I’ve written down a few concepts that already exist in other industries that may be worth considering.
The Netflix/Spotify Model:
While some publishers are trying this out already, I’m waiting for a third party company to launch a subscription-based model for ebooks. The Netflix model already looks similar to the kinds of deals publishers are making with libraries, but I think there’s room for something more similar to Spotify.
In this model, a reader would have access to an unlimited number of books for a monthly fee, and the publisher/author would receive payment based on how popular their title is on the platform. The beauty of this model is the possibilities that exist for user-data and analytics. Being able to track readers’ attention spans for books could help editors, authors, and publishers learn more about the flaws in their content, and improve over time.
I think Scribd.com is actually pretty well-positioned to launch this type of model successfully. They already have a premium membership available for a monthly fee, and with a few minor adjustments to the existing membership terms (like limiting printing capabilities), I think publishers would have a good reason to jump on board.
The Pay-As-You-Go Model:
When records and CD’s were the main product being sold in the music industry, the consumer only had one choice: buy the whole thing, even if you only like one track. Now that we can purchase songs individually, consumers are able to pay only for the product they want. Again, you might think that this is an example of sales being lost, but you have to consider the number of people who decided not buy a CD because it wasn’t worth the full price to them.
Some cell phone companies are using this model as well. Instead of signing up for an ongoing monthly contract, consumers are able to pay for what they use, and can switch to another service provider whenever they want. As long as the product keeps satisfying you, you can keep paying for it.
This model may start to sound like the old release strategy of serials, but there is a slight difference. With serials, the release of the book was scheduled out, and consumers would buy the latest volume when it came out to see how a story progressed. What I’m suggesting for the pay-as-you-go model is that a consumer have the option to buy the full book at full price right then, as well as the option to pay a much smaller amount for just a chunk of the book. This eliminates a bit of the risk for readers. They can buy the first few chapters, and if the story is interesting enough, they can buy the rest of the book.
Many books end up turning out to be duds, and the trouble is that we usually figure that out several chapters in, after we’ve already paid for the whole book. What if you could pay for each chapter the same way you do for a song track (although probably cheaper)? Consumers aren’t stuck with having paid for a book that they no longer want to finish, and publishers/authors still earn revenue on a title that might have otherwise been passed up at the beginning of the purchasing decision.
Publishers and authors might argue that this model is definitely cannibalizing potential sales for the full book, but I don’t think it does. I think it opens the marketplace up for the more curious readers who are timid with their wallets, and has the potential of being a new satisfying way for readers to explore new books. Besides, if the majority of readers are ditching a book half-way through without finishing it, whose fault is that?
The Redbox Model:
It’s not the best name for the model, because I’m guessing you’re imagining print books inside a kiosk being fed out to eager readers. Instead, think digitally, and consider the concept of Redbox. You pay a low amount, and you’re given that content for a specified length of time to enjoy.
With digital content, you could charge consumers to read a book for a specified time before it is deactivated on their reading device. Maybe it’s only $2 or $3 for a two-week period, or maybe readers can select a price based on the length of time they’d like to read the book. Speed readers and power buyers may love this option, and if other readers didn’t finish their book in time, they can pay for another chance to finish it.
These are just some brief ideas, but if you consider the iterations that currently exist of these models (Netflix, Spotify, Redbox), they have caused quite a bit of disruption/change within their respective industries. Continued digital change is coming. The question for publishers is whether they will be as surprised by these changes as they were with the growth of ebooks, or will they be the ones initiating the change this time around and earn more because of it?
Book marketing is shifting from mass reach to specializing messages for niche markets. Digital distribution needs to follow this shift to reach more readers who have varying levels of demand for a new book.
I’m sure it’s no surprise that, working at Harlequin, I love books – all books in all formats. But I’m picky about which format is best suited to a particular occasion. For example I never take my eReader to the beach – always print when near sand/salt water. And I much prefer an ebook for the subway or bus – better for thwarting curious over-the-shoulder readers.
I know I’m not the only reader out there who uses multiple formats, so I kept you format-hoppers in mind when putting together the coupons for our upcoming set of email-exclusive deals.
Sign up for the Summer Saver emails and we’ll send you a print and an ebook coupon each month for three months, July, August and September, and you choose the format you prefer! Sign up now
Reading print AND digital
by marketing coordinator Melissa Anthony
I’m a romance bookaholic. It’s as simple as that. Give me a story about a boy and a girl and their dive into love and I’m all over it. That’s probably why I’m not picky when it comes print vs digital books. I love them both! And let’s face it, at the rate I read, if I didn’t have an e-Reader I would be carrying around 2-3 books with me on my daily commute. Digital books open a wide range of ‘instant reading’ possibilities for me – and cater to my mood on days when I feel like I want to mix it up a bit. But nothing in the world will replace the feel and smell of a new printed book to me. The quiet crack when I open a new hardcover, the swoosh of a paperback as I open to my page and the musty smell, those actions are like eating chocolate after a long diet to me – utopia! Either with a click or a turn, I will continue to use both mediums to feed my addiction of the written word.
Amanda Hocking is so clued in!
What happens if they screw you over in a contract, steal all your money, and keep your erights forever> Then they do. I like the books St. Martin’s bought. And I believe in them. But if I lose money on them, I lose money on them. That’s the risk I’m taking. And I do know this is a risk. But it’s a calculated risk, and if it works out, the payoff could be enormous. But I’m making enough money on my other books - and I will continue to make enough on my self-published books - that I can afford to take this risk.
“The latest report from the Association of American Publishers, compiling sales data from US publishing houses, shows that total ebook sales in February were $90.3m (Â£55.2m). This makes digital books the largest single format in the US for the first time ever, the AAP said, overtaking paperbacks at $81.2m.”—
Association of American Publishers
It is important to note that though the eBooks numbers are impressive, in context they are largely influenced by eBooks unique sales pattern. Post holiday device loading comes during one of the traditionally lowest print book retail months. Still impressive but not a death knell for print just yet. - ebookporn