In which publishers and sellers alike seem to be on the verge of losing their minds.
First off, let me just say that I’ve been reading ebooks since 1994. They’re not new. This whole ebook thing has been coming for a long, long time, and I can’t figure out why the big book publishers can’t figure out how to monetize ebooks without acting like morons.
Second off, I’ve been buying ebooks for a long time too, and I’ve read a lot of ebooks on a lot of platforms. Those are my creds as an ebook reader, so I kinda know what I’m talking about here, from a customer’s point of view. Seriously, I only know one person who has been reading ebooks as long as I have (this means you, NLW).
Third off, what the fuck is going on over at Amazon? They’ve pulled literally every Macmillan title due to some kind of “pricing dispute.” Apparently, Macmillan, after learning that the Apple ebook store will let them charge more than $9.99 per title, has decided that Amazon should do the same. Since Amazon sells virtually all of its ebooks at the $9.99 pricepoint, they pulled the Macmillan titles! (My beloved Tor is a Macmillan imprint, BTW.) It’s a freakin’ mess, and you know who’s getting hurt?
The authors. Because their BOOKS AREN’T SELLING.
A lot of treeware publishers are doing a terrible job embracing the ebook format. They’re running around carrying on about DRM and sounding like idiot RIAA executives from the 90’s. It’s a mess. They should all go read Eric Flint’s brilliant argument for loss leaders and against DRM, written a decade ago, posted at the Baen Free Library.
Here are some truths:
1. DRM DOES NOT PROTECT YOUR CONTENT! EVER!
2. PIRACY IS NOT THAT BIG OF A GODDAMNED PROBLEM!
3. THE BIGGEST PROBLEM FOR AUTHORS IS EXPOSURE!
1. I have never given anyone an ebook that I have purchased. NEVER. Not once. (Well, maybe once or twice, but if so I don’t remember it.) But if I wanted to give someone an ebook, the file format wouldn’t matter – any secure format can be broken. Back when the iTunes store was still selling music with DRM, all you had to do to break it was burn your songs to disc and then rip them back into your library! Duh! I have software on my computer right now that will break DRM on music, video, and certain ebook formats. Why? Because sometimes I want to use my content on hardware other than the hardware the seller wants me to use it on. Since I PAID FOR IT, I feel completely fine about breaking the DRM for my own ends, just as I feel fine tearing a blank page out of a treeware book to write a note on.
2. I’ve read absurd projections by some publishers; they claim they would lose a huge amount of money if they distributed new book releases in non-secure ebook format. WTF, over? They sound just like the record companies. I can’t believe these people didn’t pay attention to electronic formats in the music industry! Where the hell were they? Yes, some content gets pirated, but so what? It’s free advertisement! A truly heartening percentage of the ebook reading public is made up of moral people who will, if they can, pay for things they’ve enjoyed. Piracy does not “lose” you money. You can’t lose money you never had in the first place.
3. And, as they say so well over at Baen, loss leaders WORK. If you have a trilogy, give the first book away for free in ebook format. It’s cheap because all you have to do is format it once and host it; there are no manufacturing costs involved. You’ll find (if the book doesn’t suck) that the entire trilogy’s sales will increase: win/win for publisher and author.
Hey big publishers, the electronics are coming! You gotta get ready! It used to be a sub-market of weirdos like me with rare hardware, but now we’ve got the Kindle and the iPad and by the end of this decade the ebook format is going to be ubiquitous. You need to figure this out tout de suite. You are going to have to embrace the ebook format. You are going to have to take a smaller cut on electronic books, and you are going to have to change your product release cycle to quit holding ebook versions for ten months and then overcharging for them.
We, your audience, know perfectly well that the cost of producing a treeware book is SIGNIFICANTLY LARGER than the cost of releasing an ebook, and it pisses us off when you set ebook price points at hardcover levels. (I didn’t buy the a particular Guy Gavriel Kay book for over five years because it was nearly thirty bucks. THIRTY BUCKS FOR AN EBOOK? I waited until it came down to proper ebook range before I bought it.) It also pisses us off when we learn that between you and the ebook vendor, authors are making pennies off of ebooks – that’s why we buy them, when we can, directly from the author’s website, or from ebook sellers who are known to pay higher percentages.
With the paper, printing, and shipping out of the equation, all a publisher does is select, edit, and promote. That pretty much makes you an agent, which lowers your take pretty significantly. Which is okay, because the book market is huge. Readers tend to read a lot, and ebook readers will continue to make it easier and easier to read (and buy) a lot of content.
You have got to change.
Please, do it more gracefully than the music industry did, mmm’kay? You need to get ebooks to market alongside the treeware versions, and yes, you have to charge less for them. You have to select industry-standard formats; don’t bring yet another format to the table because there are already dozens. Forget about stupid DRM, too, because it DOESN’T DO ANYTHING BUT ANNOY EVERYONE. Design and implement appropriate sales tracking, so that you can see for yourself that ebooks can actually increase treeware sales. (Look at Cory Doctorow! He releases all his books in ebook format… for free! And he’s a success. Go figure!)
Believe me. This doesn’t have to be scary, and you don’t have to look stupid. Mellow out, there, big fellas. It’ll be okay.