I’m revisiting this article from 2010 because I’m shocked at how much it still applies. Two years after the agency pricing model was implemented, it’s still a source of conflict between publishers and distributors, as well as publishers and readers. In addition, with the low-end Kindle model now priced at only $79, more and more readers are embracing e-books. Furthermore, studies are finding that, when they do, their reading habits change. The instant availability and gratification makes them buy and read more books.
Big-name publishers need to figure out a way to incorporate e-books into their business models in a viable way, or else risk going the way of the dinosaurs. Independent publishers are already doing this. Furthermore, the ease of e-publishing is allowing more and more self-published books to make their way on to the market — the consequence being that many of these books aren’t being reviewed and edited the way traditionally published books are.
It’s a brave new book world. The question that remains is whether old-school book publishers will embrace it, or run from it.
I’ve spoken quite a bit here about my burgeoning relationship with Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader. At first, I admit, I was concerned that I would mourn the loss of paper books. But then, once I started using the Kindle application on my iPhone, I realized just how convenient and easy it was to download and read books instantly. So by the time I finally got a real Kindle for Christmas, I was totally ready to embrace the technology. In the last six months, I’ve downloaded over 100 books. (And when I did the math the other day and realized that I’ve spent about $1000 on Kindle books, I almost fainted.) And the Kindle isn’t the only game in town: Sony and Barnes & Noble both have their own e-book readers. Apple’s iPad also has one.
And yet, book publishers seem to be dragging their feet. Over the past few months, several major publishers have gotten into conflicts with Amazon over its Kindle book pricing system. Basically, Amazon has been setting its own price points on e-books—typically $9.99 for new releases and bestsellers, often less for older books. But several major publishers want to set their own prices on e-books, which means those $9.99 bestsellers will probably jump in price to $12-$15.
The conflict between e-book sellers and publishing companies reminds me of the hubbub that occurred a little over a decade ago when Napster et al began distributing digital music files, when record companies cried that they would lose money from such distribution. Of course, unlike Napster, Amazon isn’t giving these titles away; rather, it is selling a legitimate digital copy.
And in a way, publishers are trying to adapt to including e-books in their business models. After all, they see that e-books are a potentially lucrative market, and who can blame them for wanting to make more profit off of this enterprise? On the other hand, why would customers want to pay $12-$15 for a digital book when they could buy the hardcover off of Amazon for nearly the same price? (Not to mention the fact that the hardcover, unlike digital books, can be lent to friends or given to charity when you’re done with them.)
And by getting caught up in the individual book prices, publishers are also missing the bigger picture. As I said, I’ve bought over 100 books for my Kindle since October. Now, I was always an avid reader—as CC2K’s Book Editor, I had better be—but I’ve bought more books over the past six months than I probably had over the past three years or so before that. The ease and convenience of getting the books—I can purchase a book for my Kindle anywhere, anytime, and read it instantly—combined with the discounted prices compared to paper copies has allowed me to read an unprecedented number of books. When I want a book, I can get a book. And no, e-books are never going to turn non-readers into literary aficionados, but what they can do is enable those who do read to do so more avidly and voraciously. You can take books with you anytime, anywhere, without the weightiness of paper copies. And for someone like me, who reads very quickly, e-books are ideal for travel: rather than carry several heavy books in my carry-on, I can download everything I want to read onto my Kindle, thereby ensuring that I have reading material aplenty for the duration of my trip.
And yes, there’s still some reluctance by many people to embrace e-books, but I think that will pass very quickly—especially if the questions I get whenever I bring my Kindle out in public are any indication. Furthermore, every day, more and more people are embracing e-books. And given the ease with which the younger generation embraces new technology, it won’t be long before people look at e-books the same way we look at paper copies.