A book is a book is a book

The end of printed newspapers
Scott Karp [linking to Scott Donaton in AdAge whose column is excellent] posts about the point of no return for print publishers. His point is important, critical even, for newspaper and magazine publishers. You might wonder then why I am making a deal of it here on a blog about book publishing.

Books are printed too
Well if you read my post yesterday on Richard Charkin and his questions over book prices and if you follow this link and consider some of the horrific stats on book sales you might begin to understand why it is important for books.

Books cost an awful lot to print and the price publishers can get for those books is falling as discounting and fierce competition makes the game a little tougher and makes book buyers believe that prices not at rock bottom discounts are “rip offs”. I do it myself. Three for two book deals, half price hard backs, buying books in blocks from Amazon.co.uk to avoid the crazy shelf prices in Dublin, (I ordered three recently and even with currency changes, postage and packing saved €35.00. Insane).

Still you wonder? The second half of the equation is not there; digital revenues are not doubling or trebling. And you would be correct. Although according to the International Digital Publishing Forum eBook sales in 2005 were some $11,000,000. A not inconsiderable sum when one considers the lack of a single simple standard, the failure of the major publishers to promote digital versions and with no dedicated mass market eBook readers in existence.

And the future?
Some time ago now I read this post by Michael Hyatt in his blog Working Smart. He basically offers the route to the end of print books in it: here is a flavour:

While most publishers will admit that reference content is better accessed on the computer, almost all believe that the traditional non-fiction book or novel will never be replaced with a digital equivalent. I say, “baloney.” It’s coming. The sooner publishing executives get their collective heads out of the sand and face the future, the better prepared they will be to meet it.

I am convinced that we are only one device away from a digital publishing tsunami. Consider what happened when Apple launched the iPod in October of 2001. They provided an end-to-end solution that made downloading music easy, portable, and fun. Now, 30-plus million iPods later, iPods are everywhere.

So we do have a problem
You can see then book publishers face a problem like print publishers. EBooks do not attract high prices. That is to say that I think most people feel that an eBook is less valuable than a real live (dead in Jeff Jarvis’ world) paper book. If an e-reader appears that quickly changes the market and shifts content online and into digital form as rapidly as music sales have shifted, traditional publishers will be faced with enormous difficulties. Their print runs will need to slide, their high costs need to be removed and eventually some books will simply no longer be printed in books and will remain exclusively as eBooks.

Which of course is no major deal. Why on earth should publishers worry? Does it really matter if a book is sold as a paper product, as an audio CD, as a downloadable eBook or as part of a subscription based updatable online book, or indeed some combination of these?

NO. IT ONLY MATTERS THAT IT SELLS.

If anything they should be jumping in this direction as quickly and rapidly as possible. They should agree a format that is cross industry and cross device. They should look for attractive price points and better reading devices. Publishers in short should be looking for ways to grab the market and sell more books.

So what of paper?
Scott says in his AdAge column:

I strongly believe that print has a future; it’s hard to imagine a world without glossy lifestyle monthlies because there’s no better delivery system (yet) for their photos and stories.

Well I believe that there will always be a place for paper books. They may be print runs like current mass market titles, they may number in the few dozens or they be anywhere in between but all of them will cost more per book than they do today. Printed books will be a premium product even as hardback books are today. But the truth is that at some stage the attractiveness of printing books in physical paper form will wear off as the economics, the readership or the authors [more on this later in the week] make continuing to print books in paper will make digital files the more important market for publishers.

Thinking too much,
Eoin

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6 comments

  1. Great post!Publishers must realize the changing markets and demographics for books. The baby boomers and the new generation of readers will push for Titles in all available venues. Publishers will grudgingly have to “get with it” albeit digging in their heels as they are dragged forward.

  2. Thanks Steve!
    PS Saw that you posted the news on the 9th century book. Aint it great?
    I was listening to the National History Museum Director on the radio yesterday and his enthusiasm was overflowing.

  3. i guess i agree that it’ll take a toll on cost in printing books. the end of it? perhaps, the proliferation of e-books.

    still, for me, it’s a lot more convenient [and pleasing to my eyes] to read books in hardcopy [printed version]. i always find it difficult and irritating on my eyes to read something before the monitor.

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