Ebooks: a rant from a consumer

Ebooks are here to stay.  Whether you like the idea of ebooks or not, they are going to be sticking around.  Personally, I am trying to move more and more of my world digital.  My filing cabinet is almost empty.  My bookshelf with the few paperbooks that I really don’t want to get rid of are on the shelf in my basement while the bookshelf that I really use is on my computer in a folder.  My CDs are in a box in storage, but all of my music is on my mp3 player and my two computers.

I still buy DTB (dead tree books) and CDs.  But I am more price sensitive than ever.  For the most part, I buy what is cheapest.  If a CD is $10 and the mp3 files are $10 I will probably buy the CD.  If the CD is $15 and the mp3 files are $10 I will buy the mp3 files.  If the digital music files are DRM, I won’t buy them regardless of the price.

Books are a different story.  I am locked into the Amazon world.  I am ok with that for now.  The kindle is the best ereader out there right now.  That will probably change, but I am ok with DRM restricted content because I know I can break it if I really need to.  I buy paperbooks, but only if I think I have someone to give them away to.  I am keeping no paper books.

What I find strange are publishers and authors that seem to want to complain about the end of the world.  It is overblown.  The book world is changing, it is not ending.  There are more books being written and published now than ever before.  Sure there is more trash being written than ever before, but quantity and quality usually work together.  Today the primary problem is the filter.  So much is being written that it is almost impossible to filter through it and get to the good stuff.  And I am not convinced that publisher are the filter they claim to be.

One of the main roles of publishers in the past, and one of their more important ongoing roles is filter.  Publish what is good, act as editor and first reader and make sure what is published is worth the effort of reading.  Publishers are falling down on that role.  Overworked copy editors are letting a lot of errors slip through.  Overworked book editors are not asking author to cut the fluff.  Authors that have make money with just a few ideas, keep repackaging them instead of thinking of new ideas.

Meanwhile, publishers are concerned that ebooks are going to leave them without any profits.  They have a real concern.  But I think the problem is not the ebook, that is just a distribution method.  The problem is their model.  Historically 1/3 of published books tanked, 1/3 paid their costs but didn’t make any money and 1/3 made a lot of money.  That is what publishers know.  So they risk a lot on books.  Books really are fairly expensive to produce.  And I fully admit, it is not the printing cost that is expensive.  The average hardcover is less than $2 to print and distribute.  The average paperback is only about $1 to print and distribute.  But publishers are used to charging $20-30 for a hardback and $7 to 14 for a paperback.  So they are making a lot of extra money on the hardback that they are not making on the paperback.  Like first run movies, the highest return comes from the initial distribution.  Second run movies, DVD and TV rights have much less profit.  The problem for them in the future is justifying why they have been charging 2 to 3 times the paperback costs for a hardback if it is not based on the added printing costs.

So that brings us back to ebooks.  I think publishers have full rights to mess with their pricing.  Charge $20 if you want for an ebook.  Charge twice as much for the ebook as the hardback.  Hold the ebook for several months and treat it as a second run movie.  Capitalism is based on experimentation.  So try out your experiments and get the most out of your product you can.  You are a business and your job is to make money.  My job is to buy something that I want, for a price I am willing to pay.  So if I choose this less good indie author that is giving away their book instead of your big name author that you want to charge $20 for an ebook, don’t cry to me.  It may be that the indie author is actually better than your big name.  But I will pay for content that I want.  I just paid $10 for an ebook, when I have over 100 books waiting to read, because I had a friend recommend it.  I can get free books all over the place, not only indie authors, but the 1000s of public domain works.

Publishers, I wish you well, just stop complaining that the world is about to end and deal with it.

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