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Publisher Advice

Mark Mzyk | June 3, 2008

I’d like to start out by apologizing for my last post.  My previous post was below my standards.  It was simply a quote with a small blurb that provided no worth while insight.  I did nothing more than add to the echo chamber of the Internet and that isn’t what I’m trying to do.  At the very least, I try add more value to a topic and that last post just didn’t do that.

With that out of the way, I’m going to once again consider that last post of mine.  In that post I stated that publisher don’t get it, since they are charging the same for electronic books as they are for paper books.  Well, that comment was a bit short sighted on my part.  There are two sides to every coin.

It does appear to me that publishers must understand something, as many of them have fairly quickly digitized much of their content.  Instead of trying to hold on to paper books only, publishers have tentatively embraced ebooks and digital content.  While I may not agree with their business model, publishers should be given some credit for, at the very least, not shying away from a radical change to their industry.

Publishers have also embraced other ways of publishing.  Print on demand is growing rapidly (standard disclosure: I work for Lulu.com, a print on demand company).  Many publishers are accepting authors who started out with print on demand, even seeking them out at times.  If publishers aren’t entirely embracing print on demand, they are accepting it.

Kudos to publishers for not trying to sue new innovations to their industry into oblivion.

Still, there is more publishers could be doing.

Why don’t they lower the price on ebooks and digital content?  An ebook is almost entirely profit, since reproduction and storage costs are non-existent.  Why not make the barrier to reading an ebook low and then make profit in volume?  Consumers certainly know what a terrible deal ebooks currently are.  As ebook readers such as Amazon’s Kindle become more common place, consumers are going to demand that ebook prices drop, so why not avoid the pain of making consumers mad and just drop the price now?  Everyone will appreciate it in the end.  It will endear good will with consumers and give publishers a more realistic look at the ebook market than what currently exists.

Why aren’t publishers building an iTunes for ebooks?  I want a one stop destination where I can find nothing but ebooks.  Sure, places like Amazon can show me the physical book and ebook next to each other, but as ebooks become more the norm, there is an opportunity here for someone to capture the ebook market the way iTunes has captured the music market.  Consumers are going to want picking up an ebook to be as easy as downloading a song.  In the digital world, the two actions are actually the same thing – the only difference is the properties of the file I download.  An interface like the iPod’s album cover flip navigation would be a very powerful thing for ebooks – just replace the album covers with book covers.  Publishers would probably see sales increase if a tool like that existed, because it would increase the discovery of books.

Publishers should also be building content to draw in users.  The power of Google Adwords has been proven at this point.  Publishers have the opportunity to take advantage of that same power.  Publishing sites need to become destinations where consumers can go to find free stories, free ebooks, free author interviews, etc.  And right next to all the free, are links to the full length books to download or order, along with ads for related books.  Pull in the consumer with interesting content and they will be highly receptive to buying more.  The one caveat is that publishers need to make it dead simple to purchase and download ebooks or to order physical books.  The Internet is a place of instanct gratification and fast action.  Publishers need to provide for this so that consumers can buy without thinking, or else the consumer will be distracted by the next shiny object and never make the purchase.

I think there is significant first mover advantage in this space.  The first publisher to pull this off is likely to see very healthy returns.  For now, I suggest keeping an eye on Tor.  They so far seem to understand the internet better than most, with their site redesign in the works and the free ebooks they are currently giving away.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they are going to unvail and how closely it hews to the suggestions I just made.