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Simon and Schuster Test Waters w/ Stephen King eBook Release

Stephen King

UPDATE: This post has been refreshed from its original state.  That’s what I get for taking Publisher’s Weekly at its word.

Anyway, mid-way through this piece I ask readers to suspend their disbelief – difficult to do when reading a post on book publishing, pricing and digital content, I know – and  follow my argument as I use the information from the Publisher’s Weekly column slightly out of context but not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Mark Coker from Smashwords.com lends useful insight via this Huffington Post piece. Follow the hashtag #publishersmatter on Twitter.

Please add any comments that you think are helpful.

***

Interesting piece from Publisher’s Weekly about Simon and Schuster’s decision to delay the release of the eBook version of Stephen King’s massive new novel, Under the Dome.dome

Apparently S&S will be releasing the 1000+ page novel on November 10th and then dropping the ebook on the market on December 24th.  Timing is everything, I guess.

The Publisher’s Weekly piece also notes that the S&S will be charging $35 for the eBook, however some further research conducted at StephenKing.com indicates that the ebook will sell for standard Kindle-pricing.

Mr King asks his readers not to “believe the press reports that the e-book reader price for Under the Dome will be $35. This was the result of confusion from a press release from the publisher… It is true that you cannot order the book as an e-download until December 24th, but the physical book, which is a beautiful thing, you can pre-order for less than $9–so who’s better than us?”

So, pricing right?  It’s all up in the air.  Nobody knows what anything is worth whether it’s a brand spankin’ new hardcover or an infinitely replicable digital file.  Are they both worth $9?  Really?  Are publishers seriously asking the public to swallow that crock?

But they’re trapped between the ruthless capitalism of dominant retailers at war with each other and the ruthless efficiency of the digital age.

***

Let’s say for example that the Great Book Pricing War of 2009 wasn’t happening and skewing this argument beyond proportion and let’s say that S&S thought that $35 for a hard cover was a fair price – which it is – and that $35 for an eBook was also a fair price – which is arguable to say the least.

I float this scenario forward for your consideration because I have heard book publishers say the very same thing – that a digital file should be priced at the same level as the physical product.

To me this notion of equal pricing for physical/digital looks more like a series of test balloons designed to reinforce industry fears than skillful marketing strategies for new books by some of English language’s most beloved authors.

Who gave the final OK on that pricing strategy and where is he/she getting their information?

It’s well documented that the last Harry Potter book – itself a hefty tome – was pirated and disseminated almost immediately upon release (in fact, an in-house perp at Scholastic did the job even before the book hit the shelves) and surely the people at Simon and Schuster are aware that this will happen here, too.  I expect that this book will be seeded widely within 24 hours of officially going on sale.

I have documented the bibliographic zeal that Stephen King’s fans show toward his work online in my presentations on DRM and Free Content.  I expect that a great majority will look at the cost of $35 for the hard cover version as a fair price to pay – and indeed many of the people who use P2P/torrent sites to download and share Stephen King’s books are dedicated enough to purchase the physical copy – and will see the same price for a digital file as incomprehensibly expensive.

This will certainly bear watching.  I have to believe that this is some kind of Big Author Test of Current Market Conditions rather than a strategy that S&S expects to trot out for every new hard cover release.

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol showed us something about this new digital/print landscape and the new Stephen King promises to yield even more data even if it seems that it will come at the expense of common sense.

But one must keep an open mind.  Hopefully this publishing event will show us something new.

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Impact of Piracy and P2P on Book Sales: Frankfurt

Impact Of Piracy And Free ( T O C F F)

View more presentations from bfoleary.
Brian O’Leary of Magellan Media has updated the data for his Impact of P2P and Free Distribution on Book Sales.  He presented this update at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair.
Brian’s research and methods have been very influential on my own work.


O’Reilly Radar Picks Up the Future of Publishing Interview

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Mark Sigal at O’Reilly.com included a link to the Open Book: Toronto interview that I recently did with Book Oven‘s Hugh McGuire in his most recent O’Reilly Radar posting.

To be mentioned positively on the O’Reilly Radar is a huge enough honor but to be included in a piece about the revolutionary prospects of the forthcoming Apple tablet… well, that’s just beyond words.

Mr Sigal’s piece begins with this quote:

“It is August, 1927, and Al Jolson is industriously, unwittingly, engaged in the destruction of one great art form and the creation of another…In four short years, the ‘talkie’ will completely subsume the silent movie.” – from The Speed of Sound by Scott Eyman

Here’s what he had to say about our interview:

In “The Future of Publishing,” Sean Cranbury and Hugh McGuire do a beautiful job of getting to the it of what makes a book, a book.

They say that the primary thing a book has to do is “fulfill its promise as a transmitter/inspirer of ideas, art, thoughts, story, entertainment.”

Thanks again to Amy and Clelia at Open Book: Toronto for being so great.  And to Hugh McGuire for being an amazing accomplice in this.



What I Want When I Want It: Chris Anderson’s Free

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The first time that I read Chris Anderson’s new book “Free” was on a website called Scribd.  The book had just been released and Scribd was (and still is) allowing readers to check out the book’s entire content for free: so long as you’re not trying to read the book for free from Canada.  That kind of cross-border digital experience is strictly forbidden.

Didn’t bother me much. I wasn’t paying for it so I couldn’t really argue but I’ve been following some of the conversations and interviews that Mr Anderson has been doing online over the past month and I thought that I’d share a few links that I think are interesting.

The first link will take you to the lengthy article at Wired.com that forms the basic argument for his book, Free. The article is called “Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business.”

And then there’s a very interesting interview that he did with Der Spiegel Online about the demise of print journalism, traditional media and the inability of old terminology to adequately describe new realities.

The interview is called “Maybe Media Will Be a Hobby Rather Than a Job” which is a mis-quote from something that Anderson said during the interview. It sounds juicier when taken out of context.

The interview ends with this nifty little exchange in italics below.  I think it’s a lucid distillation of the issues that journalism, traditional media and the publishing industry are facing now.

SPIEGEL: Conclusion: There is no convincing solution so far — even from provocateurs like yourself?

Anderson: I think we will discover that whatever the business model of the 20th century was, it will be different in the 21st. Maybe we realize that selling ads is not the business we’re in. Maybe we’re into selling online content to audiences, or in creating communities or into selling events — in a similar way to which parts of the music industry is making money from concerts. Maybe companies that were built around the old business model will go away and other companies will come up, in much the same way as old record industry labels may disappear but the Apples of the world, with their iPods and iPhones, will continue to do well.

SPIEGEL: One last thing, why isn’t your book free?

Anderson: You only pay for the hardcover version. The marginal cost for the digital file is zero, so I’ll give the digital text and the audio files away for free. However, if you want to have the abridged audio book in a 3-hour-version, then you’ll have to pay.

SPIEGEL: Because time is money?

Anderson: Exactly.

* I have added this last bit to the conversation that Michael Tamblyn and I had over at the ShortCoversBlog and have updated my earlier post about eBooks pricing.  Note Anderson’s mention of ‘marginal cost’ for a digital file – it would appear that Scribd is still offering Free for free on their site but Amazon US has it for $19.99 ($9.99 for the Kindle edition) and ShortCovers has it on their site for $9.99 ($11.99 CDN).  The devil is in the details as always.

** By the way, I was tipped to a lot of this by Andrew Savikas who wrote about it here.  If you’re not familiar with Andrew’s work please take the time to read through his site especially his piece, Content is a Service Business.  Compulsory reading.



Mocking the Amazon Kindle: Green Apple Books Delivers

Green Apple Books in San Francisco has put together two great videos playing old school books against the Amazon Kindle.

In case you’re wondering what amazing tactile – not to mention tethered – experiences the Amazon Kindle offers please check these videos for details.

Many posts on this blog advocate embracing new digital technologies and occasionally mock publishers for dragging their feet in adopting these new technologies and not making books available digitally for their customers.  Yes, I am the same guy who writes those posts, too, but recognize this: I am not in favour of brutal, clunky, exclusive, non-customer friendly technologies that cost $400 USD and don’t actually allow you to own the content that you pay for – see Kindle vs George Orwell’s 1984 for more details.  That is something that’s too ridiculous to consider.

I believe in digital dissemination and ease of use for ebooks via things like the iPhone and/or whatever technology that is inclusive and open as opposed to exclusive and tethered, but I also believe that the digital revolution in publishing is only going to make publishers make better books and more money.

I’m happy to see the guys at Green Apple Books rightfully mocking the Amazon Kindle.



Excerpted Thoughts for a Sunday Morning

The italicized text below is a response that I wrote to a question that my friend Janet asked me via Facebook this morning.  I post it here because I think that it’s a fairly succinct expression of some of the ideas that I’ve been thinking about recently.

IMG_1396That’s a good question, Janet.  It seems impossible for me to imagine that the move to digital could be stopped or thwarted or derailed… but one of the things that I said many times when talking at SFU is ‘keep an open mind and be prepared to adapt’ so one has to be ready for whatever.

The technology is just so much more sophisticated, democratic and ubiquitous now than say it was at the end of the 90’s when the first digital readers appeared like clunky plastic mastodons on the digital landscape.

Look at the utility and ubiquitousness of the mobile phone.  In south east Asia, China, Japan, Korea.  Those are the places that we should be looking to for cues on what’s possible and how to disseminate content, who the audience is and how they access that content in the first place.

You think that people in publishing are scared of digital now?  Wait until they realize that the price of their electronic content is going to be around 99 cents and some times much less than that.  $9.99 is a dream come true for digital content costing but once Amazon’s death grip on the market is broken and a true ecology of online retailers and content providers starts to allow the consumer to decide price and once publisher’s get savvy enough to start repackaging content in meaningful ways for the new consumer then maybe the industry will cease to have this fear based sense of entitlement – which will kill whoever doesn’t snap out of it – and will realize that they’re actually a service provider to the customer.

Adaptation, improvisation, experimentation: those are the tools that need to be applied to the problem of digital change in book publishing.

Here’s my final heretical thought: serial downloads of content on a micropayment plan.  The next Dickens will arrive in digital installments paid for by subscription and unencumbered by DRM to your cell phone a couple times a week.  It’ll cost you next to nothing but the sheer number of readers will be staggering.  The real money is made by various digital extensions and mutations of the content – by allowing the readership to manipulate and remix the content among other things – and the physical edition that is printed at the end.  Remainders will become non existent because the publisher’s knowledge of their customers combined with better printing technologies – POD will become the engine that drives physical books into unexplored markets worldwide – will allow them to print an almost exact number of books to satisfy the market.

The book is not going away, writers and creators using language are not going away.  If anything the book is going to achieve a more exalted place in the minds of the public.

But the current landscape of book publishers are not entitled to be there without breaking a sweat.  If there’s a lot of dawdling then their competition will blow past them at the speed of light.



DRM & eBooks: Cory Doctorow @ O’Reilly’s Tools of Change 2009

I have finally figured out how to embed video from Blip.tv!  I am extremely happy to post this excellent video of Cory Doctorow speaking at the O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in February 2009. The title of Cory’s talk is TOC09 Digital Distribution and the Whip Hand: Don’t Get iTunesed with Your eBooks.

This video saw the first appearance of something called Doctorow’s Law, which states: “Any time someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn’t give you the key, it’s not being done to your benefit.”

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