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Thoughts on the Arrival of Amazon to Canada

Cultural Industry? Online sales? Protecton from Competition?

A week or so ago I wrote a piece criticizing Chapters/Indigo for not having any stock of David Shields’ new hard cover front list title, Reality Hunger, a day after the announced release date.

Not only did they have no stock, they had yet to place an order for this book that was getting embarrassingly good media coverage among the tastemakers of the pop culture world and the pillars of the establishment.

Fine.  Not a single physical copy available for sale in the entire country.

If I was responsible for sales for the largest publisher in the English speaking world I’d be satisfied with zero copies available for purchase in the largest chain store in an entire territory, as well.  Who wouldn’t?

That’s how you support the people in marketing & publicity who have just busted their asses to get the word out via Bookslut, Fader Magazine, The NYT, Globe and Mail, the Millions etc… right?

By not having books physically available for sale.

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But whatever, as my friends working in the industry exclaimed at once, your expectations are too high for both parties.

“Why don’t you just go online and buy it?” They asked, as tho they’d suddenly become a chorus from Thucydides.

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Cold realism & harsh efficiency.  Those are the touchstones of book publishing.

Don’t bother us with your questions about a new book of literary criticism, we’ve got LOLCat Colleckshuns to sell.

Get over it, Cranbury, buy the fucking book online and quit having expectations based on this antiquated notion of brick and mortar supply chain fulfillment.

What do you think this is, 2004?

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So we’ve collectively recognized publicly and finally that brick and mortar stores are a tertiary concern.  Well down the list of checkable priorities.

Online ordering is how people shop – hell, I buy a lot of books thru Amazon – and that’s just the plain facts.

Fine, no problem.

We’ve seen Chapters/Indigo, Costco, Amazon, Wal-Mart and their kin eviscerate any semblance of competition from independent booksellers in this country and elsewhere over the past 15 years and completely change the book publishing landscape.

We’ve learned to accept that.

BookExpo Canada, like poor old Humber Humbert, died of coronary thrombosis in the spring of 2009.

It’s over, the game has changed.

OK, I get it.

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So why is there even an agrument against Amazon coming in to Canada and setting up a distribution centre?

Increased efficiency & lower prices.  That’s what we want, right?

Competition drives the price down and keeps everybody honest.  Hell, books might actually be available when customers want them.

Who needs a traditional supply chain?

And, really, why would we seek to protect Chapters/Indigo from competition?

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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.

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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.

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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.



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.