Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tipping Point for eBooks?

There are two very interesting articles this month at www.publishersweekly.com that every writer/author should read.

Why?

Glad you aksed.

Those of us who've been around the publishing business for the past decade or so know what an uphill climb it has been to get traditional publishers to accept the idea of eBooks as a viable alternative publishing format. Not a replacement for paper, but a choice to give the readers who prefer an electronic option.

Why?

Again, glad you asked.

It's difficult for larger companies to change their business models, especially if the one they are using is making their main audience happy. And, guess what - that main audience isn't necessarily the customer - in this case the reader. I know this is a difficult concept to grasp but for most big businesses, the primary audience is their major share holders and/or the board that has a tremendous amount of influence with the company head honchos. After all, it's ususally the board that holds much of the stock and hires/fires the head honchos. You don't have to look that far back in the news to see many examples of this.

When I was studying at UCLA in the mid 1970's, the major amercian car makers took a similiar approach about selling cars that main stream publishers took about a decade ago about eBooks. I distinctly remember an interview with executives at the big car companies where they stated that they weren't going to make more fuel efficient cars like many of the foreign imports at the time. Their position was that americans would only buy american made cars regardless of the fuel efficiency issue. Well, those of us who were struggling financially to put ourselves through school had a different attitude. Especially those of us in a place like Los Angeles.

Keeping costs under control was critical for a starving college student. When I started driving in the early 1970's gas cost twenty-nine cents a gallon. Less than a month after receving my driver's license gas shot up to thirty-nine cents a gallon. I was mortified. My main income was babysitting at less than a dollar an hour so that ten-cent increase was significant for me. Not long after starting college the gas crisis of the 1970's hit and gas shot up to $1.80 a gallon. Doesn't sound like much today but like anything else, cost is relative to how much money you make.

So, what does this have to do with eBooks?

Again, glad you asked.

Just like the reluctance on the part of the big car companies to change with their customers needs, big publishers dragged their feet, digging in their hells about selling electronic versions of their books. In the beginning especially, the cost of a hardcover and the eBook format were the same. It was easy for readers to get the hardcover for as much as 40% off at stores but the eBook version ususally wasn't discounted at the same rate and often the only place to get the eBook format was the publishers website. Confusing - isn't it! Well, not really.

If you don't want to change your business model and you want to show everyone that you were right that something wouldn't work, then it's easy to understand why big publishers essentially undermined the acceptance of eBooks in the beginning. Readers weren't going to embrace eBooks when they cost the same amount as the hardcover and in some cases more. True there weren't many electronic reading devices in the beginning but many, many obstacles had to be fought by those who did develop these devices.

Now publishers are scrambling to make sure they meet their customers needs who prefer an electronic format for their reading. Will paper ever go away? No it won't, and if you need evidence of this just think about the paperless office that was touted in the 1980's. (Okay, yes I'm showing my age here.) The idea is that eBooks are one more option for the reader and with more and more readers wanting to go green, it's also one more way for authors/writers to expand their readership.

Back to the two articles I referenced.

One is called The Customer is King at Digital Book 2008. Here's the link:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6561155.html?nid=2286&source=title&rid=173369612

The other is called Taking the Digital Plunge - A Case Study. Here's that link:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6557091.html?q=digital+institute

Just remember - knowledge is power and these two articles definitely contian knowledge that every writer needs to read to further empower themselves.