Thursday, February 4, 2010

Digital Madness: What does it Mean?

Last weekend Amazon stopped selling Macmillan books. For SFF readers, this means TOR. The issue was that the publisher (Macmillan) was determined to enforce the Agency Model (Which Apple agreed to for the iPad) on Amazon.

What is the Agency Model? Publishers set price of e-books as Mike Shatzkin describes at length. The dilemma is clear, with a corporation come maintenance costs of all their departments. All of the departments are necessary in order to get one book on the bookstore shelves. Publishers are scared that the buying patterns are not going to sustain their current model. Well, it can't sustain their current model, and that's the truth. The Agency Model is their attempt to get what they need and meet consumer needs.

But it is the consumer who will decide the price in the end. Right now, we'll get to start as Amazon capitulated to Macmillan's request. Amazon's prices may not go up, however. Amazon sells all their books at a loss, including e-books and makes money in other ways.

(An aside: Welcome to the digital society where wealth = information and wealth is unequal to resource/commodity, in the conventional sense. You'd think it still was, but decades of overpriced Banana Republic and Gap clothing have taught us perception = value, and marketing requires an understanding of how perception translates into behavior).

So this leaves the publishers nervous because books (and what their made out of) still cost them money. Then the salaries of employees. The iPad will sell e-books for no more than $15... but when all my paperbacks cost $8-$10 I'm not enthusiastic about investing in an e-reader. Just saying...

But internet buying is sticking. Even if it's print books. Selection is everything, then value, then cost. The consumer will decide. I just get nervous when I fear that if e-books get to pricey (too much over their percieved value) that piracy will become an ever-growing concern. I don't want the average reader to be ok with piracy. I want reading, in all forms, to be encouraged.

Part of me starts to wonder if smaller publishers would be more successful with e-books and print publishing in this digital era. Fewer employees, less profit required. A focus on electronic publications, with the same 70/30 ratio could be structured at a cheaper cost per item, provided the same quantity could be delivered. The marketing strategy, however, would have to be markedly different than the current means. Not that things aren't already emerging to fill this need (Google Book Trailers and sit back for some amusing times).

It just seems to me that authors are driving more of these changes than the publishers. Publishers will spend a lot on Hollywood-esque trailers, but that prioritizes some books over others, rather than laying it all on the table and permitting the consumer to decide (at least, if the trailer is selling the book). So authors pice together cheaper, more rudimentary trailers, but these still get the point out there.

And soon, so soon... HTML 5 is going to change the world, and allow video to be coded in the website (replacing Flash, where you click and it runs, often slowly). This will make for much smoother presentation of a Book Trailer. So you can put it on your website! Put it on YouTube! Post links on Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail like crazy. More options, more diversity, better visibility, no?

Wait...isn't all that easily done by a small press or an author? Even an agent? Agent and author team? Geesh. The models got to change. That's all I know.


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