Sunday, January 4, 2009

Follow-up to my eBook sales blog

My previous blog entry received by far the most feedback of all I've written so far. I thought I'd respond to some of the objections readers posted in a discussion group I follow:

: Until there is an e-book reader that is actually convenient and
reasonable to use (Kindle is close, but who will pay $300.00?) e-books are going to be a fringe market.

My response:
I agree, but that's changing quickly. The quality of the screen, the battery life, and the ease of use are already much better than they were three years ago, and the prices will keep dropping. (Probably under $50 in a few years. Look at DVD players, which were over $500 a few years ago) I think within the next five years ebook readers will reach the tipping point, where they're good enough and cheap enough that people will buy them in droves for the convenience. Look at iPhones. They're ridiculously expensive, but people buy them because of what they can do. A few years ago, iPods were the same way. But now there are lower-end models that are affordable, and everyone seems to have one. eBook readers will be the same way.

People want to do what they want with things they buy.

My response:
Of course. And they should be able to, within reason. But I think being able to sell 500 copies of something they paid for one copy of is unreasonable, yet some pirates are doing exactly that.

Educating people is never going to work as long as people believe they
have the right to the product they bought

My response:
That's exactly the point of the education, to open people's eyes and get them to understand that what some people are doing is wrong. The PETA ads and others of that type have opened people's eyes to animal cruelty. Fur sales are down, and animal testing of cosmetics has pretty much been abolished.

You know what they say about locks only keeping honest people honest. If everyone thinks it's okay to share ebooks with everyone they know (and some they don't), then the book industry is done for, because eventually all books will be sold that way. The revenue stream will dry up if books are routinely pirated. But if we can make readers understand that they are hurting the book industry (authors and publishers alike), most people (the honest ones) will stop posting ebooks to websites for widespread distribution. The publishing industry can take action against relatively few pirates, but not against millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens who each upload a few books.

I've seen e-books for $25, so they're not even cheap. I guess the author and/or publisher figures people will pay $25 for a hardcover, so why shouldn't they charge the same?

My response:
I'm sure there are exceptions, but most ebooks are significantly cheaper than the equivalent print book. Check out

E-books are not going to make large printing houses go away from still offering the book in actual paper. The profit to cost is still great enough to warrant printing of books.

My response:
I agree that ebooks aren't going to make large publishers stop printing books. The cost of printing and shipping them will do that. In the past year, many of these publishers had to lay off employees, merge with other publishing houses, and even cut mid-list authors, because they were losing money or barely getting by. The picture isn't as rosy as you seem to think. The publishers can't keep laying people off to save money, because a certain minimum number are required to do the job effectively. (If you've read any books lately, you've probably noticed that the editing quality of some of them is aready suffering, with frequent grammatical and spelling errors that I never used to see from the big houses.)

As a result, they'll start offering ebooks as a cost-saving alternative to print. Oh, they'll bill it as a way for consumers to save money, but it'll really be to save
them money. Costs will be ower and profits higher. And they'll start promoting the hell out of ebooks.

Consider the various costs incurred by publishers: editing, designing covers, printing (printing machines, paper, and toner/ink), shipping, advertising, etc. All of these are incurred by print books. But with ebooks, you can eliminate the printing and shipping costs. Everything else should remain the same. We all saw what happened to the cost of food and almost everything else when fuel prices skyrocketed last year. A large part of the price increases was due to the higher cost of shipping. (After all, trucks, airplanes, and ships all use that expensive fuel.)

Sure, fuel prices have dropped back to more reasonable levels, but for how long? The next mid-East crisis or whatever can send them up again. And fossil fuels will only get dearer as the supply diminishes. But those are costs that go away entirely with ebooks (along with the costs for paper and those multimillion-dollar high-speed printers).

The consumers won't be quick to switch--many of them won't unless forced to. But eventually the only way they'll be able to find certain books will be in electronic form, and they won't have any choice but to do so. When that point is reached, it's just a matter of time until all books are only offered that way.

And it's not a bad thing. All those back-list titles that are out of print can be reissued, because with no printing costs (they've already been edited and the covers designed), there's no reason
not to offer them if there's even minimal demand.

All this won't happen in five years, perhaps not ten. But I don't think we'll see any more print books (except possibly special edition hardbacks) 20 years from now. (Do you buy many albums on cassette tape these days? I don't think video tapes will be sold much longer, either.)

Everything's going digital: TV, music, movies, cellphones, and now books.


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