This week has been a busy one in the publishing world. Two major events have occurred. The first is the advent of the "agency model" of e-book sales. The second is the release of the much heralded iPad. Being a techie and curious about the iPad even if I don't see it as an e-book reader so much as a mutli-use device, I'd love to get my hands on one to play with. Still, I don't think it will be the kindle-killer as many have suggested. There are still going to be a number of consumers who will want a dedicated e-book reader like the kindle or the nook. But the iPad will, in my opinion, force Amazon to adapt if it wants to continue being the leader in the e-reader field.
A couple of links of interest concerning the iPad came to my attention Saturday. The first, by Cory Doctorow, appeared on Boing Boing. The basic gist of his article is about why he won't be getting an iPad and his reasoning why no one else should either. But one thing he wrote jumped out at me: But the real economics of iPad publishing tell a different story: even a stellar iPad sales performance isn't going to do much to staunch the bleeding from traditional publishing. Wishful thinking and a nostalgia for the good old days of lockdown won't bring customers back through the door.
The link he cites refers to magazine subscriptions and how ad revenue from the new subscriptions generated by the iPad will take years before having an impact. But the same logic applies to traditional publishing. As long as publishers don't recognize that e-books are a growing segment, a viable segment of their sales, no gadget on the market -- no matter how fancy, how easy to use or how much it costs -- will be the savior the industry is looking for. Moreover, even if such a gadget existed, until publishers throw out their old business models and adapt to new technologies and new demands from the buying public, nothing will change.
(For reaction to what Mr. Doctorow had to say, check out The Digital Reader and Gizmodo.)
With the advent of the iPad is the beginning of the "agency model" of e-book sales. Until this week, e-books were bought and sold much like dead tree versions were. For one of the best explanations I've seen about the differences between the old model, or the "wholesale" model, and the agency model, check out I Love My Kindle. Buffo Calvin has written an easily understood piece about what the differences are and how they may affect e-book sales. An over-simplified explanation (my words here, folks) is that the publishers now set the price and Amazon, et al, are merely facilitators for the sale of the e-book.
So, what has this meant so far for owners of a kindle, or nook or Sony e-reader? The first, and most surprising, is that some customers are finding that they now have to pay tax on their purchases from the publishers who have opted for the agency model. Sure, it's not much. Most folks, even, don't seem to mind since this money isn't going to the publisher and might help ease at least a little the financial problems of their state of residence. But this change has been noticed and everyone is looking for more add-ons they weren't expecting.
The second change is that Amazon is identifying those books sold by publishers who have insisted on the agency model. For example, if you look up any of the Series of Unfortunate Events books, you will find the following notation:
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
This price was set by the publisher
From what I've been able to tell, this same disclaimer has been placed on all books that fall under the agency model.
The third change that has occurred is the increase in price of some books that had sold prior to the agency model for $9.99 or less. Again, going to I Love My Kindle, there is a breakdown of book price changes. Take a look and see what's happened so far in these early days of the new agency model. The look at the following article on the blog and you will see what my concern has been from the moment the agency model was announced. Some e-books now cost more than their paperback counterparts. Please, someone explain this to me. What reasoning is there for charging more for a DRM'd book that you can only read on a limited number of devices than for a physical book you can loan to your family and friends, resell to a second hand bookstore or in a garage sale, etc? Have the publishers lost their fricking minds?
Now, there has been on interesting by-product of all this. Whether it is an attempt to entice iPad purchasers to buy their books, or an attempt to show they really aren't the bad guys, but HarperCollins issued the largest selection of free books I've seen since I was given my kindle in September. At last count, there were something like 25 e-books being offered for free by HC. These included non-fiction books ranging from self-help to a Mars-Venus book. I believe there are 10 of the Lemony Snicket books available for free. There were a couple of new books. A book by Sheldon Leonard and another by Agatha Christie. In all, it was enough to take some of the sting out of increase in prices -- at least for the day.
So, what can we do about the agency model and the increase in prices for e-books? How do we get e-books released at a reasonable time in relation to the release of the hard cover or trade paperback? First, don't give a book a bad review because of the price -- especially if you haven't read the book. However, you can write the publisher and the author to let them know how you feel about paying as much, or more, for an e-book as you do for a hard copy. Buy books by other authors, those who publish through houses that haven't adopted the agency model.
What do you think? Is the iPad going to revolutionize e-book readers or not? And what about the future of e-book sales under the agency model? What are you going to do to voice your disapproval -- or approval if you think the agency model is a good thing -- to the publishers? The floor is now yours.