Print is dead?

September 20, 2010

Anyone with a big interest in digital publishing should check out this book: Print is Dead by Jeff Gomez. (At time of writing I can only see a paperback and hardback version available on Amazon, think someone is missing a trick here by not having a digital version…)

Jeff is a  senior director of online consumer sales and marketing for Penguin Group USA – so he knows his apples.

I read his book while in Zante last year sat by the pool and mostly found it enlightening.

The only real area I disagreed with him was on pricing of digital books. As I recall his argument was that publishers needed to charge the prices they do to ensure they could keep their staff in their offices doing the fine work they do.

This mostly amounts to quality control of submissions that go on to become books and then editing the text and laying them out before distributing them.

In my previous post I mentioned Gail Rebuck of Random House, in her Media Guardian interview she said: “Publishers are relevant. We have practical expertise and, of course, money. We give our authors advances which enable them to concentrate on their work in hand … My idea of hell is a website with 80,000 self-published works on it – some of which might be jewels, but, frankly, who’s got the time? What people want is selection and frankly that’s what we do.”

The argument from the established publishing houses appears to be the high prices of digital books needs to be maintained so THEY can offer the paying public quality control.

For some reason I quite like the idea of a website with 80,000 self published works – I suspect the collective readers of the internet will let you know what is good and what isn’t – hasn’t Gail just described YouTube (I recommend the video I link to here btw) but for books???

Anyone interested in setting up such a site should email me at edd@edwardkeating.co.uk

I mentioned the Blair book a while ago.

The publisher is well respected in the industry and was interviewed by Media Guardian earlier this week:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/sep/13/gail-rebuck-tony-blair-random-house

This is an interesting article for lots of reasons – Tony Blair was PM for a long time and there is a lot of controversy around him. But my interest here is in digital publishing.

So , from where I’m coming from, one of the more interesting aspects of the interview is where Gail Rebuck says in 10 years time digital will make up “25-30% of revenue” for Random House.

I respect her a lot – she is head of Random House and you don’t get there by accident, but I think she is wrong on this one.

But hey, time will tell.

One of the biggest concerns in publishing at the moment is what effect the rise of digital media will have on physical books.

I have been advocating for some time that the most pronounced change will be a reduction in paper back sales as the sale of digital books rise. But this will be coupled with a rise in the sale of quality hardbacks. The theory being that if you read a reasonably priced digital book (US $1.99 or so) and really, really love it, you will buy a high end quality real  book to have in your house.

An article about Oprah and books on the BBC website tends to back this up:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11260600

Particularly the paragraph:

“One of the early titles she recommended, from the back list of a well-known author, was only available in paperback. Oprah expressed the view strongly on her show that the work ought to be made available in an inexpensive hardback, since that was what her audience wanted – a book to keep.”

The real issue I have so far with the change to digital books is that from what I can tell the publishers are reluctent to reduce the cost of the work.

For example Tony Blair’s autobiography (apparently the quickest selling such book since records began) is priced £12.50 on Amazon hardback and £6.99 as a download to your Kindle:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Journey/dp/B0040GJJUW/ref=sr_1_36?ie=UTF8&s=digital-text&qid=1284469231&sr=8-36

This Amazon link also says the rrp for both hardback and digital is £25.00 – 25 quid for the hardback OR the digital file!

As I recall CD singles used to cost £1.99 – £3.99 whereas Apple pretty much destroyed the concept with iTunes selling the digital versions for under a quid.

I have a feeling publishers will need to adapt to this kind of paradigm shift in their business in order to survive the shift to digital.

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