Digging in • 16 December 2009 • The SnowBlog
Here's the sort of thing that annoys me: "Simon & Schuster, in tandem with other big houses, is trying to protect income from print books by delaying the publication of new ebooks by four or six months after release of the hardback editions."
It's from an article about the rise and rights of ebooks here. It's the notion of 'protecting income' that pushes my buttons. Yes, publishers must strive to make money, but they are not monarchs of the written word and they have no god-given right to charge a toll on the road between authors and readers. The market tolerates the cost that publishers add to the book supply-chain because they add even more value. In the past, it was almost impossible for an author to print and sell her books without involving a publisher. Publishers made the whole process happen. They were vital. But that's less true everyday. The gap between authors and readers gets smaller each year, with less of a need for publishers to bridge it.
So what publishers must do is rack their brains for ways to add more value to justify the costs they add - or they must dwindle. What they shouldn't do is make themselves the guardians of traditional revenue streams because that pits the middle against both ends. When a publisher takes a stand that doesn't help authors and isn't what the public are demanding, they create an incentive for the market to route around them. That's happening anyway and 'protecting income' only hastens it.
New channels often cannibalise old ones, so your choice is to do the canniblisation yourself (and hopefully retain a good chunk of your income) or to let someone else do it for you (and risk losing everything). You see it in all 'middlemen' content providers. Music companies never liked selling you downloads instead of CDs (so they put as many restrictions as possible on their use). Movie companies don't like selling you downloaded movies instead of shiny disks (so they make them evaporate after a few night's 'rental'). And many publishing companies would really prefer it if you smashed your Kindle and went back to paper.
Technology companies embrace this. They don't prevent you from buying this year's computer until all of last year's stocks have been sold. They find the newest, sexiest products and they try to make them unbearably desirable. Suddenly you're spending a fortune on things you didn't even know you needed three weeks ago. In other words, instead of 'protecting income' they create and then fulfil new demand. And publishers need to learn those lessons. They need to let go of the idea that sustainable profit comes from charging extra for wibalin.