March 6, 2012

Tick Tock The Game Is Locked


So much news released today in the publishing world, it has my head spinning a bit. But there is an underlining theme that keeps rising to the top for me. Limits. Too many limits.



Random House is entertaining the thought of raising the price of ebooks to libraries up to three times the price of print books. I read the article and I can’t pretend to understand the logic. Silly me, I consider an ebook…well…a BOOK, so I’m actually okay with a library policy (or publisher imposed policy) that each ebook can only be checked out by one patron at a time. Therefore I can’t begin to understand why a library copy should be worth three times its print cousin. If the book is popular, buy another copy just like you would the print version. A price structure like that limits the library from doing so, and that limits the reader from having access.



I also just skimmed an article about Scholastic beta testing a proprietary ebook distribution method. When I think proprietary, I think limits. I must say, at this stage of the development of ebook distribution, it surprises me that Scholastic would launch anything proprietary.



Which steps me into my next thought of the day, spurred by an older post of Nathan Bransford, who always gets me thinking. Nathan asked the question, are publishers plagued by a public perception problem? To me there are so many facets to the answer, but what I keep coming back to is the impact on the reader. This is something that has been bothering me – a lot – during the ever-changing publishing industry. The impact the shift has had and will have on the reader.



The industry is fracturing. The big six are pushing back against the changes instead of adapting and staying competitive. They are beginning to lose authors to small presses and self-publishing simply because they are slow, low paying, and offer a piss-poor benefits package for any but the top selling authors. Bookstores, large and small are setting ridiculous rules about the books they carry. Mostly, they refuse to stock books from small publishers or self-published authors using print on demand. I can’t begin to understand the logic when the book publisher offers a return policy. In a culture that is promoting “green and sustainable” practices, why would you insist on buying your inventory from a warehouse with stacks of books instead of simply having a few copies made for your shelf? Quality is no longer an issue. Why impose antiquated limits?



Putting those two practices together, the big six losing authors to small presses and self-publishing and the bookstores refusing to carry such authors, who suffers? READERS. Because now only a limited amount of titles are available to them through their local bookstores. When they hear buzz over a particular title and stop into B&N or their local indie and don’t find it on the shelf, they will turn to AMAZON. They will, people! And when that happens more than once, they’ll stop checking the local shelves and go straight to the online option.



I don’t think the average reader has thought much about what’s going on in publishing. But I feel pretty confident that when the READER finds limits or has to jump over too many fissures to get to what they want, they’ll find an easier way. If you want to keep your customers, you have to adapt and you can’t impose limits. Do you remember in elementary school when you and your closest friends would run out to the playground, gather in a circle and sing, “Tick tock the game is locked and nobody else can play. For if they do we’ll take their shoe and turn them black and blue. Hooray!” I feel like traditional publishing, B&N, Amazon, and indie bookstores – like they are all in their own circle on the playground and not letting anyone else play. But you know what, their readers are outside their circles. Their readers are going to wander off to find someone else to play with.


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