Lessons from One Publisher’s Aversion to Ebooks
I recently did something that I haven't done for more than five years: I bought a physical, print edition of a book. For myself. I didn't want to, but I had to. The publisher made me do it. The story behind my purchase offers lessons for all book publishers, but especially those who have yet to embrace the ebook market.
I'm a huge baseball fan and when I heard that Hal McCoy, a legendary sportswriter, recently published a book about his career covering the Reds, well, I had to have it. If you take a quick look at that link to the book on the publisher's website you'll see they only sell a print edition there. A quick look on Amazon shows that print is the only option online as well.
That made me stop and double-check the pub date. It's 2015, after all, and surely every publisher offers e-editions of their frontlist, right? I've apparently stumbled across one of the remaining publishers who is still stuck in the 1990's.
Not to worry... I figured I'd just run out to one of the many local brick-and-mortar stores and buy a copy there. No dice. There's not a single copy of this book to be found at any of the local stores.
Amazon offers it at 21% off the publisher's list price though, and since I'm a Prime member I'll get it in a couple of days. So here we have a small boutique publisher who is contributing to their own market limitations. In this world of digital abundance they prefer to live in the era of physical scarcity.
Why print-only? It's hard to assume they haven't found a viable way to quickly, easily, and inexpensively create EPUBs and mobi files. Not only are there a variety of simple tools for this but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of outsource providers willing to do it for a song.
Is it fear of cannibalization? Perhaps. But is that such a bad thing? I'd argue in this case that the number of potential customers who aren't buying the print edition because it's not available far outweighs the number of customers who might opt for a cheaper e-version over of print.
Here's a radical idea: Charge 50% more for the e-edition. So that $19.99 print book lists for $29.99 as an ebook. Even after Amazon applies their consumer discount the publisher still makes more than they do on any print copy sale. Btw, I paid almost $16 for the print edition through Amazon but I would have gladly paid $29.99 for an e-edition, if only they'd offer one.
The publisher wouldn't have to stick with a permanent digital list price that's 150% of the print list. Maybe they could just have it set that high for the first 30 or 60 days, for example. The key is to measure the results, see what can be learned from the combination of print and digital sales and adjust accordingly.
Here's another radical idea: Sell the ebook direct exclusively for 30 or 60 days. After that initial period offer it through all the other ebook channels. (Yes, I realize this means the publisher has to renegotiate terms with distributors.)
As a consumer I admit that I'm not a fan of paying more or having to go through some crazy DRM process on a publisher's website when I buy direct. But in this case I'd be willing to live with both of those situations.
At the very least, how about this?: Offer me an e-sample on the publisher's site so I can start reading the book while I wait for the print copy to arrive. And please don't lock that sample... make it easy to copy and send to others; after all, it's a marketing tool for the publisher and the author.
Update: Kelsey Swindler, marketing and business development lead at Orange Frazer Press -- the publisher of Hal McCoy's book -- has written a response to Joe Wikert's post. You can read that here.