Navigating the E-book Terrain: The Consumers' Perspective
My “big” gift this Christmas was a Nook e-reading device, and I absolutely love it.
I have been covering e-book publishing and e-reader developments as an editor and writer for Book Business for a few years now, and I've always approached the topic with my audience—book publishers—in mind. Now, as an official e-reader user, I find I'm approaching it from another perspective as well—a consumer.
I've spoken with some publishers that have expressed to me that they're not quite ready to jump into the e-book fray. And in many ways, their rational makes sense to me. For example, e-books still are a tiny percentage of the overall book market, and particularly many smaller operations lack the time and infrastructure to devote to a segment that is not their bread and butter, so to speak. But as a consumer and a Nook user, if I want a particular book—any book—I want to be able to purchase it and read it on my device.
I adore print books—I have boxes and book shelves full of them—but, much as I want to be able to purchase any song for my iPod (and am annoyed in the rare instance when one is not available), I now want to be able to purchase any book on my Nook. My mother and brother also own Nooks and, without having the knowledge of the book industry that I have, were shocked to learn that there was much they couldn't buy for their new, relatively expensive devices. If they had committed to this new form of reading, why hadn't many book publishers?
I understand that this is new terrain that publishers are trying very hard to navigate—and hopefully make a profit in the process. And for the many publishers that have readily embraced e-books, several issues have arose that they've needed to grapple with.
I remember reading an article in the Wall Street Journal a couple months back about Simon & Schuster and Hachette deciding to delay the releases of e-books. Simon & Schuster, for example, will be releasing the e-book versions of many titles this year four months after the hardcover releases. The move is a stand against selling these new releases for $9.99—the now-standard e-book pricing at retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. "We're doing this to preserve our industry," the article quoted Hachette CEO David Young as saying. "I can't sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices. It's about the future of the business."
As a journalist covering the industry, I understand Mr. Young's sentiments and the possible necessity of his decision. As a consumer, I feel like I'm suffering from an industry that doesn't quite have its act together. And as a consumer, I just want the product; I don't necessarily want to understand and accept the business behind the product.
If I'm a fan of, say, Jodi Picoult, and I'm anxiously awaiting the release of her next novel, “House Rules,” (one of the Simon & Schuster titles that will be affected by the four-month delay of the e-book release this year), I'm going to want the book when it's released. I am not going to want to pass the hardcover version on store shelves and wait patiently for four months until I can buy it on my Nook—and my frustration in having to do so very well may result in a lost sale. I'm certainly not going to purchase the hardcover in lieu of the version I really want—the digital version. Consumers can be an impatient, fickle group. If you don't give them what they want, when they want it—and in the way they want it—you may just lose them entirely.
There's been much discussion on whether or not e-readers will have their “iPod moment.” This may not hinge as much on the technology and the devices themselves as we may think. Rather, it may more hinge on whether or not publishers (as well as retailers and device manufacturers, but that's for another blog post) as a whole rally behind this new wave of publishing and—most importantly—give consumers what they want, and what they're willing to purchase.