There is no doubt that electronic book reading devices such as the popular Kindle and the very portable iPad have resulted in the e-book achieving a rapid acceptance by book readers. This was confirmed in Amazon’s statement on January 27th, that Kindle ebook sales had for the first time, overtaken paperback sales. As with most things tech, change happens very fast, and the acceptance of e-books is just the latest in a string of market changing products.
Books are not music.
While very easy to equate the e-book revolution with the long running digital music shake-up, there will be a very different end game for e-books. While $0.99 seems to have become the acceptable price for a three minute song, the same price is being promoted by many ebook vendors, publishing houses and independent authors to satisfy a hungry e-reader audience. However it is blatantly devaluing the labour of an author in producing a 100,000 word novel. Equating a three minute song to a 300 page novel is plainly ridiculous.
Authors will starve.
While musicians, singers and bands can use digital delivery of their music to support and supplement their live concert performances and income, a writer is not a performer. Very few people will pay good money to see an author read his or her book. Hardly riveting entertainment compared to a decent rock band or jazz ensemble. So how can $0.99, $2.99 or even an optimistic $3.99 price for a e-book sustain not only an author, but his agent, editor and publisher? Of course volume is one answer, but once you go beyond the big name authors and hit the mid-list, volume becomes a very tough gig indeed.
The bitter pill
Should electronic reading devices follow the trends that MP3 players set, the majority of data stored on them will be free. As much as hanging your head, or worse, burying it in the sand may make a writer or publisher feel better, this is the truth about internet marketing and how people perceive internet and digital purchases. If it ain’t free or at least very cheap, forget about selling your wares on the internet. If you are a writer or publisher and you think a reader will pay as much for a simple 300k data file as for a 300 page book made with paper and love, forget it. Start looking for your saviour.
As evil as it may sound to writers, authors, editors, literary agents and publishers, the only viable way e-books can provide a viable return is for them to carry advertising. Think about it. It’s a screen, so it is perfect for advertising. A small band ad at the bottom of each page as a Kindle reader enjoys the pleasure of a red-hot romance novel or sci-fi nouveau classic. Small, unobtrusive, subliminal and profitable. Imagine the possible financial rewards from carrying 300 individual advertisements within your e-book. Beats a website or blog hands down.
Read the future
There has been an ample amount of nail biting and agonising about the future of books and publishing. Perhaps it’s time for the realists to imagine a different business model and adapt early to the possibilities of change. A few small mentions of soft drinks, motor vehicles, dating services, software, cheap iPads and just perhaps your last book may not look that bad after all. $0.99 may not be such a bad selling price after all if there is the chance to add a dollar or two of advertising revenue. Even free e-books may start to make economic sense.
First published February 2011 for Suite 101