Amazon has been strong-arming its way into the textbook industry while publishers and book stores look on in horror. Our story about a lawsuit-baiting complaint against Amazon has generated thoughtful, well articulated comments, the longest of which comes from Commenter Lisa Bracken. The author of a book on conflict resolution (very fitting indeed for these embittered companies), Bracken offers experience and advice for under siege publishers. Her novella is our Comment of the Day:
I think it's important for traditional publishers and book sellers to take a step away from their traditional meat and potatoes diet and realize the food pyramid has changed.
An example: In 2011, I released an 870 page text book on the topic of conflict resolution (evolved negotiations, actually). I priced the hardcopy book at around $60, but I'm offering the e-version for .99 cents. "WTF?!" Traditional publishers might say, then proceed to rail against my rationale. Book sellers might consider surrounding me with pickets swearing I'm killing their industry and arguing they can't pit a $60.00 4.5 lb text against .99 cents and still make a living.
But here's the thing. Consumers (broke college students in particular) acutely recognize that content need not be presented exclusively on ground-up trees. Second, they know digital distribution need not cost anywhere near what it costs to produce and ship a hardcopy book. They want and need the info, and appreciate quickly loading it onto the latest device for under a buck. I've been a college student and remember what it felt like being forced to buy 20-pound texts for which I was clearly charged by weight not value. Tuition was bad enough and the whole darned paradigm (kind of like traditional publishing) pushed me in a different direction altogether.
Consider this: Most practitioners of skilled and/or licensed endeavors want the assured physical availability and unique utility of a physical book that electronic distribution models will never be able to assure. So, they also value the hardcopy. And will pay $60.00 + for it. My work in the education, legal and marketing arenas have contributed to shelves upon shelves lined with such matter.
It would be helpful to their business models if traditional publishers and booksellers understood that digital versions of content offer a very inexpensive way to more widely promote, distribute and consume content... which, if meritorious, justifies the added expense of procuring a physical copy.
I just spent $25.00 yesterday mailing out two giveaway hardcopies of a small fiction novel I released back in 2010. Twenty-five bucks. And that doesn't count the cost of tape and packing (because I also included a free bonus poster). I'm not in the business of shipping physical copies for this reason. It's insanely expensive. I offer the digital version for .99 cents. But... - again using myself and those I know as an example - I have a short shelf of favorite hardcopy books I dearly love and re-read. Other readers typically feel likewise about their own worn-fuzzy favs. And you know what else? Despite the .99 cent version, hardcopies of that fiction book continue to sell at around $15.00 a copy... in the kind of quaint, original, funky bookstores I love to frequent.
It's not that indi pubs want to drive bookstores out of business (I can't say the same is true for digital distributors). But, please don't fear the e-book or its accessible pricing. Both play a necessary role and contribute unique value to the lifecycle of strong content. They advance value and (if the content merits it) justify the secondary investment in physical copies.