By Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist, Digital Book World
“Currently, nearly all the value of the ebook format comes from the device, not the publisher. Portability, frictionless purchasing experience, syncing across multiple registered devices–all of that is provided by the device and the retailer’s back-end.”
In response to The Consumerist‘s provocative assertion that the value of an eBook comes from the reading device and not the content itself, Brett Sandusky, digital marketer and QBAH2 vlogger, quickly replied: “eBook devices have somehow made content worthless? Disagree.”
The Consumerist‘s underlying point, that most publishers don’t treat their eBooks with the same care they do print (as Liza Daly so clearly illustrated recently), can’t really be argued with, but Sandusky’s equally valid point suggests a bit of a paradox.
A critical factor in the debate about eBook pricing and release timing is the desire (need?) to preserve the primacy of the Hardcover edition, and most commercial fiction and non-fiction are priced according to their format not their content. In the on-demand microwave era, though, that strategy might now be backfiring.
So I posed the following question on Twitter:
Have publishers been complicit in the devaluation of ‘content’? Is a book’s value solely based on its container?
The responses came in fast and, in some cases, a bit furious:
- I don’t think “complicit” is the right word, it implies intention. I think pubs have not known what to do, and value has gone down, but not purposefully. With digital, self-pub, direct to consumer, low print cost, content is all pubs got anymore. @bsandusky
- Book’s value > container… content does get “devalued” on some devices/containers. Not complicit, just no real choices. @tsutrav
- Content DOES get devalued on some containers if publisher executes poorly. Typos/bad formatting, etc. Some containers inherently less valuable: DRM/no resale/can’t loan/locked to 1 device. @elandes
- No! Publishers need to focus on content and the protection and intelligent marketing of worthwhile IP. @FabulousFidel
- Not at all. “Adding-value” is a tired argument, I know, but validation of research is one of many reasons for SMT and Academic most certainly. Admittedly, major publishers need to find ways to share content. New model(s) needed. @canadiancat
- Perhaps poor advances, reluctance to embrace new models drive many authors away, leaving pubs w/”content” unworthy of value. @jchutchins
Eric Landes’ point was perhaps the most compelling — “some containers are inherently less valuable” — noting DRM and device/retailer lock-in as two significant reasons eReaders actually deliver less value than a printed book.
The inability to easily share content, not just with friends but even amongst one’s own devices (current and future), is one of the primary limitations of eBooks and has nothing to do with the quality (or lack thereof) of the eBook format. As more incompatible devices are sold, become obsolete and need to be replaced, it will likely become an even bigger issue than it currently is among the small but extremely vocal group of early adopters.
What happens when Kindle owners decide they want an iPad? Or disappointed Nook owners decide to buy a Kindle? Or one of the slew of new eReaders introduced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show gains traction?
What can publishers do to change the value perception of their “content”, regardless of the “container,” or is that battle already lost?