The Roundtable is a live, interactive webcast gathering some of the most outspoken industry professionals to debate the hottest publishing issues of the week, as being discussed in traditional media, the blogiverse and on Twitter. From celebrity book deals to eBook rights and pricing to [insert YOUR pet topic here] — if it’s related to books, it’s on the agenda.
Topic: Who Will “Save” Publishing?
This episode of The Roundtable was webcast live at 1pm EDT on Thursday, April 22, 2010.
Ed Nawotka, Editor-in-chief, Publishing Perspectives
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Dir. of Programming & Business Development, Digital Book World
Publish or Perish – Ken Auletta
“Ultimately, Apple is in the device—not the content—business,” the Apple insider said. “Steve Jobs wants to make sure content people are his partner. Steve is in the I win/you win school. Jeff Bezos is in the I win/you lose school.”
For the moment, Jobs is the publishers’ best ally. “Steve is very proud that Macmillan put a gun to Amazon’s head,” the insider said. But in the long term Apple and Google will not necessarily be better partners than Amazon. One day, they, too, will complain about the cumbersome publishing process, or excessive prices. Just days before the iPad went on sale, on April 3rd, there were rumors that Apple might list best-sellers for as little as $9.99. Apple agreed to the agency model for just one year, and, as publishers are acutely aware, Jobs has a history, with music and television companies, of fighting to reduce prices. One publisher said, “Maybe Apple will want to come back in a year and bite our heads off.” The iPad may even make it possible for Amazon to reach new consumers. Apple now offers about sixty thousand e-books, far fewer than Kindle does, and Amazon has launched an app that allows it to sell e-books on the iPad. No matter where consumers buy books, their belief that electronic media should cost less—that something you can’t hold simply isn’t worth as much money—will exert a powerful force. Asked about publishers’ efforts to raise prices, a skeptical literary agent said, “You can try to put on wings and defy gravity, but eventually you will be pulled down.”
Auletta’s misinformed explanation shows the fundamental problem that book publishers face with e-books. Everyone assumes that higher prices of printed books are due to tangible costs of production. It’s not. The real costs of publishing are the labor to create the intellectual property. But because so many consumers think that the physical object is the real cost, they assume that e-books should sell for next to nothing, because there are no printing or distribution costs.
We’re back to the disagreement over value. Consumers think they should be able to buy books for little. Big names in e-book selling want low prices to build the market at publishers’ expense. The publishers say that their business can’t survive on low prices because it’s not enough to pay for true costs. That conflict will take more than a calculator to resolve.
Digital is the challenge to our industry, but selling digital content is not the only response to that challenge. I don’t know what your business will look like in five years; I don’t even know what mine will look like. I do believe that if they are not different in nature from how they are today they will most definitely be smaller.
At Osprey we are experimenting in a number of different directions and on a range of scales – some projects are digital, some are diversifications of other kinds. My mantra is “more bigger experiments” – bigger doesn’t mean more expensive, it means more challenging to the status quo.
University of Minnesota Press sees record book sales – Danielle Nordine
The Press operates as a nonprofit and receives about $300,000 of its funding from the University — 6 percent of its $5 million budget. The rest comes from sales and is funneled back into publishing new books, Armato said.
“Our goal is sustainability rather than paying shareholders,” he said. “We use the money from the successful books to pay the costs of the ones that are important but might not make back their investment.”
Twitter (as RTd by @digibookworld):
@babetteross: “apple is not anyone’s savior” @pablod #dbw
@bakersmark: Publisher’s are still adjusting to being Bus->Consumer companies. Messaging is still askew. #dbw
@Knownhuman: How do you slice and dice your readers? Smaller, more focused imprints/verts paired with market research. #DBW
@Stacy_Boyd: Is it the small, focused, reader-centered publishers that will “save” book publishing? #dbw
@jimhanas: Publishing market fragmentation FTW! The future = more, smaller publishers. #dbw
@babetteross: digitization makes it easier for smaller pubs to compete, less need for massive infrastructure … big 6’s advantage #dbw
@vertigobooks: Univ. of MN’s backlist RT @susanmpls Yes, we’ve digitized everything. about 3000 books. #dbw
@eBookNoir: #dbw – “publishers will save publishing”, very true, the innovators and those willing to take risk will do well.