On the Bookseller’s FutureEBook blog, which is where I first found the above article, Nick Harkaway adds his own comments. He notes that, like Hon, his estimates of how long it would take e-book readers to make a splash in the market were too pessimistic by a number of years. And he adds:
[F]rom now on, we in the book trade are as much in the sea of digital as anyone else in the media trades. Our grace period has been long, but those hobbyhorses we’ve been discussing these last couple of years have to get sorted out now. Pricing has to be comprehensible, ebooks and paper need to be bundled. Regioning is fine, but delays between one region and another will cause problems. Publishers have to make the shift from interacting with businesses to interacting with consumers as well, because consumers will demand it of them and if they don’t do it, those customers will find alternative routes to what they want. (By which I mean: massive torrenting.) Publishing is arguably a curation industry, and therefore in some ways a natural for the internet. But to make that work, publishers will have to establish web-presences which are consumer-usable, rather than the somewhat phone-directory style sites most have now.
I, and others I’ve blogged, have been saying similar things for the last couple of years. It’s not effective to “fight piracy” the way the RIAA did with its lawsuits. You just end up spending a lot more money than you take in, and then trying to spin it into some kind of “moral victory”. It’s taking up arms against a sea of troubles. It’s standing on the beach ordering the tide to go back out. You can’t beat them.
So instead, you have to join them. The real thing that killed most music piracy was Apple opening its iTunes store, allowing consumers to buy albums digitally at reasonable prices, or the single songs they wanted for under a buck a pop. It was so effective that a few years later Jobs managed to convince the record labels to let him drop DRM altogether.
But publishers have been trying to push things in the other direction. Jeff Kirvin points out, in reference to Rob Dickens’s call for cheaper albums that I mentioned yesterday, that Joe Konrath has managed to sell a significant number of e-books at $2.99—”con siderably more than three times the books at one third the price” of $9.99 Kindle titles (let alone the agency-priced titles of $12 or more).
Think about that. Whether you’re selling a book, a movie or an album, you have the option to both gain more fans/repeat customers and make more dollars in total. And all you have to do is give up the outdated economics of scarcity that make you think a novel/movie/album is actually worth $10. Quit worrying about whether or not people “value” your “art” and your art can actually reach more people (and make you more money).
As Hon pointed out, it’s never going to get harder to pirate books or other media—and books are easiest of all to pirate because of their relatively tiny size. Publishers need to be thinking about how they’re going to fight back—and they need to look at how well the methods other media conglomerates used have worked.