So, let me get this straight. Frank Luby, a consultant speaking at Digital Book World, says that e-books are more convenient than printed books, and therefore, they should cost more.
Is this some kind of a joke? Apparently not; it was posted April 2, and people elsewhere seem to be taking it seriously. This is so wrong I hardly even know where to begin.
It’s true that I can see how publishers would want to hear what this guy has to say. Basically, he’s telling them only what they already believe themselves. And it’s a belief they tried to put into practice, which inevitably led to a reaming out by the Department of Justice, state attorneys general, and class-action consumers for anti-trust violations.
But let’s disregard that. Let’s also disregard the way that sales dropped off during the period when publishers raised their prices with agency pricing. Let’s disregard that this guy has been saying the exact same thing for twelve years (and events have proven he was wrong then, too), or that a book on price strategies he co-wrote on Amazon is Kindle-priced at $19.49. (At least he’s putting his money where his mouth is.)
And let’s disregard the narrowness of his definition of “convenient,” too. (Sure, it might be more convenient to snag a Kindle book rather than venture out on a snowy day. But you can’t lend that book to friends, or give it away, or resell it, or read it in ways Amazon doesn’t let you. On the balance, printed books are still more convenient in a number of ways, too.) Let’s even disregard that paying more for something just because it’s “more convenient” would lead to things like email costing more than postal mail, or Amazon charging more for everything in its store because they’ll deliver it right to your house instead of you having to go out and get it.
Leaving all that aside…can you think of a worse strategy for publishers to put into play at a time when self-publishing writers are free to price their own works in the highly-lucrative $4 to $6 range, or even less? Especially given that many readers have demonstrated they don’t particularly care who published a book as long as it’s good? Self-published books are already making up more and more of the marketplace. If they listen to this guy, traditional publishers will hand self-publishers the rest of their business on a silver platter.
Seriously, why are publishers having this person speak at their event? Why is anyone in the publishing industry listening to people who give such nonsensical advice? Wishful thinking?
Over at The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder does note that if you actually watch the video of what the guy’s saying rather than just read the article, it comes off more like he’s recommending publishers try to convince readers that their books are worth more rather than charging more for them. But again—they’ve been trying to do that for years. Rather ham-fistedly, perhaps, but still. If it hasn’t happened by now, it ain’t gonna—especially with all the self-publishers happily selling tons of e-books in the $4 to $6 range.
I know I harangue the traditional publishing industry a lot. I try to keep in mind that I’m not a publishing industry professional, just an interested, amateur onlooker, and there are some things industry professionals know about publishing that I don’t. Given my continual frustration at how those publishers completely failed to nurture the nascent e-book industry in the ten years before Amazon came along with its Kindle, and my aggravation at how they seem to do everything they can to ignore consumers even now, I recognize I have a bit of a bias.
The thing is, I like reading books. And I want there always to be more of them. I actually do want to be able to believe that the industry that was responsible for producing darned near all of them up until just the last few years is going to be able to continue, even if self-publishing is starting to fill in the gaps. So, like Diogenes with his proverbial lantern, I wander through the night of publishing industry news, looking for some sign that these people might be getting some clue about dealing with the new publishing landscape as it is, rather than how they want for it to be.
Instead, I see stories about publishers getting celebrities who write rather than actual writers to hold signings at their convention, or else paying a consultant to tell them this kind of nonsense. Can they possibly stare any more deeply into their own navels?
Come on, publishers. Show me you’re getting it. Give me some kind of a sign that you can see which way the wind is blowing. I want to believe.