Last week I covered John Blake’s idea of delaying e-books in order to save print bookstores. On FutureBook, Rhian Davies has also responded with an interesting post referencing Theodore Levitt’s paper on “Marketing Myopia”—the source (or at least popularizer) of that anecdote we often hear about railroads thinking they were in the railroad business when they were really in the transportation business.

Thirty-six years ago, Levitt pointed out that industries needed to focus on the customer, rather than the product, and some industries still haven’t learned that lesson even today.

Today we have the ereader, be it Kindle or other device.  Like the technology in other areas of our lives it has the capacity to grow and not to diminish.  Dependency will be created.  And, it creates another format, or delivery package, for a book.  Where the status quo of ‘hardback followed by paperback’ remains – although suffering – this is a product of history, surely?  Is relegating the ebook to paperback status also clinging to the past and not meeting current customer needs?

She brings up the example of a reader who asked when the e-book version of a book she reviewed would be available, and the publisher advised it would come out with the paperback. She wondered whether the reader would even remember wanting that book in a few months when it became available. (I know I’ve had the experience of being interested enough in a book to place a hold on it at the library, and by the time the hold came through a couple of months later being completely unable to remember the book at all until I read the blurb.)

She  also talks about a bookstore, Goldsboro Books, that has taken advantage of a hardback-collector market niche and done so well it has been able to expand in a time when most independent bookstores are contracting. But the reason it is doing that is not because “serious readers” want hardcovers, but because some readers want hardcovers, and the store is catering to them. There are other niches of readers who want paperbacks and e-books, and selling to all of them at once would work just as well.


  1. Chris, thank you so much for picking up on that piece I wrote last week. The same thing happened with another novel I tweeted about last night. And, you can’t pre-order a Kindle ebook if it’s not listed…
    Just one little thing. My name is Welsh and means maiden. You possibly couldn’t get anything more feminine than that.
    Thanks again.

  2. I’m not so sure about this. The publishers seem very focused on customers now… witness the self-help junk and celebrity tell-all fluff that the customers buy like there’s no tomorrow. Seems like they’ve got a laser-sight on their customers, to me.

    I think publishers should be concerned about quality and service… making sure that, when I do buy an ebook, I’m not screaming to have it returned a week later because of incredibly numerous typos, missing pages and a trashed reader experience. Maybe that way, they’ll get more customers.

  3. Chris, Of course focussing on the customer is the right thing to do. The real question is ‘who is the customer?’. I’d argue that the principal customer of a publisher is the author. Readers are principally the customers of book shops. Publishers need to improve their author care services. Discuss!

  4. As a keen reader and occasional Kindle e-reader, I can only hope that geo-restrictions can be ended for the e-format. I don’t mind waiting to read a book but I do mind when I want to read one that someone has reviewed online but I can’t because I don’t live in the US or Australia or wherever. I can just about get geo-restructions for print, but e?

    There are several ways Amazon needs to improve its Kindle service for readers, but perhaps that’s for another post. For example, you should be able to put the books in your basket as you can with print books, for possible future purchase, rather than being forced to buy them immediately or not at all. (or set up wishlists etc, too clunky). And of cousre they need to kitemark all the self-published, inappropriately categorised dross that clutters up the real listings, but they’ve told me they can’t do that. Makes browsing for a new author to try impossible.

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