CABLE-televisionSome posters went up in our building this week, shilling for the cable industry. I’m not sure just who, if anyone, authorized this in-building advertising. But you can feel the stink of desperation here as the monopolistic cable behemoth tries to lure back the cord-cutters: the posters aim to entice with a veritable smorgasbord of deals: free installation, free PVR boxes, even a $10 home phone line if only you sign up right now.

So here is my question: why isn’t the publishing industry trying this hard? Every panicked news story coming from their camp suggests that e-book sales—at least, of the non-indie titles they track—are down, and unless you are publishing Harry Potter titles or adult coloring books, print sales aren’t exactly compensating. And how does Amazon respond to this? With a premium device which costs almost as much as an iPad.

So, why aren’t the publishers trying to woo me back? Why isn’t there a cheap non-Kindle they’ll practically give me if only I buy a certain number of books? Why aren’t they selling a subscription program on par with Kindle Unlimited—or even on par with an X-titles-a-month type of model like Scribd or Audible typically offers? Why aren’t they advertising promo samplers to me, like Tor does, or like Baen does? In other words, why aren’t they cowering in a stink of desperation like the cable people are?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know why they are not. But I can’t help feeling like they should be, you know? I’d love to see what would happen to the appalling rate of adult leisure reading if the publishers tried half as hard as the cable company is.

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. There are a lot of reasons.

    — No one is sure that all ebook reading is down (reports suggest that the price increases due to agency pricing have pushed some readers to buy the self-published books more frequently). It actually seems likely that the total number of ebooks sold is still going up.

    — Books are sold not as a unified entity (like access to video through your cable service) but on a title by title basis, so they’re marketed that way.

    — The number of copies sold per title is far, far, far smaller for a book, even a “big” book, than for any video production. So they’re marketed in less mass-market ways.

    — The types of marketing that work for books don’t look like marketing when you see them. For example: ads are almost never cost-effective.

    — Given the enormous increase in number of titles, and the far smaller increase in number of copies sold, it is inevitable that the mean number of copies sold for any segment of the book publishing world will drop, although it is dropping less for the books in the top 100,000 titles, as most major publishers’ books are. Therefore, the question is, will more marketing be cost-effective? Can they push the numbers up much more, or are they hitting the sweet spot already?

  2. Marion’s points are all good, but if we accept the possibility that ebook sales have shifted toward the indie market, then Joanna’s question could be rephrased as “Why aren’t the publishers trying to win us back from the indies?” In that arena, one could anticipate a unified response that isn’t specific to an individual title. Why haven’t we seen Publishers try to drum up their business at their own websites (as opposed to Amazon) by offering “Buy a new ebook title at full price, get an e-book from our backlist for free”, or maybe “send us a scan of the ISBN barcode from one of our books that you own in paper form, get the ebook at a discount. It’s certainly possible to conceive of ways to promote a publisher’s catalog that would not be limited to individual titles.

    My own first thought was that publishers think of themselves primarily as wholesalers, not as retailers and so think that such promotions are the province of the bookstore rather than the publisher. But lots of wholesalers in other industries do promotions. Automobile manufacturers run nation-wide sales that all retail dealers participate in. P&G sends outs tons of coupons that nearly all grocers will honor.

    I suspect that much of it comes down to the idea of competition. To be precise, I think that the major Publishers do not see themselves as really being in competition with each other (because of title by title differentiation). And they seem to be in denial about being in serious competition with the indies. How else to explain the general tone of rejoicing at reports that ebook sales were plateauing or even dropping? (Hooray! A potential area of revenue growth is closing down!)

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