Do you read on an iPad or Kindle? Or do you prefer “old-fashioned” paper? Or does it matter? I love reading on my iPad for a number of reasons, including its back-lit function (I can read in bed and let others sleep in the dark) and its portability. Most of all, I love the instant gratification. If I hear about a book I want to read, I go to the iBooks store and download the “Sample”. If and when I’m ready to read it, I download the whole thing. I have spent more on books – hundreds and hundreds of dollars more – since I have become an E-reader than I did previously, when I would wait until the book became available at the library or someone gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card.
Fellow E-reading devotees may be interested in two digital startups that plan to offer monthly fee E-Book subscription services – think Netflix for books. (Source: Jeffrey Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal, subscription required.) But will publishers get on board? E-Books tend to be a source of angst for most publishers. On one hand, readers like me have spent more on books than they otherwise would have. On the other hand, E-Books sell for so much less than hard-covers, and if more people are buying E-Books at $9.99 than are buying hard covers at $25.99, a company’s bottom line suffers. Any new development with the selling and pricing of E-Books leads to greater angst, at least until the fear of the unknown is conquered.
Will readers get on board? It’s unclear whether these startups will offer best-sellers or new releases and whether the monthly subscription rate will be low enough for those who are not voracious, book-a-week readers. And if the prices are low enough to attract readers, arguably it is the authors who will suffer a decrease in royalties. (Thus, obviously, agents tend to hate subscription models.)
Another initiative retailers and publishers are trying with E-Books is the “bundling” of E-Books with the purchase of print books – in other words, when you buy a print version of a book, you can also have the E-Book for just a few dollars or, in some cases, for free. Amazon is one such retailer and is calling its service Kindle MatchBook (apparently only HarperCollins has agreed to participate in the Amazon service, though other publishers have tried other types of bundling). For E-reading fans, this could be a great idea: you love having the hard copy on your shelf, or to underline, but when you travel you want to take only your Kindle.
Of course, the agent has to ask: does this deprive authors of the 25% E-Book royalty and the 7-15% print royalty they would receive if both books were bought? Or is this a great idea in that it would boost interest in print sales and the industry in general?
There are still some issues to be worked out, the most technical of which concern the large and controversial (see: United States v. Apple, Inc. et. al.) agency model of E-Book pricing, which are described in this Publisher’s Weekly article.
Personally, I’m a fan of E-Books and their place in the industry – I heard a great story on the TED Radio Hour over the weekend about a TED talk Nicholas Negroponte gave in 1984 in which he essentially predicted the ubiquity of E-readers. There will always be print books, I suppose (though Negroponte seems to think not). But because E-Books cost far less to produce, ship and store, it seems to me at some point the industry will reach a state of equilibrium so that more people are buying books at $9.99 with a greater net profit to publishers than they have from readers buying hardcovers at $25.99.