The Wall Street Journal offered up a story yesterday about Harper Collins delaying the release of the electronic versions of hardcover books in the coming year.
The most interesting quote is at the end:
One veteran literary agent in New York, Nat Sobel, a partner at Sobel Weber Associates, has been trying to rally publishers to the fight against cheap e-books. In a letter sent to 16 publishing houses last week, he urged them to consider postponing releases of e-books.
Warning that e-books could constitute 20% of sales next year, he wrote, “The future of hardcover publishing is at stake. You don’t have a lot of time left to save it.”
This reminded me so much of my time in journalism. For the most part, editors and publishers were too arrogant to think the Internet would impact business. Anyone who dared tell them they might want to restructure their business models went out the door immediately. They put up an obligatory Web site, but usually it sucked aesthetically and didn’t offer anything new, different or exciting from the print edition. Now, some media want bailout funds to keep going, or they want the government to start regulating bloggers, who they say are the reason they’ve lost business.
Quite simply, they refused to evolve and now they are paying the price for it. AOL was smart enough to start its own news branch to avoid working with news groups that plan to sue anyone who links to their information. (Can you imagine how dumb that move is? Leave it to the AP to think this is OK in today’s blogging society.)
AOL is adapting its business model and offer up something for the niche audience craves: online news for nothing.
When I read the WSJ story about publishers, I got the same impression. Publishers just don’t want to evolve – perhaps because they don’t know how. Print books are never going out – too many readers want them – but society is changing enough that eBooks are becoming more prominent. They don’t cost as much, are easier to “carry” in units like the Kindle and more easily accessible than they were five years ago. Perhaps my own biases colored the way I saw this article, but that is still how I feel when I reread it today.
Also, I have to wonder on these books that will be delayed… are these publishers doing any marketing for them? If these are major authors, they will sell themselves, and yet, the publishers will put huge budgets behind them and simply skip newbie authors, which can be crushing to a fledgling career. Do you have any idea the number of authors who tell me they get signed to a publisher, get their book published, then the publishing house does absolutely nothing to market the book? It is astounding!
It seems like publishers are missing an incredible opportunity to restructure their business plan (i.e. to evolve) and tap into the growing eBook market – something that self-published authors have done for a while now. It makes me wonder at the viability as an author of going with the traditional publisher versus self publishing. Certainly major writing organizations will not acknowledge my work if I self publish, but building a network online seems key to success, whether I remain self published, or eventually get with a traditional publisher. It certainly worked for authors like Scott Sigler, who netted enough fans to get the attention of a major publisher.
It seems like a strong combination of traditional and new technology is the key to survival in this highly-competitive business. Build a strong online network, offer content for those plugged in to technology and continue to integrate online and traditional marketing.
What do you think about the eBook delays? Will this move help or hurt the publishers? How will eBooks impact the future of publishing and reading? Do readers understand/care about this debate?0