Tone Deaf Content Owners

Today I learned that Simon and Schuster plans to delay publishing of their e-books for months beyond the hardcover date. How clever! I’m sure they think that we, the consumers, will think this is just dandy and fork over $27 for their hardbound books and they’ll once again be rolling in cash.

I have some bad news for S&S, though. The world has changed. In this economy it is a brave, brave thing to assume that people will spend three times the amount they *want* to spend just to get something right now. We, the consumers, are getting better at stretching our dollars, and we’re unlikely to wholeheartedly accept this kind of reversal.

Let’s take as an example my family. Thanks to Netflix, we are very selective about the DVDs we buy to keep. Two years ago we probably bought over fifty DVDs. This year, we have chosen two phenomenal movies to keep in our house on DVD. We have similarly trimmed down our purchase of books. We use the library heavily (yes, one must be patient, but it’s free), and buy very few books – the ones we do buy are generally from the used book store.

Sometimes we do buy hardbound versions of new books about which we’re particularly excited. But what happens to those books after we read them? Our circle of friends tends to be excited about the same books, so one person buys the hard cover (on sale) and then we pass it around to 8 of our friends, so if we paid $24 for that book, the publisher gets $3 apiece for all those people reading the book. Half of those friends have Kindles. Sometimes the Kindle users (like me) get impatient with the waiting and buy the ebook version (heck, it’s only $10, and I really want to read this book *now*), netting the publisher a few extra dollars. Without the option to purchase an ebook version (which has other advantages for me) I’ll just wait my turn patiently and read the “real book.”

Let’s get real, S&S. Do you not understand that your shrinking hardback sales are because people don’t have as much money to buy your books? There’s a huge advantage for you in the ebook market – in most cases there is only one copy which is tied to a single device. The number of times I’ve shared my Kindle with other people so they could share a book I’d bought? Zero. You’re virtually guaranteed that my $10 matches exactly to one reader and no more. Why would you give this up? Forcing people to buy hardback versions of your book (or wait for the ebook) will not engender good will among your customers.

Besides, four months is long enough that I’m virtually guaranteed of getting it from the library. For free. Or finding it at a used book store. Or borrowing it from a friend.

So, good luck with your attempt at boosting your hardcover book sales. The music industry tried some similar strategies to limit digital delivery, and it didn’t work very well for them. Let me know how it works out for you, ok?

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