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On E-Books and Delayed Publication

ebooks2I’m going to be answering more of your questions this week, but for the moment, I wanted to share a couple of articles I read this morning about e-books. As you may have read (via GalleyCat and Rexroth), Simon & schuster and Hachette Books have made the decision to delay e-book editions of some of their most anticipated books of 2010. As Rexroth puts it, “Simon & Schuster and Hachette – doing their part to guarantee ebook piracy becomes the norm.”

James McQuivey posted a response to the news on the Forrester blog, saying, in part:

I’m just being a historian here when I point out that language like “We’re doing this to preserve our industry” is a classic symptom of what we at Forrester loving call The Media Meltdown. I wrote a whole report on this ailment and its many symptoms, chief among them is that media businesses attempt to preserve analog business models in the digital economy, even when analog economics no longer apply. This is exactly that scenario.

I have two very important messages to offer the book industry (most all of them clients, so I’m trying to be delicate here, the way a group of friends running an intervention for an alcoholic have to act even if it involves summoning tough love). The first message is the hardest to hear and it will make me some enemies. But the second message offers some hope and I encourage you book types to give it a fair hearing, because I have history and economics on my side.

I encourage you to click through to read his two messages. I’m highly optimistic that his plan for bundling the digital download of a book with the hardcover will become the norm. I love the convenience of reading on my Kindle, but I’m also a collector — I want my favorite books displayed on my shelves. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have had such a hard time paring down my book collection for my move out here to Denver, and Rexroth and I wouldn’t need to keep buying new bookcases.

I shared McQuivey’s article on Twitter, and was quickly asked by an author where I think authors should stand on this issue, “since they stand to lose royalties off of lower ebook pricing.” I replied briefly within the confines of the 140-character limit of Twitter, but I’ll expand on my thoughts here, since I have the room.

I think authors should be getting much higher royalties off e-books than they do off hardcovers or paperbacks. This is what I negotiate in my contracts, where a 25% royalty on e-books is somewhat common (although there’s a disturbing trend down to 15%) versus 10% on hardcovers, and 6% on paperbacks. Even with escalators and some variance from house to house and author to author, to my mind it should make sense that the author gets more money off an e-book edition than a physical copy, which has a much higher cost to produce.

Do I think S&S and Hachette are making the right decision to delay e-books of some of their forthcoming titles? No, I think they’re shooting themselves in the feet. The Wall Street Journal article says that only one author (from S&S) had asked not to be included on the list of titles [with delayed e-book editions], which are being published in the first four months of 2010. Personally? I want to know who that author is, so I can buy his book. As the WSJ quotes an Amazon spokesman, “Authors get the most publicity at launch and need to strike while the iron is hot. If readers can’t get their preferred format at that moment, they may buy a different book or just not buy a book at all.”

What do you think? Where do you stand on this issue? I look forward to chatting in the comments.

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