June 17, 2010

Beating a Dead Horse

I imagine many of you are tired of my constant bitching about publishers and ebooks, but this morning, after reading two things - a blog entry from LibrarianinBlack about publishers making it difficult if not impossible for libraries to easily provide usable audio books and ebooks to customers (thanks, @madpoptart for the link), and an invitation from PW for a webcast entitled Enhanced Ebooks Today - I thought to myself that, once again, publishers have got it wrong.

Many of us who read a lot are able to feed our habit because as a general rule we read paperbacks rather than hardcovers. I bought an expensive electronic device because I can store my entire library on it...and because, at the time, it was actually cheaper to buy ebooks than paperbacks. Now, of course, with the agency model that I've already bitched about, unless I buy an ebook published by Random House or Harlequin, I am paying as much as print customers for digital paperbacks, and more than I would pay for print versions at B&N with my membership (yes, I have a membership even though I get an employee discount) because the agency model disallows discounting.

That was a mouthful, so let me put it more succinctly: I buy a lot of books and want to get the best price I can for them. Publishers using the agency model would prefer I buy print over digital, so much so that while they allow discounting of print versions, they don't with digital versions, which means that I can generally buy a print paperback for less than I can a digital paperback. Further, I am not the only Kindle (or Nook) owner who bought an ebook reader because it allowed us to keep feeding our reading habit while giving us a handy-dandy, small device on which to store our ever-growing libraries.

All along I've said that publishers are behind the times. I think I shared the incident at the Atlanta RWA conference in 2006 during which a highly placed executive was shocked to learn the Internet impacts readers. This was 2006, mind you, not 1996 or even 2000. Their being behind the times is among the reasons they refuse to let go of old models that aren't forward-looking. Even though the ebook market is the fastest growing, they see it as the enemy, and as one commenter to LibrarininBlack's blog wrote, they see all ebook readers as thieves and pirates, which is why their DRM rules and requirements are so onerous that many librarians want to throw in the towel entirely on audio books and ebooks.

Because, in the immortal words of Pogo, "the enemy is us," publishers would rather cling to old-fashioned models of delivery, leading to the agency model and higher prices. And now, to justify those higher prices, they plan to sweeten the pot with ebook enhancements.

No, no, no!

I don't want no stinking ebook enhancements.

I want the same book I can buy in print, but for less money because it costs less for you to deliver that book to me...and I'm guessing I'm not the only reader who feels this way.

Since the agency model went into effect, the two big publishers that did not embrace it - Random House and Harlequin, experienced a marked increase in ebook sales (for Random House it was 40%). For now I'm going to pay with my pocketbook and try to not buy books published by the big five who went with the agency model, particularly Penguin/Putnam, whose recent pricing increases are most egregious. Instead I plan to make better use of my local library, and spend extra non-work hours at the bookstore reading quietly in the corner.

It's really hard to envision a business plan that encourages customers not to buy their product. Since prices increased, though, that's been the result for this customer. In March, the month before the agency model went into effect, I bought seven ebooks. I've finished buying for June, and bought only five in comparison. They just don't get it.


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