This is more-tagged because it contains a lot of my inside-baseball thoughts on book publishing. Which to most people is far more boring than baseball.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the publishing industry lately. It’s a loosely kept secret that I’m in the process of finishing up my book and shopping it to literary agents. It’s an even more loosely kept secret that I’m an avid reader with a terrible habit of buying more books than I could possibly read in a day. Playing both sides of the publishing game puts me in a bit of a quandry as to what side I should take in the Kindle Pricing and DRM Wars.
Since getting my Kindle 2 a bit over two months ago I’ve entered a whole new realm in the book junkie world–ebooks deliverable on demand. Priced somewhere between $9.99 and $17.00 the new releases are a bit more attractive a buy on the Kindle. But even more dangerously addictive is the impulse purchaseability. With Kindle there is perhaps a ten-second wait time between your decision to buy the book and that book’s actual arrival into the reader’s eager hands. As a writer and a reader I love that more than a chocolate-covered Robert Shaw. I’m a newly-minted Kindle Fan.
Being new to this game means that I’ve spent more time than is healthy pondering the various thoughts addressed by Rex Hammock in this piece on the changing face of Kindle pricing and what that could mean for the future of the publishing industry.
Pricing and digital-rights-management rarely benefit the creator or the “consumer” — they exist to prolong distribution business models that will die eventually, anyway.
This time, however, I think authors and readers will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel to a day where the obstructionistic and defensive ploys of book publishers are recognized for what they are: merely a means to protect the publisher’s core business of shipping and storing boxes full of paper.
It’s that last little bit that I’ve been gnawing over, and while I respect the dickens (ha!) out of Rex Hammock, I think I might marginally disagree with his premise. I think while the previous centuries saw book publishers as paper-shufflers, there has been more than a gradual shift in the real purpose of the publishing industry. In the last 15 years, publishing houses have been redefined. With more reading options available wherever you turn–and at radically low price points–there is a lot more competition for the dwindling book-buyers’ dollars. With the Internet I could quite actually never pay to read another thing ever again. Between public domain classics and the less-noble fan fiction springing up around every major book, film and TV show in history, the Internet holds an abundance of fiction. That holds true without even acknowledging the shadowy presence of purloined bestsellers lurking in bittorrents and bulletin boards.
As a devout reader I’ve come to rely on publishers as a sort of travel agent into the world of fiction. They pre-select what is ostensibly the cream of the crop, saving me the trouble and the valuable reading time. And that’s been a much more expensive role than anyone ever predicted. The money publishers get for each book is devoted more and more to marketing campaigns. Choice shelf space at Barnes & Noble and Borders is actually something the publishers have to buy; even slots on various “best-seller” lists are pre-ordained through marketing machinations. I spent a lot of years as a travel agent and the comparisons between that industry and the current state of book publishing are eerie. Both are industries built around slick marketing, kickbacks and the perception of attainable luxury. In fact, most publishers have offloaded the boxes of paper to the various distributors out there. They’ve got to focus all their energies on acquiring saleable books and then taking those books through the glitz gauntlet.
I’d really like to be upset at Amazon for inching up the prices on new releases, but as someone who doesn’t mind paying less for several hours of good read than I’d spend on a mediocre pizza it doesn’t bother me that much. In fact, as someone who one day hopes to make a bit of a modest living from those prices, I kind of don’t mind it at all.
Of course there is the one caveat I do have. I’m obviously going to buy fewer books if they’re $14 apiece instead of $10. Or so I tell my patient husband.