Solving the Digital Book Crisis
While even free may be too much to pay for a book in the near future, all is not lost. They key is to publish a bound book bundled -- at no extra cost -- with access to a digital version of the book stored on a remote server (which can be advertising supported). Bundling a pBook with a free eBook is a temporary bulwark, not a solution. The real dilemma is how to create value, when, due to rampant piracy, purchasing a book becomes optional. Ultimately, the battle for the future of the book, may be about how invested people are in physical objects.
Cloud computing is on the cusp. It's about access to your eBook, not ownership of it. An eBook stored on a remove server can be read on a web browser across multiple devices without interference from Amazon or Apple. No device or platform lock in. It's device agnostic. So, the silliness that accompanied the introduction of the late great Stanza reader will seem, well...silly. It's about content, not dedicated reading devices, proprietary platforms or multifunction tablets.
For 500 years publishing was a top down, multiple uniform copy, "All Rights Reserved," "No Derivative Works," "You Buy it You Own it" business. The digital world is not uniform. In cyberspace no one can hear you scream "All Rights Reserved."
Amazon, Apple and Google are tussling for dominance of cloud computing. Each has a cloud computing platform that will allow you access, not download books you purchase. Storage not stores is the future of publishing. Book publishing was a business built on copyright and the sale of physical copies. Cloud computing is a business built on secure content stored on remote servers. Books are owned. ebooks are not, since, cloud computing is about access to data. Today, customer data -- not content -- is king.
What Does Print Do Best?
The time is ripe for the traditional publishing industry to ask, "What does print do best?" Guttenberg's significance was that he made books available in uniform multiple copies. If done right, a printed book gives the printed word authority. It also imbues intangible intellectual property with value. Read the Borzoi Credo. It will show you how to compete with probabilistic algorithms and overwhelming probabilities. While essential for a publisher to have a book available in bound and eBook form on pub date, let the scarcity of retail outlets work to your advantage. Hold back the stand alone eBook and be nice to bookstore clerks and managers by giving a first shot at retail. Hardcover first -- but with a twist. Bundle an eBook with the book. People who buy books in bookstores talk up books. They are the same people who, for either love or literature, or social status, opted to purchase -- not rent -- expensive triple deckers in the Victorian era.
Some people just have to read a book when it comes out. Others can wait several months. If someone must have a book when it comes out, it can be purchased as pbook bundled with a browser-based eBook. According to a recent online consumer research survey by Elastic Path, if a favorite author was released initially only in hardcover, 41% of readers would buy it, whereas 39% would wait for the eBook. Like the home video home video distribution window, the digital-only version should follow the release of the premium pbook (i.e., pbook bundled with "free" eBook) two to three months after initial release of the premium package sold through traditional bookstores. pbook first would also address protests by booksellers who can't compete with Amazon, Apple and Google in the digital arena.
For traditional publishers and traditional booksellers, a premium "P" / "E" bundled edition is one strategy for fighting the digital book wars. Yes, I'm talking about defending the system. But, don't brand me as a supporter of the status quo. Defending the system need not be at the expense of new business models. Publishing entrepreneurs can start from scratch with e-subscription models, e-syndication models, e-advertising supported, short term licenses (e.g., Richard Nash's Cursor), and other models that leverage their copyright interests and/or the readers' eyeballs they aggregate. How one extracts value from their intellectual property assets (and readers) is up to them. It's just a matter of how traditional publishers plan to ride out the storm.
Bookstores make traditional publishers relevant. Things are about to get cheap and nasty, and Amazon and
Apple are intent on destroying the existing supply chain.