The Digital Delay

There have been a couple of articles (see the NYT, AP, and WSJ) announcing that several publishers will delay ebook releases on some or all of their titles. To name a few: HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette (which is the parent company of Little, Brown), and, I believe, Penguin. Everyone seems to have a different strategy on how many of their titles will be held back because everyone is still developing their digital strategies. It looks like most are planning to release the ebooks sometime between hardcover and paperback publication (which is usually about a year apart, unless the publisher is convinced they'll keep making A LOT of money in hardcover--see Harry Potter and the Twilight series). I have to say, though, that I'm glad publishers are putting on a relatively united front about this. People have been screaming about the imminent arrival of ebooks for years now, but we've really only seen a major growth in that sector since the Kindle was released. (Sidenote: I haven't studied it in any major depth, but it seems to me like the most popular ebooks are the ones that are already selling extremely well in hardcover and paperback. It's not really a straight across the board growth in all titles, at least not yet.) Ebooks and digital publishing were the topics most frequently discussed at the Columbia Publishing Institute this past summer, but the general consensus then seemed to be, 'We can tell that Amazon is, or is about to, screw us all royally, but we're not 100% sure what to do about it.'

You may have noticed that Amazon offers their ebooks for $9.99, and in some cases, as low as $7.99. This is largely because they're trying to grow the Kindle market, I believe, but they're the ones taking the financial hit because publishers offer the ebooks to them at the normal hardcover price. The threat that everyone was feeling this summer--and is still feeling--is that Amazon will keep prices that ridiculously low and try to demand that publishers take a smaller cut of ebook pie. That by setting that price, they'll do what Apple/iTunes did to music and effectively set the industry standard price, which benefits them but not the companies producing the material. To quote NYT:

Publishers have been debating the timing of e-books in part as a way to protest the low prices — typically $9.99 — that online retailers like Amazon and Sony are offering on e-book versions of new releases and best sellers.

Although publishers currently receive the same wholesale price for an e-book that they receive for a print book (meaning the retailer takes a loss on the sale of the most popular e-books), publishing houses worry that eventually, Amazon and other e-book retailers will pressure publishers to take a smaller cut on e-books. In addition, since 95 percent of the business still comes from print booksellers, the publishers want to prevent those retailers from reducing orders.

Everyone at the CPC seemed to imply that they were using the music industry's swan dive into digital disaster as a cautionary tale when it came to pricing and piracy. (They also used the newspaper industry as an example of an industry trying to take back control/make profit after offering their content for free for so long.) I'm hoping against hope that delaying the release of ebooks will also cut back on illegal sharing, or at least give the publisher a sound chance of making a profit before a digital file slips through the cracks and starts popping up online.

In other sad, industry-related news: Kirkus Reviews is folding. Kirkus is kind of notorious for giving negative reviews (and giving back-handed compliments), but it's always really sad to see an industry staple give up the ghost. :(

P.S. I just wanted to remind all of my college friends and recent grads (and those looking for a career change), the Columbia Publishing Institute is now accepting applications for next summer. I can't even tell you how much I learned and the connections I made when I attended. I am not kidding when I tell you we had the chance to hear from some of the brightest stars in the industry, both new and old. I stand by my belief that attending one of the courses is your best (and sometimes only) way of breaking into what is a very small, very competitive industry. If you have any questions about the course, please feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email! I'm more than happy to help. :)