Many book bloggers have discussed the recent news that the Department of Justice is investigating Apple and several of the major book publishers over price-fixing. Since it’s been covered by many tech, publishing and book sites, I won’t go into details about the case. Plus, I’ll admit to some ignorance of the way books are priced and sold—I’m more interested in understanding the content of books. (For those interested in the DOJ case, check out Tim Carmody’s piece in Wired and this editorial from NPR).
But on Friday, I listened to the Vergecast, a weekly video podcast that reviews tech news for the week. They spent a lot of time talking about the DOJ case and focused on how consumers use e-books. What struck me was that they got an interesting call from a listener who has worked in the publishing industry, and for the first time, I really feel like I get why publishers are scared of e-books.
Here’s the video. Fast forward to the 42 minute mark:
Some brief highlights:
- Book publishers have a unique product. Unlike music, book stores can’t discount books in the same way because the product works differently. It’s a bottom up, not top-down model (i.e. books sales aren’t based on “first week” sales like music, unless you’re James Patterson, I guess).
- Books are about peer-to-peer development. That’s why publishers are scared about e-books: they sell more at a lower price, but that doesn’t make money.
- Most books aren’t sold in bulk, except, again, the James Pattersons and Stephenie Meyers of the world.
- Book publishers like it when you buy a book based on its cover, essentially. This doesn’t happen with e-books, because most e-book publishers give you a “free sample.” The free sample lets you decide whether or not it’s worth purchasing, which is great for consumers, but not for sales.
And there’s probably more to say, but you should just listen to this guy riff on the publishing industry. I enjoyed it, and I hope you do too.