I typically get a sympathetic look when I tell people I work in the book publishing industry. They see what’s happened with newspapers, they realize many of their local bookstores have disappeared, and most of them have heard about the self-publishing revolution. The standard question I’m asked is, “wow, isn’t this a terrible time to be a book publisher?” My answer: “We’re in the midst of a reinvention of the industry, and I can’t think of a better time to be a book publisher!”
Sure, there’s plenty of volatility in our business but we have an opportunity to not only witness change, but embrace it, as well.
With that in mind, there are the first two of four key areas that make me so enthusiastic about the future of this business: pricing and formats.
You might be wondering why pricing tops my list, particularly since we seem to be in the midst of a race to zero pricing. First, Amazon set the customer’s expectations at $9.99, and now some of the most popular ebooks are free or close to free. Amazon routinely sells ebooks at a loss so that they can offer customers the lowest price, and the agency model isn’t turning out to be the silver bullet for falling prices many hoped it would be.
Despite this, I firmly believe publishers are to blame for low ebook prices, not Amazon (or anyone else). After all, we publishers are satisfied with quick-and-dirty print-to-ebook conversions, where the digital edition doesn’t even have all the benefits of the print one. Ever try loaning an ebook to someone? How about reselling it? Of course customers are going to assume the price should be lower in digital format!
We need to break the bad habit of doing nothing more than quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions and look at new strategies to reverse the declining pricing trend. I’m talking about rich content.
Let’s work on integrating features in the digital product which simply can’t be replicated in the print version. Once we start creating products that truly leverage the capabilities of the devices on which they’re read, I believe we’ll end the race to zero pricing.
If you’re a publisher, you’re forced to deal with mobi files for Amazon, EPUB for almost all other e-book retailers, and probably PDF as well. Despite all the sophisticated tools and techniques we can access, it still requires extra work to deliver content in all these formats, especially as specs change and capabilities are enhanced.
Fortunately for us, help is on the way, and its name is HTML5. I believe that in the not too distant future, we’ll be talking less about mobi and EPUB as we focus more of our attention on HTML5. After all, HTML5 is one of the core file formats on which EPUB 3 and KF8 (Amazon’s next-gen format) are built. Additionally, HTML5 already supports many rich content capabilities we need to address the pricing opportunity noted earlier. HTML5 is supported by all the popular web browsers, so there’s no need to wait for mobi or EPUB readers and apps to offer richer content support; let’s just use the underlying technology capabilities of HTML5 and turn every browser into a reading app.
In the second part of this discussion I’ll share the other two reasons why I’m so excited about publishing’s future: direct channels and evolving tools.