Monday, September 14, 2009

Quartet's Experience Can Teach Us All

On Saturday I reported on the closing of Quartet Press. I also directed readers to Kassia Krozser's excellent post here explaining what she took from her foray into the world of digital publishing.

Kassia had some really good advice for the publishing industry. I'm going to focus on three parts of her message today:

1) Don't look to traditional publishers to lead the way into the future.

Kassia's right. The New York houses start from a position of trying to support (and protect) their print business. The big six tried to justify pricing both the ebook and trade paper versions at the same price. And in one embarrassing case, a publisher released the ebook with a price that was higher than the trade paper cost.

2) Publishers need to start listening to their customers.

New York keeps pointing to their low ebook sales as proof that digital publishing will never amount to anything. I look at this as a chicken-and-egg argument. New York's unrealistic pricing model has put a stranglehold on ebooks and kept the digital market from growing.

If you expect readers to pay $15 for an ebook simply because that's the price of the p-book (physical book), of course, you'll never see any growth in the market. Readers are not stupid. They're voting with their wallets and saying, "Give us a break. We know you have lesser costs when you release an ebook. You've eliminated the printing and binding of a physical book, plus the costs of warehousing and the physical distribution AND the costs of returns on unsold stock and pulping those bound books. Get real about your pricing."

3) Kassia's own words are powerful: "Publishers cannot expect the digital marketplace to conform to their business as usual . . . (You cannot view) ebooks and digital distribution through a physical lens."

In a blog post on Valentine's Day this year here, I said that the cognitive biases of New York endangered its future. These are the biases I identified:
  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to select information that supports the individual's preconceived notions and to avoid information that contradicts those existing beliefs

  • Conservatism bias: the tendency to be conservative, to wait and see before making a change. A refusal to acknowledge both technical and social change even to one's detriment

  • Illusion of Control: the tendency of people to believe they can control outcomes over which they have no control

  • Status Quo bias: the tendency of people to want things to stay as they are, to not change
I hate that hackneyed phrase "Think outside of the box," but this is one time I think it truly needs to be said.

3) Stop angsting about Amazon's $9.99 price point for ebooks. Rather than worry about the price in a vacuum, focus on figuring out what your real costs are.

Kassia suggests that publishers throw away their assumptions and, instead of building a financial model from the top-down, try to build one from the bottom-up.

Again, publishers need to go back to her advice to throw away traditional assumptions and start fresh. Wake up and look around you. In a green world, printing and shipping and warehousing and returning and pulping--the Dead Tree Model--wastes energy and costs you too much.

Yes, there are always going to be readers who prefer a p-book. That's the beauty of print-on-demand (POD), digital technology and contraptions like the Espresso Book Machine. A book is only printed when an order is in hand. And with digital files, that book can be sold for an indefinite period of time--not just the brief period of time books currently get to sit on store shelves.

I can think of no better way to end this post than to quote Kassia's own words:
"The ability to move fast and change with the business is key. The ability to think beyond 'that’s how we’ve always done it' is essential. The importance of focusing on talent and creativity is critical. But the most important thing of all is this: your customers are talking to you. Listen."
If you're not in the habit of reading her blog, you should be.

1 comment:

Blue Tyson said...


"And in one embarrassing case, a publisher released the ebook with a price that was higher than the trade paper cost."

There are multiple cases of this.

Then the have cheaper edition out, but ebook stays same price too.