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J.A. Konrath recently published a very funny satire entitled, “Print is Eternal,” in which the Print Industry joins Obsolete Anonymous, doesn’t understand why it’s there, and is edified by other characters named things like VHS Tapes, LP Records, Antique Stores, Video Rental Stores, TV Antennas, and Paper Fold-out Maps.

Video Rental Store: What Ma Bell is trying to say is that when a technology comes along that’s faster, easier, and cheaper, the old technology–and all the companies that supported it–tends to fade away.

Print Industry: Why are you here, Video Rental Store? There are still Blockbuster Videos everywhere.

CDs: There were record stores everywhere once.

Cassette Tapes: Hell yeah! They sold cassettes, too! Someone give me a high five!

(no one gives Cassette Tapes a high five)

The underlying message is clear, and I agree with it entirely — print books are more vulnerable than ever, and the trend is only accelerating. And, unlike with music, movies, or maps, there are actually fewer impediments to an ebook breakthrough.

There is already an iTunes for books — Amazon, iBooks, Smashwords, you name it. Storefronts with thousands upon thousands of ebook titles exist online.

There is already pricing advantages to ebooks — consumers can save $5-10 per ebook title over print.

Devices for ebook reading are plentiful, from iPhones to Kindles to iPads.

Just last week, Amazon reported that the Kindle is its top-selling product, and that it has 500,000 e-book titles for sale, including 90% of the New York Times’ bestsellers.

The e-book era has arrived. Librarians want to participate, authors want to participate, readers want to participate.

And if publishers continue to “window” the release of their e-book editions, make life uncomfortable for authors, drag their feet in provisioning e-books into key markets, or stage pricing battles with readers, my guess is that authors will continue to drift into self-publishing their titles as e-books, further eroding what is already a tenuous publisher-author relationship.

J.A. Konrath knows this. He’s published traditional novels in the past, but is now publishing his own e-book versions of them while self-publishing other novels. And he’s apparently making more money and reaching more readers by doing things himself.

Nobody will high-five publishers if they let that happen.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


4 Thoughts on "Publishers Risk Losing to Authors: Why the E-Book Waiting Game Will Backfire"

…Amazon reported that the Kindle is its top-selling product…

Had to call you out for trotting that one out again Kent. It’s essentially a meaningless statement. Amazon is the exclusive retailer for the Kindle. You can’t buy it anywhere else. It’s no surprise whatsoever that it’s Amazon’s top-selling product. Estimates are that they’ve sold between 2 and 3 million total Kindles (this is based on a vague quote from Bezos that “millions of people now own Kindles”–I love the company’s weasel response when pressed, “other than the quote I can’t really add much to that.”). Can you think of any other product that Amazon sells where it’s likely that Amazon would have sold 2 million units? I can’t. So the statement is just more hyperbole, more twisted logic, more abuse of statistics from Amazon’s marketing department. Note also that the Kindle has been around since 2007, and that in one week, Apple sold 500,000 iPads, and that’s without the 3G units, which doesn’t bode well for single-purpose eReader devices.

What I said is true — “Amazon reported that the Kindle is its top-selling product.” It’s their hyperbole. All your caveats are right, except in the broader context of the post, this bit of fluff from Amazon is offered as only one point of many about the proliferation of e-reading devices and e-publications. I still find the momentum interesting overall in the market, even if some of that is sizzle instead of steak, to borrow the classic marketing comparison of style over substance.

I’m glad you added this.

It repeatedly makes me wonder why all the subterfuge? Would Amazon be better off just releasing their sales figures?

I agree. It’s very odd, but after working with Amazon on other things, I wonder if it’s just that Bezos is so focused on revenues and growth, things like PR and such aren’t really his bag. I think they’re just getting the Kindle business — which started as books but quickly expanded to magazines, blogs, and other content sources — under control. There was a huge back-end infrastructure to build to accommodate it all. Plus, I love my Kindle, so I don’t really care. Personally, I’ve purchased 3, so there, I’ve published my “sales” figure!

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