Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

10/13/2013

Books Don’t Want to be Sold for Free


Is publishing, as it was, doomed? Probably not completely, but many fear for the fate of publishing for good reasons. Hell, Barnes and Noble’s book shelf space is shrinking, being replaced with doodads for the desk, toys, magnifying glasses, etc.; the hopeful savior Nook is proving unsustainable and five major publishers have hefty payouts due to loosing their price-fixing suit!

But, in spite of all this turmoil, if you step back and take a broader view, books are not failing, falling or disintegrating pricewise as products of other cultural industries have due to the digital revolution.

According to Evan Hughes (who has written for such publications as The New York Review of Books, the London Review of BooksThe New York TimesThe New RepublicThe Boston Globe,n+1, and The Awl): “If you’re in the business of selling journalism, moving images, or music, you have seen your work stripped of value by the digital revolution. Translate anything into ones and zeroes, and it gets easier to steal and harder to sell at a sustainable price. Yet people remain willing to fork over a decent sum for books, whether in print or in electronic form. “I can buy songs for 99 cents, I can read most newspapers for free, I can rent a $100 million movie tonight for $2.99,” Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president of Kindle content, told me in January. “Paying $9.99 for a best-selling book—paying $10 for bits?—is in many respects a very strong accomplishment for the business.” 

In other words – books have a stronger cultural value and appreciation AND, therefore, staying power. Another reason books have fared better than their cultural cousins (music, movies, television, journalism articles) is ‘the book is so low-tech, it’s hard for technology to degrade it.’

To find out just how digital by-products such as disaggregation, bundling, piracy and other outside influences have crushed all the cultural products EXCEPT the book you will find the follow-on article from the New Republic by Evan Hughes indispensable and a great read:

Books Don’t Want to Be Free

How publishing escaped the cruel fate of other culture industries

You hardly have to wait in line at Barnes & Noble anymore. The cashiers stare into the middle distance, while on the sales floor, space for books steadily erodes. Instead: toys, magnifying glasses, doodads for the desk. Also: Nook devices, which are supposed to represent the future. Except the Nook division is actually doing worse than the stores themselves. Independent booksellers still have not recovered from the last decade’s brutality. And five major publishers just learned that, as part of their settlement of a price-fixing suit, they’ll have to refund about $3 for every electronic copy of a New York Times best-seller that they sold over a 25-month period. Reasons to fear for the fate of publishing are not difficult to find, and neither are the prophets of doom.

Step back and look at books in a wider context, though, and the picture changes. If you’re in the business of selling journalism, moving images, or music, you have seen your work stripped of value by the digital revolution. Translate anything into ones and zeroes, and it gets easier to steal and harder to sell at a sustainable price. Yet people remain willing to fork over a decent sum for books, whether in print or in electronic form. “I can buy songs for 99 cents, I can read most newspapers for free, I can rent a $100 million movie tonight for $2.99,” Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president of Kindle content, told me in January. “Paying $9.99 for a best-selling book—paying $10 for bits?—is in many respects a very strong accomplishment for the business.” At the individual level, everyone in the trade—whether executive, editor, agent, author, or bookseller—faces threats to his or her livelihood: self-publishing, mergers and “efficiencies,” and, yes, the suspicious motives of Amazon executives. But the book itself is hanging on and even thriving. More than any major cultural product, it has retained its essential worth.Of course, publishers think that $9.99 is still too low for popular e-books, an assessment that drove their ill-fated effort to work with Apple to take control of what they cost. (After racking up legal bills that “look like the unit sales numbers of Fifty Shades of Grey,”as one of their CEOs put it, the houses settled anyway and incurred that $3 penalty and a raft of other punishments.) It may be that a higher price would be more equitable. But other media still have reason to look at the relative economic health of the book with envy. Putting together an album requires not just the talents of the musician, but expensive instruments and recording equipment, costly studio space, and a team of engineers and technicians. Each edition of a newspaper consumes enormous resources. Movies and television involve sinking millions into performers, crews, and effects. Yet audiences have come to believe they should get all that on the cheap, if not for free. Meanwhile, books—not as complex a production—have held up much better.

Continued at article source

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