i-Conference 2006: Day 1


Filipino Librarian writes "In a pre-conference session, John Wilkin started by talking about the genesis of Google Book Search at U-M, and eventually got around to the secrecy regarding the technology and numbers surrounding the project. He mentioned that he understood why Google wants to keep these secret, but added that permission has been obtained to talk about certain aspects of the project. More... In the opening session, John Seely Brown differentiated between "learning about" and "learning to be," which seems to be similar to the difference between telling a man how to catch fish, and letting him learn to catch fish by doing. Other examples: the open source movement, Decameron Web, open and closed peer review at Nature, MediaCommons, etc. More..."


Despite the hype surrounding the Reader, few in publishing believe it will do for books what the iPod did for music-create a new, large digitally delivered sales channel. One executive said he doesn't think there ever will be an industry answer to the iPod, and that the transition to a digital reading market will be gradual and include a variety of devices and formats.
To be like the iPod I think one big element is to price books at .99 a piece. Publishers that want to sell me a digital file of a book for $16-$25 are going to have a hard sales pitch to make. Maybe I would spend $16 on a book every couple months, but if I could download books at $1 I could see myself buying 2-3 books a week. Over a year it is better to have 100 $1 downloads as compared to 3 $15 downloads.
Couldn't you see yourself buying all kinds og books you normally wouldn't if you could get them for $1. Plus since you are using an ebook you could obtain the book quickly. A book is mentioned on the news. You pick up your ebook reader, click, click, pay a $1, and you are reading the book.

>I guess we are seeing the law of supply and demand at work.

So what is the supply of a digital file?? I would agree that market price is $8 because you have a willing buyer and a willing seller at $8. But you might have way more willing buyers if the price was lower. Since there is an unlimited supply because you are dealing with a digital file it may be possible to make more money by selling lots of copies at a low price as compared to less copies at a higher price.

I did a quick check of ebooks.com and it seems that they are selling new poular fiction novels for $15-$20, comprable to what it might cost as a hardback. Similar types of books that are a few years old (which would be in paperback by now) seem to be going more in the $6-$10 range. I guess we are seeing the law of supply and demand at work.Still, I would assume publishers can make a profit selling e-books for as little as $8 because that is what they are doing now.

There's sloppy wording in the above comment. What I meant was that, from what I've heard, bookstores pay about 60% of the retail price--a 40% discount. But that may have changed.

There is a direct comparison. iTunes sells albums for $10. The typical price for a bestselling CD these days at discount stores or Amazon: $10 (well, $9) to $15. The typical price for a bestselling book at Amazon: $13 to $20, as far as I can tell.

Based on that comparison, an iBook should cost...around $15. More than the lower-priced physical items (there are a lot of $9 CDs out there), less than the higher-priced ones, but not by much.

Fact is, the author royalty on a $20 book alone will be $2 to $3 (or more for some big name authors), leaving nothing for all the other costs of publishing (and profit, and distribution costs, and distributor's profit...) quite apart from waste. (PoD eliminates all of the waste from print publishing, but it increases the unit cost because it's a lot cheaper per-book to produce 5,000 than to produce 1.)

You're also claiming that wholesale book prices are 30% to 50% of retail; that's bigger than any of the discounts I've heard (typically closer to 60% of suggested retail). But maybe things have changed there.

In any case, unless authors are all wards of the state and publishers are all people with other day jobs, new books (actual books, not pamphlet-length items sold as "ebooks") just aren't going to go for $1, and probably not for $2.99.

Demanding a bestseller that is being sold off the shelf like hot cakes for $20 to be then sold online for $1 is simply absurd.

Not true at all. Currently there are massive inefficiences in the publishing system that cause the start price of a book to be $20. Many bookstores are able to return unsold books to the publisher for a full refund. Dealing with a straight digital file without all the inefficiencies a $1 can work. Also at the dollar price you can have people spending more money over the long term. Also when you sell a physical book it can then compete with the new book when it enters the used book market. The digital file (at least under the Sony model) cannot be transferred so that copy does not become part of the used book market once it is read.

Let's look at an example. Publisher sells a book to a bookstore that has a list price of $20. What does the bookstore pay $6-$10. So $10 of the price is for the bookstore to deal with the book. If there were no ineffiencies in publishing then to price the digital file from publisher for $6-$10 would be reasonable. But the reason the publishers price $6-$10 to the bookstore is that they have to have money to cover returns and other ineffiences of paper publishing. Take out those ineffiences and you have a book that can sell from $3-$6. So maybe songs are .99 and books will be $2.99. Twenty dollars for a digital file of a book, that is what is simple absurd.

Come on, an album, a compact disk is going to cost $15-6. So will a book, so will a movie. These are large investments of time and energy. A song only represents a fraction of something more, yes it can stand alone but its the only example here that can (except maybe a single tv episode of a series). It simply doesn't compare to a book. Demanding a bestseller that is being sold off the shelf like hot cakes for $20 to be then sold online for $1 is simply absurd.

Frankly I would buy a chapter of a book at a time, Dickens work all came out that way in newspapers and I bought the original version of King's The Green Mile in 6 installments. It can be done and should be done.

The book equivalent would be to sell a chapter of a book for $1.
Yes a book can be broken down into smaller pieces but so can a song. Especially for fiction books, what you really want is the whole not a part. Just like people don't want to buy one stanza of a song they usually don't want just one chapter of a book. (especially for a fiction work)
So although I agree that a book can be broken down into smaller parts I don't think they have to. Also, when you charge $1 chapter we are back to a $16-$25 book again. So to get back to the title that was used "not a direct comparison" I would disagree because I think there is one way that it can be a direct comparison if we treat a book as a unit and there is another way that a book is not a direct comparison when we break it into parts.

iTunes sells a single song for $1. The book equivalent would be to sell a chapter of a book for $1. Which wouldn't be a bad idea at that...

Call me a fetishist, but as long as books are available in print, I have no plans to use an e-book, no matter how easy, cheap, or convenient. I use an iPod, but I still buy almost all of my music the old fashioned way, on shiny plastic discs.

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