Seems that e-books are the talk of internetville. But doesn’t all this talk sound familiar? Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
Sales are down! Piracy is destroying the industry! Lawsuits! Copyright!! DRM!!!
Oh yes, that’s right. We DID hear all this before. From the music industry. We heard it when the cassette tape format was invented. We heard it again when CD burners became a household item. And we got to hear it again when Napster + broadband internet connections made it possible to download an entire library of audio in minutes. And now that books are on the block, we get to hear it again from the publishing industry.
Until recently, artistic works such as music, video, pictures and stories required a medium to contain the art and transfer it from one person to another. That medium (Tape, DVD, CD, Book, etc…) had a production cost, a fixed physical expense that someone had to pay because that THING had to be manufactured, packaged, shipped, received, warehoused, and stocked.
For decades, we’ve been told how much it costs to make THINGS and to ship THINGS and to stock THINGS. And the cost of the THINGS keeps going up because of [fill in the blank].
But consumers were never buying the THING. People don’t really want a cassette tape. Or a book. Or a computer file for that matter. Consumers want the art that the medium carries. They want the story about Frodo and Sam. They want the song by Jagged Spiral. They want the picture of the pirate flag.
With the internet, the medium is all but removed from the product, leaving an intangible stream of ones and zeros. At long last, the products of art have been un-THING-ified. Virtualized.
One of the reasons consumers never wanted the medium in the first place was that it adds unnecessary cost to the art. Well, now the medium is almost completely gone, but where are the savings? We should be seeing prices dive for the virtual products, but the industries still try to justify the old prices.
This is a problem.
Why are e-books selling for $9 when the hardcover version is $13? Why in the Hells do they both list at $29?
Seriously. Twenty Nine American Dollars is the Publisher’s Suggested Retail Price for an E-Book? Is that supposed to make you think that $9 is a good deal?
I’m not the only one calling the publishing industry out on it’s bullshit. New York Times Bestselling Author Michael Stackpole lists plenty of other reasons publishers can’t justify their e-book pricing.
The industry holds the price up, because they won’t let go of the THING-ness of their product. They see every sale of a virtual product as a direct equivalent of the sale of a physical product. They think that every e-book sold is a physical book not sold.
Reality Check: Virtual products are not Physical products.
Truth is, the publishing industry should be thrilled to death about internet distribution. E-books may have a lower cost, but they have a far higher margin than their physical counterparts. If you don’t know what that means, ask an accountant. If you can’t make your business work with this new math, then hire a fucking accountant, and change your business to become profitable. The last thing you’d want to do is waste money on lawyers to fight the system. Ask the recording industry.
Why is the industry is down? Why aren’t people buying? Its simple. The product is virtualized, but the price is not.
Hey, it’s a free market, and it’s not against the law for businesses or even the entire industry to use business practices leading to their own obsolescence. It also isn’t against the law for them to starve to death because they refuse to adapt to the new technology.
But it looks like instead of taking advantage of the new technology they have available, the publishing industry has decided to try to force a square peg into a round hole. When that doesn’t work, they sulk and stare at the dwindling sales and blame…
Before you break out the flamethrowers, understand that I’m not endorsing piracy. Piracy is unlawful and unethical. Google is evil for doing it, and so is everyone else who does it.
But I am telling you that it is entirely true that (music/movie/ebook) piracy is NOT “killing” the (recording/motion-picture/publishing) industry. It wasn’t back when cassette tapes came out. It wasn’t back when the VCR was released to consumers. Author’s careers are not being destroyed because their books are available for free at the library, or borrowed from friends, or sold in used bookstores. Musicians aren’t going broke because their songs are played on terrestrial radio, spotify, and pandora at no cost to consumers.
The publishing industry is down because of many factors, but piracy is the last one to worry about. Wasting time on it is like rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. Keelhauling every pirate in the universe won’t fix what’s wrong with the publishing industry, the music industry, or any other industry, because Pirates are not a problem; they are a symptom.
Let’s look at the problem that causes piracy to become popular:
Free as in “E-Books”
Price a product high enough and two things will happen.
Sales of that product will decrease.
Some customers will find other ways to get the product for less.
The music industry already learned this, but let’s look at how it pertains to the publishing industry, by examining these ‘other ways’ to get the product for less than the listed price:
You can get every Dean Koontz book ever written for free… at the public library.
You can get every Stephanie Meyer book for free… by borrowing them from your niece.
You can buy the latest Stephen King novel for One Dollar… on Craigslist. (In hardcover.)
You can buy Scott Sigler’s latest for just a couple bucks… at the used bookstore.
And you can get the latest of pretty much any e-book for free… by pirating it via bittorrent.
Care to wager that library usage is way up? Borrowing/lending? But you won’t hear about the publishing industry claiming that libraries are “Destroying the industry” or trying pass laws banning the sharing of books. That would be just as laughable as saying that pirates are destroying the industry. It’s just one more way customers can get the product if they don’t think it’s worth the list price.
Am I suggesting that publishers are causing an increase in piracy by setting their prices too high? Yes. Just like they are “causing” people to check books out at the library, or borrowing them instead of purchasing them at the bookstore. Just like they are causing consumers to obtain the product through other methods, or pass on the product altogether.
Of course publishers have to fight piracy, or people will think they’re OK with it. But to declare that piracy is destroying the publishing industry is simply not true. Illegal? Yes. On the rise? No doubt. But look at the cause:
Your business plan sucks.
Here’s where you should be focusing. Not on pirates. Solve this problem, and piracy will diminish, along with borrowing/lending and library usage.
But, we doesn’t understand business or teh Interwebs!
I can already hear the publishing industry screaming at me that it can’t make a profit off what people are willing to pay for e-books. What’s more likely is that they’ve been lying to the world for years about the costs attributable to the media (packing, shipping, storage, etc
You can price your product whereever you like, but products are never worth more than people are willing to pay for them. It doesn’t matter how much they cost to make. Like I said, price it too high and people won’t buy it or they will find cheaper alternatives. Yes, including piracy.
This is the spot where I’d make a “buggy whip manufacturer” reference, but q.e.d. right?
The solution starts by acknowledging the real problem.
The solution starts with letting go of the paradigm of treating ones and zeros on the web as a physical product. Virtual products are not Physical products.
The solution starts when people stop crying that change is bad, fighting against the new tech, and trying to cover up bad business models by blaming pirates.
I suspect the solution requires a generation of post-internet people growing up with virtualized products; people who weren’t born into a system of 100% THINGS and then had to suffer the paradigm shift to the virtual. These people will have a more intimate understanding of this “problem”, and perhaps when they grow up to take over for the current regime, they will arrive at a more elegant solution – one that works to Everyone’s advantage.
While researching different authors perspectives on e-book piracy, I tripped over a blog post by a New York Times Bestselling Author. Let’s call her Jenn. (Not her real name) Jenn’s blog post explains how piracy affects people she knows in the music industry, and her own career as an author. She experiences the direct impact of piracy firsthand, and she is clearly against the theft of intellectual property.
Yet the irony is that Jenn, herself, is a pirate.
That’s right. A New York Times Bestselling Author… a person who is directly affected by pirates stealing electronic versions of her work… a person who knows and understands piracy, and fears that it may be destroying the publishing industry…
What do these people have in common? They are all Bestselling Authors. But lately, there have been a plethora of authors claiming “Bestseller” status. The problem is that they are bestsellers – technically. I’m here to point out that some authors are using a new-and-improved definition of the term that might not match up with what you think of when you use the term “Bestseller.”
There’s little argument that a Bestselling Author is the Author of at least one Bestselling Book. Once upon a time, a Bestselling Book was defined as a book that had made it onto the New York Times Best-sellers List. But the more generic definition is – “a book that sells the best out of a specific category in a specific time.”
With this more generic definition in mind, a little technical help from online booksellers like amazon.com, and a little ethical flexibility, we can manipulate the category and the time period to raise almost ANY book (and its author) to bestseller status.
The more generic definition of “bestseller” is a book that sells the most out of a specific category in a specific time… we can manipulate the category and the time period to raise almost ANY book (and its author) to “bestseller” status.
Ever since the birth of Consumer Reports, marketing people realized that the ubiquitous title of “Best” had a high impact with consumers. (Especially American consumers.) Car companies realized that a midsized car with average fuel mileage and average price couldn’t really be considered “best” at anything except being a “midsized car with average fuel mileage and average price.”
Add a dash of Evil Marketing Genius and the problem is solved. They narrowed down the specs to weed out their competition until their car was the ‘best’ within the specified sub-section. The term for this status is “Best in Class,” a phrase likely to be found in any car commercial.
This same approach can be taken regarding published works. If you break the market down to a sub-sub-subsection where your book is the best out of those remaining…then you’re the best! Best of Class, of course, but you’re still the best. It’s like being King of your own tree-fort. You get all the bragging rights of being “Best” but there’s a big disclaimer that comes with that definition of Best-ness.
The values are recalculated Every Hour, which leads us to the next piece of best-seller-ness, Timing.
Timing The Bum Rush
Because sites like Amazon measure sales instantaneously and the Bestseller lists are recalculated every hour, it isn’t hard to get your book moved to the top of the list by gathering your friends, and leveraging your social media connections (with added gifts, discounts and other time-limited offers) and launching a timed, all-out purchasing assault in an attempt to “best-ify” books or music.
This activity is nicknamed a “Bum Rush.”
Bum Rush the Charts Logo
A famous Bum Rush was performed on 22 Mar 2007. A website called Bum Rush The Charts planned the large-scale push of the independent band Black Lab up onto music charts worldwide. It worked. The band peaked at #11 on the American I-Tunes charts and in the top 100 of most other countries. An UNSIGNED band broke the charts using nothing more than a strategically timed social media event.
The theory behind a Bum Rush is simple. Get a large number of people to purchase your book on a particular hour of a particular day. It won’t take a lot to get your book moved to the “Best” of your selected category for that one hour. Collect your title and brag forevermore that you are indeed a Bestseller.
Sneaky? No doubt. But there’s also no doubt that the Bum Rush works. In fact, certain book publishers expect their authors to participate in a Bum Rush, (probably called a “Release Event” or some other legal-speak) and will even add a clause requiring author participation into their “Book Deal” contracts.
The beauty is that once achieved, the Bestseller title stays with the author for the rest of his/her lifetime, as though they had achieved a doctorate or a Nobel Peace Prize. All the author’s marketing materials will have the words “…by the Bestselling Author of…” and whether the new material is “Bestselling” quality or not, it still says “Bestselling” on it.
Like I said, Evil Marketing Genius.
Because of the glut “Bestselling Authors” out there, you will see authors who became Bestsellers using the traditional method refer to themselves as “New York Times Bestselling Author” and their books as “New York Times Bestseller” or possibly other, more specified titles which gives more detail about where their pedigree comes from and how they differentiate themselves from the rank-and-file “Bestsellers.”
I didn’t write this article so you could run out and become a Bestselling Author. My goal was to inform you that the term “Bestseller” doesn’t hold the same meaning it did before online booksellers came into play. And nothing against those who have achieved their bestseller status the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, the new definition of Bestseller does water down the prestige of the title.
From now on, you know to be wary of the term “Bestselling” Anything. When you see an author or book listed as “Bestselling” the first thought in your mind should be “Best What out of Which, exactly?”
-Conrad Zero, Bestselling Author (of all published dark fiction authors over 30 years of age, with a last name beginning with the letter “Z,” and living in Minneapolis metro area)