Part 1 of a 3 part editorial series by Sheila English
I have worked in New Media specifically in the publishing industry for ten years and am the author of Book Marketing, Book Trailers® and Author Etiquette in a Nutshell. I trademarked the term “book trailer” and own Circle of Seven Productions as well as Reader’s Entertainment. I have worked with most of the publishers in New York as well as for authors and small press. I’ve been invited to meetings to discuss the industry, but please don’t tell the DOJ(Department of Justice). In those meeting, however, we did discuss ebook pricing.
A lot has been said about the DOJ settlement and as I am not an attorney, only an affected party of the outcome, I can’t say what was legal or illegal, so I won’t speak to that.
Instead, I would like to point to the 600lb gorilla in the room. No, not Amazon, instead let’s look at the overall epic fail of the publishing industry that put them in the position they are now in with regard to ebook sales.
It’s not just that they were late to the ebook party. Anyone who knows anything about publishing can tell you that publishers are conservative to a fault and rarely do anything until it has been proven to work. Trenched in tradition and old school business that has worked for them for many years, it’s understandable that they would be late to adapt to new technology or ideas.
This epic fail actually started before ebook sales discussions were worth paying a $52 million dollar settlement over. If this one thing had not failed so miserably there is a good chance ebook sales using the agency model would barely need discussion at all.
What did publishers fail at? They failed to create their own “Got Milk” campaign. That’s right. Publishers failed to see the importance of reminding the public that reading is fundamental, entertaining and should have a priority in the lives of people. They didn’t find a way to remain important to the public.
Computers started gaining the attention of people in the 1980’s. Movies became heavily marketed and television eventually expanded to cable. The internet made it easy to make online friends, do online shopping and learn. Gaming took over the attention of young people. The economy made it necessary for most families to have two working parents or for single parents to take two jobs or retired persons had to come out of retirement to supplement their income. More and more people had to divide their attention and their time. They had to make hard choices with their priorities.
Over the years I have seen campaigns that promote reading. I have seen campaigns that promote reading devices and bookstores. But where is the publishing industry’s “Got Milk”? Why haven’t they created campaigns that endear books to people in a way that creates relationships? In a way that is memorable? Why do people think $1.99 or even $9.99 is the best price for books when they will pay more than that for valet parking?
Amazon can be blamed for a lot of things, but no one has empowered Amazon more than the publishers who haven’t been paying attention. Do I want to see Amazon with a monopoly? Absolutely not. But, who sat by ignoring ebook sales while Amazon saw the writing on the wall and embraced it? Publishers. They created a monster by idly sitting by, crunching numbers that told them ebooks would take years to become important enough for them to pay attention to. Now they want to say “We had no idea there would be tablets and ereaders!” Being unprepared doesn’t make you a victim, but it does put you in a position of weakness. And being weak doesn’t make you a victim.
If publishers banned together and spent $52 million dollars on an awareness campaign, reminding people why books are important and that, even at $20 they are getting a great deal, it would have been money invested, not money lost.
People are busy, tired and over stimulated. Remind them of the joy of reading. Remind them how wonderful it is to get books instantaneously if they want them. Remind them how good it is for the environment if you buy ebooks. Remind them, enlighten them, encourage them and help them understand why you price a book the way you do and they will be more apt to buy the book at that price. Don’t just point at Amazon’s low prices or Walmart’s low prices and say, “This is killing the industry!” What is killing the industry is that publishers still look at readers as customers instead of also evolving to create relationships. Publishers don’t want to be leaders in their own industry. They want to follow an established path, dress it up and call it “new” and pat themselves on the back for their ingenuity. Publishers want to benefit without having to take chances. Ebooks should have been important to publishers long before Amazon made the Kindle.
It can change. And I do see some publishers trying to make that change. They are looking to influencers, leaders, technology and trying to see where they might fit. But they need to do more than that. They need an outreach program, a campaign that reaches into the hearts of people and reminds them that books matter so much and in so many ways that the price tag becomes secondary in importance and the experience, the story, they come first. I’m not saying to price gouge people so that only the wealthy can afford books. But, if you feel a certain price is fair you need to share why you think that is fair in a way that the reader will agree with you without being bitter.
I challenge publishers to create a campaign that does just that. Spend your efforts on people, not on other companies, gimmicks or corporate games. The best investment you, the publisher, can make is in the reader. If you think you’re already doing that, then you deserve your epic fail. You just don’t get it. As long as people feel the price is too high for books, you’re getting an F.