Book Publishers Starting To Delay eBook Releases — Taking Bad Ideas From Hollywood

from the why-not-just-point-them-directly-to-the-pirate-bay? dept

It’s no secret that many book publishers are somewhat uncomfortable with the ebook market, fearing that it will cannibalize the existing book market, with lower expected prices or (gasp!) piracy. Still, you would think they would know better than to repeat the mistakes of other industries. Copycense alerts us to the news that some ebook publishers are copying the movie studios with their obsession with windowed releases and are delaying the release of ebooks by as much as four months after the release of the hardcover book. Amazon’s response to the news sums up why this is a huge mistake:

“Authors get the most publicity at launch and need to strike while the iron is hot. If readers can’t get their preferred format at that moment, they may buy a different book or just not buy a book at all.”

Or they might just get an unauthorized digital copy. Hard to understand businesses that think it’s reasonable to not offer customers what they want (especially when they’re willing to pay for it).

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Comments on “Book Publishers Starting To Delay eBook Releases — Taking Bad Ideas From Hollywood”

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Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Another reason why this is stupid...

Try the windowed release method with books, and watch how it fails even FASTER than movies. Why? Two reasons:

1. Avid readers, while smaller in population than avid movie fans, are far more into their books than the the movie fans are movies. They’ll do whatever it takes to get that next Harry Potter book, and the temptation of infringing on a download is going to be harder to resist than with movies, IMO.

2. How are you going to insitute any caps against pirated eBooks? What’s an eBook run in terms of storage, like 10MB maybe, in PDF format? Also, there’s less of a mental/time cost because it’s even quicker than the movie or tv show. You can download every Harry Potter eBook in ten minutes with a reasonable connection.

Phillip (profile) says:

Re: Another reason why this is stupid...

Most books are less than that most books are less than 1MB unless you have full color, but most current readers and B&W only. So it’s going to be more temptation and quick to grab.
I’m pretty sure almost anyone can download a 1mb file in less than 5 min.

An example of this working against them:
I recently had a birthday, and my parents were going to buy me the new wheel of time book for the kindle, but it isn’t out yet. So they gave me a gift certificate to amazon and I bought another few books instead. Eventually I may get the new book, but who knows when it is actually coming to kindle, and when the next time I’ll think to look is.

sehlat (profile) says:

Re: Another reason why this is stupid...

[sarcasm]Ah, yes, the “sales magic” of windowed releases.[/sarcasm]

If you take movies as the example, in another thread, somebody recommended a number of movies to me as “must see.” I remember hearing really good things about “District 9” when it was in the theaters. Amazon says the DVD will be out “December 22”.

a. just in time to miss being a Christmas gift

b. by now, I’ve pretty much lost interest, since I have other things on my mind (like the eARC of “Course of Empire” from Baen) and probably won’t even bother redboxing the film, never mind buying it.

They’re going to lose sales among people like me.

Unless it’s Lois McMaster Bujold, I don’t even bother with treeware, and HER next book’s coming out from Baen, so I’ll almost certainly be able to buy the eARC for $15, the Webscriptions copy as part of the bundle for that month, available two weeks before the hardcover hits the bricks, *and* an HC for the Berkeley Library, an HC for me, an HC for my pact brother, and an HC for my niece.

Where’s yer windowed releases the noo?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Back before the Kindle was a twinkle in Bezos’ eye, and before Peanut Press became eReader, became Fictionwise, became Barnes & Nobles eReader, there was this little thing called Us*n*t (asterisks to protect the innocent), and a fairly active subsection which swore to provide any new popular literary work within 48 hrs of its release in dead tree format, a version in an open digital format, should the publisher of said work fail to do so. I recall the heady days of the release of Harry Potter III, when 4 independent teams tackled different sections of the book in order to get it scanned, OCR’d and available for review within hours after the dead tree release. They did not do this for payment, or to seek notoriety, or any other tangible reward.
They sought to fill a hole in the market, even if they did not care to monetize that effort.

With the popularity of ebooks on the rise, and the rising likelihood of any given work to be available in both digital and dead tree formats simultaneously, I would imagine that activity on those groups, wherever they may be now, has fallen. I would imagine that market hijinks like those described above would bring them roaring back. And as good as the technology has gotten today, between the speed of the scanner, and the speed of the OCR engine…

Have these marketing idiots never studied history? Ever?

PaulT (profile) says:

Meh, whatever. I usually just wait for the paperback anyway, and grab that second hand if there’s no discounts from the extortionate cover price and never buy ebooks. Sorry, but there’s a limit to what I’ll pay for a medium I only ever use once, especially if there’s no resale value (as per ebooks).

If they were to bring out the ebook at the same time as the hardcover and then pass on the savings they make on the raw materials of physical publishing to the consumer then maybe – maybe – ebooks would be attractive to me. In the meantime, I’ll keep buying lots of second hand books…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Erm, no. When I’ve finished reading the second hand book, I sell it back to the retailer. The bookstore near me has a special deal where they sell a second hand book for 1/2 its cover price, and then buy it back for 1/2 of that price. i.e. I essentially get one book free for every 2 I return, and only a few select favourite stick around my flat… win/win and something that’s just not allowed with eBooks – hence the lower value and lower amount I’m willing to pay for them.

Planespotter (profile) says:

Grrrr!! I was an avid book reader as a child but as an adult with small children I found that I was reading less and less, well less books for me, a far greater amount of books for them… anyway a few years ago I started reading again, but rather than a physical book all of them were ebook format that worked on iPaqs etc. I have now been reading much more, every day in fact. The format that I want all the time is ebook and I’m not going to be impressed if I have to wait, I will probably find myself frequenting the many p2p sites that offer ebooks!

Windowed releases is a FAIL, they will lose my money.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Business sense

The small minds that lead many of our businesses seem to think that maintaining absolute control over a product is more important than profit margin. They fail to recognized that windowing only gives the illusion of control while cutting their profits.

Any popular is likely to be available in pirated form, even if the publisher doesn’t release it as an ebook. The quality might not be as good because they are usually optically scanned copies, but they are generally readable (or so I have heard). I just did a google search for torrent plus the names of two books I considered purchasing recently, and it looks like both of them are out there in both audiobook and pdf format (and neither was released by the publisher in ebook format).

Book publishers have always windowed to some extent. Hardcover books normally come out a year before paperbacks. I always assumed this was because there is a higher profit margin on hardcovers, and they wanted to milk that as long as possible. If I am a typical customer, that probably didn’t work very well. Since I am inherently cheap, I always wait for the paperback. Then, by the time the paperback comes out, I forget to buy it.

The marginal cost of producing an ebook is near 0. The standard charge for an ebook is 9.99. So, if you take 9.99 and subtract the pittance paid to the author, and you have pure profit. I now prefer ebooks over paper copies, so if a book I want is available as an ebook, I will probably buy it that way. Right now with most publishers, my options are to either wait (and probably forget) or get a pirated version.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

how would a opening up to new market and revenue stream actually cannibalize the existing market.

I would say that they are actually LOSING money right now, by not hopping on the ebook bandwagon. And actually encouraging piracy by delaying the release of ebooks.

I am still of the belief that the entire content-industry, be they music, movies or books, have gone bat-shit insane, and don’t want to make money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Books have always had windowed released: First hardcore, second hardcore, and then usually off to softcover. All the Ebook people are doing is putting the electronic version on an even footing with the softcover edition.

Why cannibalize hardcover sales? Those sales are the ones that make the future editions possible.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You, too could be a corporate executive.

>>Why cannibalize hardcover sales?
You can’t cannibalize a sale that doesn’t happen. I don’t buy hardcovers. I do buy ebooks. If an ebook comes out when it is getting a lot of media attention, I might buy it at that time. Months later when the ebook is published I probably won’t even notice that the book is out because there isn’t nearly as much publicity with the later release.

>>Those sales are the ones that make the future editions possible.
Profits make future editions possible. If a book is popular in the first edition, it may stay in print. However, staying in print has substantial costs to the publisher.

It does cost a little bit of editing effort to convert hardcopy to ebook format, but that is generally rather small, especially given that there is some pretty good software now that helps with the translation in formats. The good thing about ebooks from the publisher’s standpoint is that it is very cheap to keep them in print compared to hardcopies which must be printed, stored in warehouses, and shipped around the world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You can’t cannibalize a sale that doesn’t happen. I don’t buy hardcovers. I do buy ebooks

It is incredibly ignorant to use your own experience and attempt to apply it to every other person on the planet. It’s a total fail.

You buy ebooks, you but them when the come out. If you want the book earlier, buy the hardcover, which is the only version available to start with. Me? I am a paperback sort of a guy, and I wait for the paperback. Plenty of people buy and enjoy the hardcover.

Now, if you released the hardcover, the softcover, and the ebook at the same time (say 19.99, 10.99, and 9.99 respectively), you are giving people a choice (yeah choice!), but the real choice you are giving them is to pay less for the same product. Many people who buy a hardcover today to be the first to read some great master work would instead buy the less costly paperback or ebook versions instead. Effectively, that means that the book sellers would leave about 50% of the potential sale on the table for these people, only to satisfy you. As a business model, it’s a fail.

It’s also a fail because you will buy the ebook anyway, 3 months later. So they have absolutely no reason to give up 50% of their revenues up front to make YOU happy.

It’s pretty clear that few of the posters here have ever run a (successful) business.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

>> the real choice you are giving them is to pay less for the same product.

It is the not the price people pay. It is the profit that you make.

The gross price only counts for some billboard-type surveys, but it is the profit that a business should be after. Given the cost of production and distribution, the higher price of a hardcover edition eats up a lot of the profit from the book. An ebook is much cheaper to produce, and therefore can result in a much larger profit, even at a lower price.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It is incredibly ignorant to use your own experience and attempt to apply it to every other person on the planet. It’s a total fail.

Seriously? It’s called an example. It’s a good bet he’s not some kind of freak, and there are many many other people like him. Enough to be significant? I can’t imagine not, though I don’t have numbers.

You buy ebooks, you but them when the come out. If you want the book earlier, buy the hardcover, which is the only version available to start with.

Perhaps you didn’t read the article. Or the blog post. Or the comments. The hardcover is not the only version available, even if the publisher wishes that were so.

Now, if you released the hardcover, the softcover, and the ebook at the same time (say 19.99, 10.99, and 9.99 respectively), you are giving people a choice (yeah choice!), but the real choice you are giving them is to pay less for the same product.

They already have the option of paying nothing! The pirate market is cannibalizing your sales no matter what you do. So it’s the same old choice facing most businesses: let someone else cannibalize my sales, or do it myself? From a business perspective, it really doesn’t matter who or what the competition is.

So they have absolutely no reason to give up 50% of their revenues up front to make YOU happy.

I guess they’ll have to look for another reason. Like, I don’t know… money?

Chosen Reject says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Talk about business model fail. Look here.

“We’ve objected to that ($10 per e-book) pricing for quite some time,” says Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy. “We have begun to see some cannibalization of hardcover sales as a result of that pricing. We have no control over it. We believe we’re at a point where there’s going to be an explosion of e-book reading. And if we didn’t try to do something about it now, it may get to be too late.

She’s basically saying “We know exactly what our customers want, but we’re going to try our hardest to stop that.” She’s not saying that they don’t know what customers want or that they know but don’t want to provide it. She’s saying she’s going to work to stop the customer from getting what she knows the customer wants. If I were a shareholder of Simon & Schuster, I’d be asking for a new CEO. How she ever got hired in that kind of position while being anti-customer I will never know.

EEJ (profile) says:


They act like people are going to buy the hardcover book, and then re-buy it when it comes out in e-book format..?

I guess some idiots will buy both, but I think the real money would be made if they offered a digital copy (fine, let it have DRM) with every hardcover book purchase.

They’re already making a killing on printed materials, and the e-book copy’s “manufacturing” cost should be negligible alongside the hardcover costs….

People who want the digital copy can give away the hardcover to a friend/family member, and then they’re getting free advertising!

Anonymous Coward says:

The situation is different.

With movies, the time windows don’t really make much sense because seeing a movie in the theater is often far more valuable than seeing it on DVD or streaming over the internet. For me, the fact that it’s available sooner in the theater barely matters: I only want to see certain sorts of movies in the theater and for the rest, I’m fine with waiting for them on DVD (usually rental).

With books, I don’t see any real additional intrinsic value to hardcovers over paperbacks (unless a lot of people will be reading the same book, e.g. in a library) and in fact I personally find paperback novels more pleasant to read. Really, the only reason to buy the hardback is that it comes out sooner.

It may still be in the publishers’ best interests (with regard to not sending their customers to piracy) to release ebooks at the same time as hardcovers; I’m just saying the situation isn’t entirely analogous.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

They are actually ....

The publisher is actually repeating the mistake made by both the Record labels and movie studios. But they are doing it on 35 books not everything.

“Simon & Schuster announced plans Wednesday to postpone by four months the e-book releases of 35 titles that will come out in hardcover editions between January and April.”

Also they are doing something the record labels refused to do which is try different things. Including price points.

“In addition, we will be testing very low-price and free e-books to gauge consumer appetite for a variety of digital price points and formats.”

So perhaps they have learned from the mistakes of the record industry. If all the publishers were to try different models and then compare notes on what works and doesnt based on types of books, author, etc. They might just be able to avoid the pitfalls of the record labels.

TDR says:

What I want to know is, why would anyone even charge for an ebook in the first place? it makes no sense to do so. Why, when instead a smart author could (and I believe, some do) make the digital version of their book(s) a simple PDF instead and distribute it for free, using that to promote POD sales of the printed version. PDF’s don’t need a special reader, they download fast, have no DRM, and are very easy to use. Why would anyone use any other format for their digital books? Profit-hungry corporate fatcats aside, that is.

Griper says:

Can't wait

Think of the possibilities when authors can simply bankroll their own works. The default will most likely be ebook format because distribution is cheap as it is now. If they feel they can make more cash I’m sure a deal could be worked out with printers. The newspapers are killing themselves off so printing machines will be flooding the market soon enough. With the publisher’s role changed from being a gatekeeper who is used to being wooed to becoming a kinkos, much like the recording studios are facing now and think of the diverse work that could spring forth. I only hope books like Twilight could be caught and not released for the sake of humanity.

Stephen says:

actual facts

As a trade book editor at a major publisher, let me break in with some actual facts:

1. The few books that are getting delayed releases: That’s pressure from tentpole authors and agents talking there, people like Grisham’s agent David Gernert, not publishers. The tentpoles are terrified that lower prices for ebooks will cannibalize their hardcover sales and thus result in lower earned royalties on publisher p&ls, which will likely result in lower advances in this era of cost-cutting.

2. Hardcovers come out before paperbacks for several reasons. Yes, there’s more money in hardcovers for both publishers and authors than in paperbacks, but that’s actually a secondary concern. More important is, paperbacks generally don’t get reviews unless they are genre books (mysteries, romances) being reviewed in genre publications. Paperbacks can’t support the same level of marketing. Paperbacks have lower quality covers and paper. When it comes to gifts, people want to give hardcovers, which have more flash value, except when it comes to most humor and reference books. In addition, price does matter when it comes to hardcover; cheaper hardcovers are often seen by consumers as less impressive than more expensive ones, even when their price is reduced on release (not as a remainder) to the level they were just 20 years ago ($16-18). And different people buy hardcovers and paperbacks. It’s not just a matter of gouging the consumer for immediacy.

3. Ebook sales are a vanishing fraction of audio sales, which are a vanishing fraction of treeware sales. Consider Palin’s book. According to Bookscan, which records a large percentage of retail sales, it’s sold 811,000 copies in hardcover, 13,000 on CD, and 5200 in large print; if ebook sales approach the latter number, I would be staggered. In other words, people are getting worked up over nothing, just as they did 15 years ago when multimedia rights were carved out of electronic rights. IMHO until there’s a standard ebook format or a reader than can open and facilitate the purchase of ebooks whatever their format, then ebooks simply will not take off, if they ever do. Call me a luddite, but while I do read ebooks myself, it’s tough to top a product that you can drop in the tub, dry off and keep using, then store for an infinite number of years or sell, qualities that ebooks don’t have.

4. As to why anyone would charge for an ebook in the first place, why would anyone charge for a cassette 30 years ago when it could be used to promote the album? Why would anyone charge for a video tape because it could be used to promote the network broadcast? Because unlike music, which can promote other businesses (performances, t-shirts, etc.), there is nothing else beside the book. The format is irrelevent. The work is the work.

5. As to why ebooks aren’t even cheaper, why should they be? Sure publishers don’t pay for paper and printing, but they do pay for conversion to various ebook formats, and the vast majority of ebooks don’t sell in the quantities that would make the whole marginal cost argument relative. Or that would make the same money you would lose not selling a treeware edition. It can cost several thousand dollars for conversion and copyediting for quality control, a figure that would equal the unit cost at least several hundred copies of a treeware edition. You could make the same argument about a meal in a restaurant: the ingredients might cost a couple dollars; the time to cook it, another couple in labor. So why isn’t it less that $15.95? And you would be wrong there too.

5. I wish we could go back in time about 90 years when Pocket and Avon popularized the mass market paperback and 50 years or so when Jason Epstein popularized the trade paperback. It would be interesting to hear if people hear had the same complaints and problems.

TDR says:

Re: actual facts

Unlike a cassette or a VHS tape or a DVD disc, an ebook is a digital file, nothing more, and as such infinitely copiable. It seems you don’t understand the nature of digital. When supply is infinite and the cost of reproduction & distribution is zero or virtually zero, price naturally gravitates to zero. As is frequently pointed out here, it’s basic economics. As also as Mike will tell you, ANY creative content has scarcities surrounding it that can be taken advantage of and monetized. Not just music.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: actual facts

All you have done TDR is prove that it isn’t in a bookseller’s interest to make their products available in digital format. You have also proven in such a short paragraph why the whole “infinite is free” thing is a crock, because we could end up with huge amounts of the creative industry with no direct income. Yet, people greatly value the products now and are often willing to line up or pre-buy just to get a copy of the book on release day.

I would say that this opens a whole can of worm on why the “digital means free” thing is hokey bull crap.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Re: actual facts

“All you have done TDR is prove that it isn’t in a bookseller’s interest to make their products available in digital format.”

Wrong. Because it will be made available digitally by “pirates” whether or not the publisher releases it. If the book is available in print in any way, it can and will be digitized by “pirate” release groups. How do they have the time to manually scan all those pages and manage the OTR conversion? I have no idea. But they do, and they often get it done more quickly and in as good or better quality than the publisher.

“You have also proven in such a short paragraph why the whole “infinite is free” thing is a crock, because we could end up with huge amounts of the creative industry with no direct income.”

Your statement does not support your conclusion. You give a misguided, emotional reason why it “shouldn’t” be true, but that does not support the facts. The fact is, your opinion of “should” has nothing to do with reality. In reality, infinite products ARE available for free, whether you like it or not. It is not a “crock.” It is an easily provable fact.

“Yet, people greatly value the products now and are often willing to line up or pre-buy just to get a copy of the book on release day.”

Which is precisely why everything you said before this is pointless. Even if ebooks are free, there are still a great number of people who will “greatly value the products” and “line up to buy,” myself included. The feel of a personal home library cannot be replicated on a digital device. The sense of ownership and connection felt when purchasing a print book cannot be duplicated by a digital file. People still buy hardcovers when they could buy a paperback. Those who pay a $250 cover price for a special edition of a Stephen King book (and much more later on the collector market) will still pay it. No one is forcing them to pay it now, after all. They could just buy a paperback.

The point is, there are plenty of avenues to make direct income from a fanbase, and will not be affected by free ebooks. If that’s all it took to derail the publishing market, we would already be in a world with nothing but paperbacks.

Rooker (user link) says:

Re: actual fantasies

Hardcovers come out before paperbacks for several reasons.

That was a good explanation justifying the existence of hardcovers. It did not explain – or even address – why paperbacks aren’t sold at the same time. In fact, at the end you show why it doesn’t make sense.

different people buy hardcovers and paperbacks

Many people are never going to buy the hardcover, myself included. They are too expensive and more awkward to hang onto while reading. Withholding the paperback version only delays the money you would receive, as well as losing money from those people who forget about the book when it does finally come out in paperback.

The hardcover is the premium version and will still sell well for all the reasons you gave. None of those reasons make a rational case for throwing away the money you would take in from a simultaneous paperback release.

Ebook sales are a vanishing fraction of blah blah blah…

Much of the reason for that is because the ebook versions are not being released in a timely manner or in a proper, non-DRM format. It is easier and quicker to torrent.

until there’s a standard ebook format or a reader than can open and facilitate the purchase of ebooks whatever their format, then ebooks simply will not take off

That format exists; it is called .html. I have a copy of 1984 that’s all of 600KB and can be copied to and read from PC to laptop to phone to whatever. When that is the competition, why on Earth would a publisher refuse to provide their own ebook version for six months and then only in a DRMed version that can’t be copied anywhere?

Just what, exactly, have they been teaching you people in business school the last ten or twenty years? Did they forget the part where you’re supposed to make money?

Daemon_ZOGG (profile) says:

.."their obsession with windowed releases and are delaying the release of ebooks"

I agree with Amazon’s response.
As long as the book publishing industry heads down this path, there will always be ebooks and scanned regular books available through file-sharing networks. The movie and music industries refuse to believe this truth. And look where they are now… People will inevitably choose the path of least monitary resistance.


Stephen says:

distribution and reproduction

TDR, I entirely understand the nature of digital. What you and others here imagine, though, is that the digital file just appears as if by magic and once it’s done all costs associated with creating, marketing, distributing, and accounting suddenly go away because all the consumer has to do is press a few buttons and it flows into their reader of choice. That is not the case. If a ebook backlisted for several years and recouped all its fixed costs and was only then contributing, like all backlist costs, to its upkeep, then people might have a point: it’s price should drop. (Whether this is good business depends on whether a publisher wants to use old books priced low to spur interest in new books or keeps the prices of old books high because new books drive backlist sales, will probably depend on specific books/genres. Books that sell tens of thousands of copies per month, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” will never see a drop in price because those sales are what fuel frontlist acquisitions.) But that hasn’t happened yet because ebooks are so new, and in five years it’s entirely possible that every ebook bought today will be obsolete as reader technology and reader programs advances (how many of your mid-90s word processing programs can still be read by Word?), DRM servers are shut down, etc.

Carolyn Reidy, who is an industry giant and a great person, is spinning like mad here. No publisher has control over an end price; if Amazon wants to sell ebooks at a loss, that’s their business. What Amazon is gambling on is that the price becomes so accepted and the Kindle so important to sales that they can then dictate either a better discount from the publisher or a lower msrp, which gets to much the same place: a lower initial cost for them. But here’s the thing: Amazon is will certainly raise that $9.99 price probably to $12.99 just like iTunes raised it’s prices to $1.29 once they have enough people sucked in. If publishers have caved to them previously, then that’s more profit for Amazon.

Daemon, no matter what path publishers go down, books will be pirated. The question is, Do they gear their business towards preventing relatively few copies people steal (and which might not be replacing sales) or do they gear their business towards servicing their customers needs while also servicing their bottom line? I say the latter.

Lyle says:

Physical Books are still better.

I may be a luddite on this, but you can curl up with a real book anywhere, the battery will not go dead, drm can’t eat the book, it is very well proven technology 500+ years so most of the bugs have been well worked out. (And yes it is a technology, one that greatly changed the world when printing and the book came out 1450-1650. ) But then I have been around a while and am set in my ways. Ebooks would be great for reference manuals (imagine a bookcase full of the MSDN library…) and repair manuals as well.

Stephen says:



Let me go bottom to top:

Right after getting her MBA, a very good friend was part of a team auditing one of the major publishers. She was staggered to find that the publisher, like all of them, broke every rule and good practice she had just learned in business school. My favorite bad practice is that publishers take all the risk: they give an advance to an author with the hope of recouping it, then they essentially give their books on consignment to stores hoping they’ll sell, and if they don’t, the stores can just send them back. My second favorite bad practice is in the same vein: if agents are trying to sell editors their projects, why do editors pay for lunch?

Re HTML, that’s a perfectly good idea. Books are actually getting formatted in a such a way for production so that they can be put into XML and turned into ebooks down the production line. I would love for ebooks to be in this format myself. Why buy a Kindle (or Nook or some other casino device) that does exactly one thing and lets you shop in exactly one store when a netbook or handheld device would be infinitely more useful? I would bet the answer is the visual appearance of the book, that is, an ebook isn’t just lines of text on the screen but formatted to look like a book not a web page. Again, people are getting used to reading web pages for information. Ebooks have to let go of the book as a visual model. For one, why do they have pages, except to give people a tangible sense of progress through an ebook?

Ebooks often come out after the initial print edition due to the additional work that has to be done to convert them, then make sure they look good, especially if they have a lot of illustrations, graphs, sidebars, etc.

Hardcover and paperbacks aren’t sold at the same time for several reasons. And it’s been tried, btw, but to no lasting success. One, yes, they would cannibalize each other’s sales, and a hardcover is a publisher’s best chance to get an advance back (a $25 hardcover will earn against the author $2.50 at the standard initial 10% retail royalty; a $15 trade paperback, $1.13 at a 7.5% retail royalty; and a $7 mass market, $.56 at the standard initial 8% retail royalty). Two, if a hardcover fails, there probably won’t be a paperback, so putting one out simultaneously would be a waste of money. Three, consumers have gotten used to paperbacks coming out a year after the hardcover, and the only time you see the two together is when the hardcover is in the remainder bin. I would bet, given this expectation, a new book would seem old if both a hardcover and paperback format were available. Four, I wonder what the effect on placement in bookstores would be. All those tables and shelves at the chains for “new releases”: publishers pay dearly to get their books on them, and if each title had two editions that means half as many could fit, which doesn’t do the bookseller any favor, showing limited choice; and, because the placement fee for each title would double, which doesn’t do the publisher any favors, seeing as their marketing budget would be effectively limited to half as many books.

Five, don’t think of a paperback version of a hardcover as a reprint, although that’s the common publishing term, or, worse, a reformat. Think of it as a chance to republish the book–and remind people why they wanted to read it in the first place but didn’t buy hardcover for whatever reason. For instance, if it’s, say, a literary woman’s novel, you can gussie it up questions and other material for book clubs. Nonfiction titles are often updated. You can also pitch it to a different reader than the hardcover. Look at Joseph Heller’s misguided sequel to “Catch-22.” All his previous paperback were mass markets, but after the sequel failed the publisher put it out as a trade paperback both to help recoup their investment and also to show that it was literature and worthy of serious intention, not some novel for the masses, which of course it was.

As to the sales of ebooks, their currently meager sales are for more reasons than release dates and DRM, much of which less tech-issue folks such as ourselves could care less about. They just want the book. I think the reason is the various varieties of readers, all of which try to lock readers into one store. In addition, books are only slowly being geared to the handheld market, but those devices are tough to read on because we don’t read line by line; studies have shown that the eye jumps all over the page, and the constricted space of a Blackberry or iPod limits this, diminishing the reading experience for any book more complex than Dan Brown. I think the game changer will be the netbook.

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