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Old 11-02-2006, 12:51 PM   #1
nekokami
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Publishers: look at the used book market when considering eBooks

This idea grew out of a discussion in that long "why aren't eBooks popular" thread.

I'd like to suggest that traditional print publishers, when thinking about how to price eBooks and which eBooks to include in the list, take a good look at the used book market. Just for starters, look at http://abebooks.com, the Amazon used books collection, and Powells (http://powells.com). There's a lot of money at stake here, and I think print publishers should be taking note.

For one thing, it's a revenue stream the traditional print publishers and authors don't currently have a cut of, so it might help get their attention. For another, the used book market is driven by market demand, rather than publisher hype. You occasionally get the high-priced anomoly (I paid US$30 for my copy of Diana Wynne Jones' paperback Tough Guide to Fantasyland, because it's out of print and I really wanted a copy), but most books are quite reasonably priced, based on what people are willing to pay -- people who aren't obsessed with having a shiny new paper copy in hand. You couldn't ask for better market research. And -- most cricitcal to publishers - these books are selling.

Yet another reason for publishers to take another good look at the used book market is the continuing popularity of many out of print titles. Again, publishers don't get a cut of used book sales, and they've generally given up on these titles because of printing, storage, etc. costs. But in the eBook world, a publisher (or author) could realize a sale from all sorts of backlist titles, for minimal cost. And much as I like paper books, there are a lot of books I've bought used online that I would have been delighted to pay a comparable price for a quality eBook version, especially since I then would have skipped shipping cost, time, and uncertainty. (One used book I bought arrived reeking of tobacco smoke and had three pages torn out near the end. And sometimes used books are advertised that have already been sold or simply aren't in the sellers inventory, for whatever reason, resulting in a cancelled sale and unhappiness all around.)

And why worry about where the books go after the first purchaser picks them up? Just as is the case with used books now, every book should be its own advertisement for that author or publishing house. For eReaders with the ability to go online, just imagine that last page or so of many books, where the ads for other books by that author or publisher are, with live links so that readers are encouraged to click and purchase-- or even pre-order-- the next Great Book! Not like I want books to be any further commercialized than they already are, but heck, they do this already. And when you've just finished one book in a series and you're being informed of what the title of the next one will be and when it will be out (perhaps with a little excerpt), that seems to me to be the ideal time to place an order for the next installment. Or the front pages, where often you see "Other books by this author" or "in this series (nonfiction)"-- those could be active links to view and/or purchase. Even someone who managed to get the current book for free "from a friend" may likely go ahead and make the jump to buy the next one, if the price is right and the process is absurdly easy. This is a heavy advantage over the music model -- it's not so easy to include links to buy the next song in an MP3 file.

There are many other analogies that might also make sense for print publishers to consider, e.g. the cassette tape era in music publishing. But I think this one has a lot of appeal. It's a world print publishers are at least halfway familiar with, and would probably like a piece of. This could be one of the carrots to get them to jump into the eBook world.

Just my 2 jiao,
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Old 11-02-2006, 02:18 PM   #2
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My take is that the analogy with used books is flawed because for whatever reasons (contingent or intrinsic) people generally do not want to pay for e-content amounts comparable to physically tied content. Maybe it's all that "free" e-content available (there are of course indirect costs like internet access, cost of pc's and other devices, ads) that we got used to, maybe is just that we value the physical object more, the book and its cover, the dvd/cd and its jacket...

So the revenue stream is not there as opposed to print and the publishers quite rationally do not want to jeopardize that with competition from e-books. Most likely it will take an outside factor (maybe cheap fast scanners) like it took for music (mp3's) and movies (broadband) to force publishers to do ebooks in a reasonable way.

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Old 11-02-2006, 04:12 PM   #3
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One of the best parts about this idea is making out-of-print books available again. This would be especially nice, because the number of used bookstores is rapidly dwindling anyway.

Unfortunately, I get the impression that the publishers may not be keeping all that OOP material to convert to e-books. Example, does Conde Nast or Bantam books still have the over 180 Doc Savage manuscripts? I doubt it. Unless some dedicated soul has preserved those books (or the Library of Congress will give them up), getting that old material could be tough.

Last edited by Steven Lyle Jordan; 11-02-2006 at 04:28 PM.
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Old 11-02-2006, 04:41 PM   #4
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I agree, Steve, recovering OOP works is a big attraction for me too.

As for Doc Savage, the Pubs could always get them from BlackMask ....
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Old 11-02-2006, 04:52 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan
Unless some dedicated soul has preserved those books (or the Library of Congress will give them up), getting that old material could be tough.
For Doc Savage, somebody out there will have the books. The question will be whether they can be scanned in a non-destructive way (should be quite possible, but may require care) and will a collector feel like sharing their collection with the masses, even if only in digital form. I would think most book collectors would be willing, as wider distribution of the work should only increase the value of original paper copies, even assuming they wouldn't want to do it just for the sake of sharing a favorite work, but some people are funny that way.

The main problem is likely to still be getting copyright clearance. Bantam still exists, but does Bantam proper hold the copyright? There are plenty of small presses that went out of business, or got bought by larger houses and records lost or relationships tangled. Some rights may have reverted to authors' estates and there may be no one left to represent the estate. Yet, with the extensions to copyright law prompted by Disney and others (at least in the U.S.) it could be illegal to digitize these "abandoned" books. Frustrating.
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Old 11-02-2006, 05:28 PM   #6
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I believe that the Doc Savage books are what Bantam shut down BlackMask over.... (follow the link for the current situation)
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Old 11-02-2006, 11:00 PM   #7
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Yeah, among others... I was actually using the Doc Savage series as an example of old books or series that the original publishers may not have bothered to preserve. If the rights-holding publisher could convert them, the rights to sell would be (more) clear. But if I digitized my collection (yes, I have all of them), and tried to sell them, the legalities would likely kill me.
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Old 11-03-2006, 09:28 AM   #8
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It's maddening, really. Content exists, the content creator is out of the picture, some business entity "owns" rights to the content, but doesn't want to do anything with it, and so the rest of us don't have access to the content in any form. In the software world that's called "abandonware," and there are websites full of binaries with notices to publishers offering to take down the content if requested (and the publishers almost never respond).

I make my living from my ideas and I strongly favor laws that let people who have good ideas get paid for them. But the current system is nuts.

(Like we didn't all know that already.)

/rant
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Old 11-03-2006, 11:57 AM   #9
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What if Einstein had protected his theory of relativity? Would it be drmed today?
He worked a lot on it, more than a writer on a novel!
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Old 11-03-2006, 05:51 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nekokami
but doesn't want to do anything with it
What specifically does that mean?
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Old 11-04-2006, 08:55 AM   #11
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Meaning, I believe, that the content owners will not release the content for publishing, but because they own the rights, no one else can release the content either. Result: No one sees it. A particular problem with older books, and books whose ownership has passed from estate to estate and gotten lost/buried/ignored somewhere.
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Old 11-04-2006, 10:46 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan
Meaning, I believe, that the content owners will not release the content for publishing, but because they own the rights, no one else can release the content either. Result: No one sees it. A particular problem with older books, and books whose ownership has passed from estate to estate and gotten lost/buried/ignored somewhere.
I would also add that some rights were bought because some work was in favor at a particular time, and that social, political or other factor excluded it from possible financial target; in one word, marketing.
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Old 11-24-2008, 08:50 PM   #13
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Liviu said something I'd like to comment on:

"Most likely it will take an outside factor (maybe cheap fast scanners) like it took for music (mp3's) and movies (broadband) to force publishers to do ebooks in a reasonable way."

There already is a sizeable book piracy movement out there, especially in genre fiction. You'd be hard pressed to find a science fiction novel that was ever a best seller that you can't find somewhere online for free. The reason publishers aren't being hit by it yet is that there just aren't that many people out there reading on gadgets yet, just as the recording industry wasn't hit until mp3 players hit a critical mass.

There is no difference in how you listen to an mp3 and a CD - through speakers or headphones, as you please. There's no difference in how you watch an .avi or a DVD - on your TV. There *is* a difference between how you read an ebook and how you read a regular book - one is paper, what people have been reading off of since their early childhood, the other is not. That difference is unimportant to me and would be, I think, unimportant to anyone who took the leap and tried reading e-ink, but it is a real difference.

Price is another consideration. Amazon and Baen are ahead of the curve here, but most places online selling ebooks seem to be selling them for more than I can buy the pbook for even excluding the used market. Legit music online really took off only after Apple started selling albums for less than they cost at Best Buy. Although I realize that the real value in books is in content not form, most people feel (and I think it *is* primarily an emotional response) that they are getting more when they get a chunk of dead wood in addition to the content.

There is something to be said for the pbook right now over the ebook. If I buy a pbook I know I'll be able to read it 20 years from now. The same can be said of MP3s - they are too ubiquitous to die as a format. But I'd bet my bottom dollar that my .LRF books aren't going to have a reader in 2028...
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Old 11-25-2008, 12:19 AM   #14
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I have to agree with pretty much everything Andurian said. Sadly, it is how the market seems to work. Especially the part about the format lottery. Who knows what will be usable 10 or 20 years from now? I find that especially sad because one my big reasons for considering e-books and the expense of a reader is that books generate dust and I am allergic to dust. Not having so much weight and mass to move also figures in there, but not as highly. Replacing my old and very used p-books with e-book editions is a rapidly fading dream since so many of them are not available.
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Old 11-25-2008, 12:41 AM   #15
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respository libraries

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan View Post
One of the best parts about this idea is making out-of-print books available again. This would be especially nice, because the number of used bookstores is rapidly dwindling anyway.

Unfortunately, I get the impression that the publishers may not be keeping all that OOP material to convert to e-books. Example, does Conde Nast or Bantam books still have the over 180 Doc Savage manuscripts? I doubt it. Unless some dedicated soul has preserved those books (or the Library of Congress will give them up), getting that old material could be tough.
I thought that there were repository libraries? Libraries that in theory keep a copy of everything that has been published in modern times? In theory those copies could used to create electronic copies.

Amy
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