My Books Hold Their Value Just Fine, What About Yours

I’ve done pretty well in the past few months re sticking on point and not indulging in rants about publishers and other assorted idiots. Recent brouhahas, however, are driving me nuts. So…

Any company whose core values includes the notion that customers should be stuck with the bill for cost inefficiencies deserves to go out of business.

That is exactly what is wrong with Big Publishing these days. That’s what is killing it. Not Amazon, not ebooks, not the internet, not chain bookstores or indie bookstores, not video games, not movies, not wee sneaky creatures in the night, and certainly not because “nobody reads anymore.”

Way, way back in 1995 or ’96 an editor said to me that I couldn’t get a raise in my advance because book sales were down. “Nobody reads anymore.” To which I said, “Have you been in a used book store lately?” (Back in the ’90s used book stores were the Bogey Man destroying the publishing industry.) What publishers refused to acknowledge back then and continue to this day is this very basic reality: Even the hardest of hardcore readers can read thousands of books in their lifetime, and never once pay retail.

“Amazon’s MatchBook is designed to institutionalize ebook bundling, a retail tactic that, though a fan favorite, almost always undervalues ebooks in price and, more importantly, in perceived value. …”

That quote comes from the ever amusing Dustin Kurtz of Melville House. Let’s zero in on the sneer, shall we?

“…though a fan favorite…”

Though a fan favorite…

Though a fan favorite…

And that is why Big Publishing, as we all know and love it, is dying. Here’s a clue, Publishers, the seller sets the price, but the buyer sets the value. If there isn’t full agreement between the seller’s price and the buyer’s value, the buyer walks away. That’s how it works in every legitimate business (mob activity and government agencies are, of course, excluded).

Any smart business that recognizes a “fan favorite” jumps all over it.

Instead we have this:

“We’ve discussed this before, and indeed, our own Dennis Johnson is less averse to the idea of bundling ebooks than I find myself.  but it bears repeating: the problem with ebook bundling is that consumers have no real sense of what a book should cost. Readers don’t know what, specifically, they are paying for when they buy a book. If you tell them, as Amazon has repeatedly done, that ebooks are worth a dollar or less, of course they’ll believe that. After all, there is no paper to pay for… (emphasis mine)

Um, actually, when I purchase a book I know exactly what I’m paying for: a few hours of entertainment, information, ideas, education, and in a few cases, a thing of beauty I’ll treasure for the rest of my life and hope my children don’t toss in a give-away box after I’m dead. That’s what I’m paying for because that’s what I value.

Here’s what I don’t value and what I don’t wish to pay for: high-priced office space, business lunches, business junkets, executive bonuses, six figure advances paid to semi-literate celebrities, print overruns, remainders, payola to chain bookstores, shareholder meetings, absurd marketing schemes, inefficient accounting systems and a distribution system that is so out of whack you’d think it was a government program devised by old Soviet bureaucrats.

If the publisher is incapable of managing costs so that the price of the product is in line with what the reader values, well, buh bye, thanks so much for playing.

THAT’S HOW IT WORKS IN THE REAL WORLD

Up until a few years ago the publishing industry was a fairly closed system. The publishers controlled suppliers and distribution, and either they forgot or just didn’t care about the people who paid the bills–readers. Amazon became a major force, not like Godzilla emerging from the bottom of the ocean to smash and destroy, but as a response, a reaction to a system that was not serving its customers. What Big Publishing doesn’t get is that reader/consumer values haven’t changed. They still want information, entertainment, and education. All Amazon has done is change the delivery systems. They have become more cost efficient. Hint, hint, Publishers, if you find yourself priced out of a market, you have two options: Bring your costs down, or go out of business.

Do low prices devalue books? Nope. The value to me remains the same whether I pay $30 at B&N, get it at the library, borrow from a friend, or find it for $5 at Goodwill. While my desire for good books is infinite, my budget is limited. So I’m not paying $30 at B&N. I would much rather pay $5 for a nice, clean, instantly available ebook than sort through a dusty used book store in the hopes that it will be there. I’d rather pay the five bucks than make a trip to the library.

If the entire traditional publishing industry collapsed today, would it matter? Not really. Not in the long run. Writers will still write. Smart writers will publish themselves. Bookstores will have to scramble to find product, but the smart ones will do just that and might find themselves thriving in an environment where the sole focus is on selling customers what they want (as opposed to selling what the publishers want them to sell).

Amazon Derangement Syndrome is wonderfully entertaining, so I suppose in that regard it has value. But for the afflicted, it’s a killer. It’s a symptom of institutional suicide. As long as Publishers focus on the EEEvil Zon, they are doomed. All that wailing and teeth gnashing and hand wringing is time spent NOT focusing on the only thing that will help them survive: pleasing the customer. If you’re too dumb to figure out what your customers value, you don’t deserve to stay in business.

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24 thoughts on “My Books Hold Their Value Just Fine, What About Yours

  1. You don’t do much of this, or not any more – so it is a refreshing blast when you decide to open the door and let the wind in.

    I’m just glad that when I can start publishing, the possibilities will all be there, and I don’t have to seek the approval first of the windbags of trad pub.

    • It’s funny how much has changed in just a few short years. Back then, if someone got a pub contract, I went, “Whoo hoo! Congrats!” But these days, i wince and think, “Oh you poor thing.”

  2. Pingback: On the Difference Between Price and Value « Blair MacGregor

  3. “All Amazon has done is change the delivery system.”

    That change in the delivery system has proven to be a major disruption for trad publishing. It’s disrupting high priced offices, executive bonuses, etc. It has also disrupted the ego of the traditional “gatekeeper.” We are now our own gatekeepers. And while it is proving a little difficult for readers to find those good reads with inflated 5-star reviews given by sisters, cousins and aunts, I seem to manage to find things I enjoy reading. One thing I have lost as a reader, though, is the input of my local librarian. There is no Staff Recommends shelf for indies at the library.

  4. And … readers, the one’s who shell out money for books (in whatever format) don’t give a tinkers cuss about the woes of publishers, big, small or otherwise. Readers. Want. Product. Period.
    And who are we to deny them? … Bwhahahahaha.

  5. Jaye, I love a good, frothy rant, and you served one up here that is outstanding!

    On the subject of libraries and e-books, I know several libraries have the ability to “check out” e-books to their members, and that the books somehow have a “shelf life” on the e-reader, as they evaporate from said e-reader after the check-out period (say, 14 days). And, since it’s an e-book, it’s possible, I suppose, for the library to arrange a way to loan out multiple copies of any given e-book. There are, of course, obvious issues with loss of income to the writer, but this might be a shot in the arm for indie publishers, libraries, and e-reader manufacturers.

    Just a thought.

    • There are (and always has been) readers who never buy a book. They use the library, borrow from friends, pirate, whatever. Writers aren’t losing any sales because of them because those people NEVER buy books. Those people do, however, talk about books. To their friends, online, to other patrons at the library. They even leave reviews.

      I consider libraries “gateway drugs” for readers. Readers try out new authors. If they find authors they like, they go on to buy other works by that author.

      Me, I have a five buck limit. Considering how far the library is from where I live, the cost of gas, the time, if a book costs less than five bucks to buy, it’s cheaper for me than to hit the library.

      I don’t see a downside (for writers) to have their ebooks available in libraries. If the publishers would pull their heads out of their asses, they’d see the benefits of it. They’re being as shortsighted as ever and making it difficult. Sigh.

    • I should be running the world. If life were fair, I would be. Of course, many would probably object to my making Annoying The Crap Out Of Jaye a punishable offense.

  6. Melville House annoyed the crap out of Jaye (and me, and so many others), and Melville House is paying the price. I was practically on my feet cheering when I read this, but I would have spilled my tea, so I contented myself with some fist-pumps and a quiet hoot or two. Hear, hear. People who think arrogance alone will keep them in business are already sliding down the pipe.

  7. This was such a great post! And so totally true! Our library is having its annual book sale next weekend and that’s when I’ll pick up hardbacks 2 for a dollar! Plus I have a Kindle Fire and Amazon Prime. I can’t remember the last time I went to a bookstore and paid cover price.

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