Friday, April 07, 2006

On the digitalization of books, the possible extinction of CDs, authors being cheated, and 88-cent books at

Yes, that title is a bit unwieldy. Due to several phone calls and other interruptions, it has taken me nearly three hours to write this post. Can I help it if I don't have enough energy left to think up a good name for it?

From today's Publishing News:

DIGITISED BOOKS COULD be the solution to loss of revenue caused by rising second-hand sales, author Tracy Chevalier suggested this week. Speaking at the Publishers Association AGM and Conference in London, she said: “Young people have iPods now; they don’t buy CDs any more. It’s not so crazy to think you might have that situation with a book, too. When an ebook is perfected, the good thing will be that you can have more control over re-sales.” For a downloaded track, Chevalier pointed out, “there are only so many computers you can put it on. Four computers, that’s it.” A useful model for the publishing industry, perhaps?

Perhaps. But young people still buy CDs, as do I, a middle-aged lady whose iPod gets as good a daily workout as any teenager's. (See the photo on the upper right-hand side of this page? Notice the wires coming out of my ears?) I think it will be a good while yet before CDs disappear--if they ever do. People still buy them for their cars, or to take to parties, or to give as gifts. And believe it or not, not everyone has or wants an MP3 player. One reason kids still like CDs is that when they're tired of them they can sell or trade them. (I've been known to swap CDs with my Number Two Son.)

But back to books. Many of us insist that books deliver certain tactile pleasures (the smell, the feel of the paper) that we'll never be willing to give up. When e-book readers become as handy and fun to use as my iPod, I'll probably buy one. But I'll never stop buying "real" books. And you probably won't, either. Just like CDs, real books will always make good gifts, and you can always trade or sell the ones you don't want anymore.

The article continues:

There was discussion, too, of new books being sold as second-hand, largely online. Dan Cherrington, co-owner of Paperback Shop, which buys books from wholesalers and sells them on via Amazon Marketplace, emphasised that the author always received royalties on such sales.

That's a good reminder to my author friends who fret when they see "used" books for sale at Amazon's Marketplace almost immediately after the new ones become available. Most of those books aren't used. And no matter what rock-bottom price the wheelers and dealers are selling the books at, the authors have already been credited with the same royalties they're getting on the new books sold by Amazon and by all of the brick-and-mortar stores.

Right now, the Amazon page for A Family Forever is showing 54 "used and new" books. A little digging shows that 39 of those 54 books are actually brand new, meaning that whoever bought them to sell on Amazon has already paid my royalties, just like any retail bookstore would have. So really, there are only 15 used books for sale at Amazon. That is, books that were once purchased by readers and will now be sold a second time (without earning any further royalties for me). You might say that when those 15 books sell, I'll have been cheated out of the royalties for 15 new books.

You might say that, but I don't. Not every one of those sales will represent a missed royalty-producing sale. If people buy a used book because they can't afford a new one, that doesn't cheat me out of royalties because I wasn't going to make anything off those people to begin with. And if people buy used books because they're afraid buying at full price might be throwing good money away--in other words, they're willing to give me a chance as long as it doesn't cost them too much--I'm not missing out on any royalties there, either.

Authors are not being "robbed" to the degree many believe. It simply isn't true that every used-book sale prevents a new book from being sold. And consumers who buy used books and enjoy them will often go back for more by those authors--even if that means paying full price.

By the way, you might be curious about the brand-new copies of my books that are being sold for $0.88 in Amazon's Marketplace. Rest assured that when each of those resellers got their hot little hands on a stack of my books, they paid my royalties. So it's nothing to me if they give the books away, although they're not quite doing that. Check out the shipping costs for those dirt-cheap books: They're plenty high enough to offset the bargain prices. Yes, you can buy a copy of my book for $0.88. But it's going to cost $3.49 extra to have it delivered to your mailbox within 14 days. And if you're the impatient type, you might even be suckered into paying two dollars more to get the book in just a couple of days. Of course, the actual shipping costs aren't anywhere near those figures, so the resellers are making money on each transaction.


pacatrue said...

There would seem to be a difference as well in the type of book being re-sold. I can imagine authors getting more upset when their new book costs 7.95 normally, but people are buying the used one for 1.95. They really probably could afford the full price. It's another matter entirely with academic books or just any expensive book. I am routinely prowling Amazon for books that would cost, say, $125 new. That ain't gonna happen on a student's budget. But I might be able to fork over $28 for a used one. The point is just that the person buying the used $125 book was not ever going to pay the full price, so the author is not losing out on a new sale. The person buying the $8 book might have.

Brenda Coulter said...

True. But that's not anything we can quantify. Are there some lost royalty-producing sales? Of course. But I think they're much fewer that most authors like to imagine. And I think too many authors fail to take into account that buying used books, just like borrowing them or swapping for them, helps readers become "addicted" and want more. And since not all books can be found secondhand (as you, Mr. Grad Student, are very well aware), sometimes they must be bought new.

Mirtika said...

I'm agreeing with ya, babes.

I will still buy books. Books please me in many ways, not just the fonty bits. :)

As far as cds: Our iPod has changed how we view cd buying. Before, if I really, really loved ONE song, I might buy the cd just for that song, even if all the other songs on the record stank. Now, I have to love 3 or more songs on a cd, and it needs to be sale priced (under, say 13 bucks), for me to consider it worthwhile. Hubby thinks I'm nuts. I should just download. But if there's an album with three or four or five songs that make me happy, happy, I want to support the musician, cause I want them to make more records. I also want that music to be easily at my grasp, so I can take it room to room to play on whichever CD player is there. (We have three, since we live across two apartments separated by connecting door.)

If an album only has one or two songs I like, I tell the hubby to iPod it for me. Two bucks. End of story.

So, I find that I'm buying a lot of greatest hits cds now (as well as my fave Christian music). If I like a new song, I go to amazon and sample the other songs on the record. If I'm not thrilled, I just download the one song I like.

I hope this means artists will have to work harder to make albums more tempting, rather than have one good hook song and a bunch of filler.


Kim said...

I too still like the feel of paper in my hands.

Sure, I read a lot on-line but there is nothing more satisfying than snuggling under the blankets with a good book.

No cold e-book reading tablet will replace that.

Elison said...

I am a big fan of the Internet, but Iam absolutely sure that books will never-ever be replaced by their e-versions! That's what they thought will happen with newspapers once the official sites appeared, but it never happened! Publishing Houses have nothing to worry about, it is just in human nature to accumulate things, especially the nice ones and the majority of books ARE beautiful, apart from the fact that people have more trust for printed information, a new book is just a great thing to spend money on!

Brenda Coulter said... is just in human nature to accumulate things, especially the nice ones and the majority of books ARE beautiful

I have a number of books, some antique and some brand new, that are so beautiful I can't resist caressing their covers every time I pick them up. That "artsy" quality is one of the things an electronic reader is never going to be able to duplicate.

Thanks for commenting, everyone.