Digital dilemmas: think like a reader

This has been quite a week for the Australian publishing industry, with the Revolution in Digital Publishing seminars held in Melbourne on Monday and Sydney on Wednesday, and additional ‘digital chat’ sessions with special guests on the Tuesday and Thursday morning in each city. (You can read our Weekly Book Newsletter reports here and here and see what the Twitterverse was saying here.)

All the events have attracted hundreds of delegates—the Melbourne session that I attended filled the State Library’s auditorium to standing room (well, for the morning keynotes—Faber’s Stephen Page and Bloomsbury’s Richard Charkin, pictured—at least …)

These days were organized under the aegis of the Australian Publishers Association’s excellent professional training program, so it’s not surprising—and is right and proper—that the focus was on informing *publishers* about how digitisation is rapidly changing their world.

But considered from a wider book industry point of view, it was disappointing how little consideration was given to retailers, readers and authors, and how much of the talk was about reassuring publishers that digital was ‘same but different’—it’s just another format, it will operate within existing territorial copyright conditions, it won’t change rights sales, etc.

There was a real need for a contrary voice on the program, someone with radically different opinions on digital rights management (DRM); the future of copyright; and the rapidly changing relationships between creators, publishers, retailers and readers Continue reading

Ebooks: why readers will pay more (but not much more)

If you’re involved in the book industry in any form you might have heard recently about a little stoush between the behemoth US online retailer Amazon and US publisher Macmillan over the matter of ebook prices.

In a nutshell:

*Amazon has been selling many ebooks (in its Kindle format) for US$9.99 for a while now (buying the books from publishers at about 50% of the equivalent print edition and making their profits from selling the Kindle ereader device you need to access them).

*Because Amazon isn’t the only big cheese talking ebook sales anymore (Hi Apple! Hi iBooks! Hi agency model!), Macmillan decided it had something of an advantage and tried to enforce new pricing terms…

*In response, Amazon removed the ‘buy’ buttons from Macmillan’s titles.

*Many booksellers were happy at Macmillan’s stance (because who wants consumers getting the mistaken idea that you can sell books—in any format—for less than they cost to produce?)

*But many customers were peeved (because who wants to believe they should pay a price for a book that reflects the actual cost of production?)

*After a tense weekend and some negotiating, Amazon agreed to the new ‘agency model’ terms demanded by Macmillan and started selling Macmillan titles again—but this time at prices decided by Macmillan.

*(Of course, there’s some worry this might be…. well, kind of anti-competitive.)

Why is this so important? Well, as the world comes to terms with ebooks, the issue of ebook pricing is a concern for publishers, to say the least.

The good news at yesterday’s digital publishing symposium held at the State Library of Victoria and attended by all sorts of publishing folk, came from Michael Tamblyn, vice-president of content, sales and marketing at ebook distributor Kobo (which recently partnered with REDgroup retail and will be providing ebooks for Borders, Angus & Robertson and New Zealand’s Whitcoulls stores by May). Ebook readers WILL pay more than Amazon’s $9.99 price-point for a title, he said. Continue reading