The hot topic at the just-concluded American Booksellers Association convention this week in New York was the growing, and potentially threatening, role of e-books. E-book sales started biting into conventional clothbound copies when Amazon introduced its Kindle reader. The competition has only gotten hotter with the entry of Barnes and Noble’s Nook and, most recently, Apple’s I-Pad.
Authors are really worried about what online book sales will mean for the marketing budgets and royalty payments for their titles. That’s not their only concern. The biggest fear for writers? Digital piracy with authors, like musicians with past music downloads, reaping none of the proceeds.
Publishers are just as perplexed. However, they are reacting proactively, spreading their marketing and sales dollars across all media channels to not be left out of online’s sales potential. They hope that more channels and more readers will lift both hardcover and online sales but are preparing for the worst.
This week, I read that one publisher, the University of Chicago Press, even rents access to books for a limited period. It rents online access to any title for either a six-month or 30-day period, a real boon for students needing the book for a term paper or final exam.
The rate is less than the current freight of $12.95 or even $9.95. How does $5 sound? Readers pay half the cover price for six months and only $5 for 30 day access. If a reader wants indefinite access, he or she pays the full cover price.
You would think that the elimination of print and shipping costs would translate to impressive savings for the university press. Not so, says Carol Kasper, Chicago’s marketing director. Those saving are eaten up by the cost of PDF-ing each page, maintaining the press’s digital infrastructure and added employee hours to run the program.
I’m not aware how many other publishers are jumping on this new bandwagon. The U of C Press also makes one title available each month for free downloading. However, since the press primarily publishes scholarly material, I’m not sure how many readers will fork over even $5 for “Gender and Social Justice in Wales” or “Writing, Law and Kingship in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia.”
To view and rent a title, go to www.press.uchicago.edu.