Old School Marketing Killing Publishing

Yesterday (Jan 18th), Shadowfever, the fifth book in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series was published. I have to say that I’ve been counting down the days to this release. Moning’s Fever Series is one of the most exciting, leave-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat Fae thrillers involving an enticing mixture of mystery, magic and sexual tension. I’m always happy to open to that first page of a new Fever book and crushed when I close the back cover because the time until the next installment is a long, painful torture that only a true fan can feel.

I admit it. I bow my head in praise to the storyteller that is Karen Marie Moning.  Everyone has their idols. If I could I would soak up as much storytelling knowledge from Moning as I could. I would own all her books and study and dissect them for plot, character, and setting. But I just can’t buy them. Why not? Because I will not kneel to the empire that is the American Publishing Industry.

Publishers have a unique opportunity to emerge from this recession as innovators. They could lead the electronic publishing revolution and show the world how old school businesses re-invent themselves to stay ahead of the times.

Sadly, publishing houses prefer to hold the reins tightly on e-publishing choking the life out of a newborn industry before it has a chance to spread its wings and fly. Greed (or debt) has the publishing houses focusing on this new source of revenue as the savior of their sinking ships. Yet it appears as if they do nothing to change their standard operating procedures which burn an endless supply of cash. Naively publishers assume that dedicated readers will pay whatever price to read their favorite authors like junkies getting the next fix. I admit that true readers will constantly demand new books and authors.

What publishers aren’t seeing in this equation is that dedicated readers are educated. They read after all. Today’s readers aren’t just the bookish literary types. Readers include business savvy men and women and technology innovators who are themselves creating new media. This new generation of readers and book buyers are aware of several benefits of e-publishing:

  • Readers can carry literally thousands of books with them on one e-book device.
  • E-books don’t kill trees. Don’t require printing. Don’t require shipping.
  • E-books can be purchased, downloaded and read immediately.

Book publishers should look at the music industry for an example of how electronic media can change (and save) an industry. For example, Taylor Swift’s album, Speak Now is available in multiple formats:

  • MP3 Download $8.49
  • Audio, CD $12.99
  • Audio CD, Deluxe Edition (Extra Tracks) $39.99

Now let’s compare that pricing structure to that of the recent release of Shadowfever.

Barnes & Noble has the following prices listed for Shadowfever (Amazon’s match):

  • E-book $9.99
  • Hardcover $13.82
  • Mass Market Paperback (due out Aug 2011) $7.19

Now, I’m sure that some of you will point out that for the extra $2.80 you’ll buy the e-book on the day it is released and have your favorite new book immediately. But I just can’t justify paying more for an electronic copy if it would cost less to get a hard copy. Even if that meant that I had to wait until August to get that paperback version. I’ve never in my life bought a hardcopy book on the day of release; I know if I’m patient the paperback will always come out cheaper and take up less space on my bookshelf. The e-book should be even cheaper.  Logically, an e-book should reduce the production cost and that should be passed on to the consumer so that we will buy more books. MORE BOOKS!!! Instead the publishers are trying to grab as much money as they can for fear that their industry is dying.

It is only dying because publishers are killing it.

I would buy more books if publishers would just make it economical for me to do so. But instead of owning Shadowfever – which I want to buy – I’ve reserved it at the library. Random House will make no money off of me this week.

Years from now, maybe, when Random House feels that they have bled all the money from us that they can and they put Shadowfever on some holiday weekend sale I’ll get it. But for now, I’ll read it for free along with the 32 other people that I see have already reserved it at my public library.

I won’t be buying any e-books unless I can get them for less than the paperback. In this age of economic upheaval, I’m not just buying a good story when I purchase a book – I can read one of those at the public library any time I want – I’m buying into the fact that the publisher of that book knows how to run an efficient and innovative house so that it will be around to finish publishing a book series I start reading.

If like the music industry, on the day of release, book publishers offered a hardcover ($$$), paperback ($$), and e-book ($) option each with the appropriate pricing structure, the industry would see a growth in sales overall. I would buy the e-book immediately. I have a friend who would always buy the hardcover, because that is her preference. But we would both make a purchase. And I’d make more purchases more often.

For now though, I’ll continue reading new releases from the library. Maybe someday I’ll own them. Maybe by the time the price is right, my interest will have faded and I’ll never buy them. It’s clear to me that the old school marketing of books is going to be the death of the publishing houses. I hope publishers see that before it is too late.