Thursday, April 29, 2010

Call me a hypocrite…

…or wishy-washy or whatever you like, but I’m singing a new tune.

For my 40th birthday, my wife bought me an iPad. Now, you must first know that I just got a “grownup” cell phone, finally trading my disposable phone for monthly contract in April. So when the iPad first arrived, I had to ask my 12-year-old daughter what an “app” was. I’m the guy you see in line at the grocery store who pulls a beaten-up paperback from his jacket pocket to kill time. But after reading two novels on the iPad and using it to take meeting notes, I’m sold. Coupled with a recent guest lecture I attended, I believe electronic publishing isn’t just here to stay, I think it’s a good thing for consumers, publishers, and writers alike.

On Friday, John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Publishing, spoke at Pomfret School, where I teach. Sargent discussed his career and his recent standoff with Amazon regarding electronic publishing pricing. In February, the CEO considered the future of the e-book, saw the upside, and made headlines by proposing Macmillan forgo its traditional sales model as it pertained to the e-book. When selling electronic titles, Macmillan decided to drop its existing “retail” model (publishers sell to retailers who in turn sell books to readers at a price determined by the retailer) for the “agency” model (publishers set the price and retailers take a commission on each unit sold). This changed a business model that survived hundreds of years, and Sargent’s decision made waves industry wide. In short, Macmillan dictated that its e-books be sold for $12.99, not $9.99 as Amazon intended.

A quick Google search of “John Sargent, Macmillan CEO” leads to both praise and damnation of the CEO. Some commend Sargent and Macmillan—New York’s smallest of the large publishers—for playing David to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’s Goliath. Others claim outrage; these are readers who balk at higher per-unit prices. (Actually, I was thrilled to buy—and start reading, in three seconds—the latest Robert B. Parker hardcover for $12.99 instead of $27.)

I’m a simple scribe, but it seems to me that writers must align with publishers on this one. Sargent’s price increase makes perfect sense: publishers only get one sale on an e-book; regardless of lower production costs, there is no paperback to follow a hard cover. Finances aside, it takes a hell of a lot of trees to fill my local B&N. E-books leave a smaller footprint on the environment.

Electronic publishing is greener, faster, and cheaper. As a reader (a cheap one, at that), a writer (a mid-list author always looking for new venues for his work), and one who cares about the environment, I’m singing a new tune.

5 comments:

Rick Blechta said...

Not a hypocrite, John, but someone who has gained some knowledge and is reporting back. Thanks for that.

ajcap said...

you sold me. Mind you, we can't even get nooks and kindles here in the great white Northern Ontario...who knows when the iPad will ever show up.

Very interesting times. Changing a business model that has survived hundreds of years...rather exciting. Thanks for making publishing a little less murky for me. I'll go google Mr. Sargent right now...

Maribeth said...

I have not yet decided how much I am willing to pay for something intangible. I like books in my hand and on my shelf to enjoy again later. That's not to say I don't read ebooks--I do and I like them. But even I don't want to pay for a favorite twice.

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