Books, and the iTunes ProblemS

Ransacked by the internet and teetering on the edge of the real ebook revolution, the publishing world is understandably afraid of what's next. But their skittish plans to shoehorn digital books into the old publishing cycle are stupid. And doomed.

Simon & Schuster sees what's happening: Real people are buying ebooks now, and the market, in its infancy, is forming habits and expectations. Like bestsellers for just 10 bucks—bestsellers that sell for 30 dollars in their hardcover form. Or should, anyway, but the devaluation of verbiage has been trickling over to real books too, since nobody fucks with Walmart, and they've been aggressively price matching, resulting in all out price war.

It's the worst of all possible scenarios: Publishers aren't just making less money on ebooks, but on the paper ones too. And people will get the crazy idea in their head that that's what books are worth, the same way we all think a song is worth 99 cents. (Or, um, nothing to the unscrupulous.)

So Simon and Schuster's plan is to plug ebooks into their own special place in the publishing cycle: Four months after hardcovers. Meaning you'll have to wait 1/3 of a year after a book's published to read it on a Kindle or Nook or tablet or whatever. It establishes a value hierarchy, that looks, as the WSJ points out a lot like the theatrical release cycle for movies. It's true, the movie industry has fared better than the music industry in preserving the perception of value of their content. But if you look, digital movies have slowly crept up to be same-day as DVD. They're just really damn expensive—15 bucks.

It's hard for the publishing industry to do the same thing—charge a premium for the digital version—since they're trying to get this whole ebook thing off the ground, not to mention the experience just isn't as good as a real book, at least not yet. They're still trying to hook people. It's not an easy place to be, at least not until the ebook experience stacks up more definitively with the real book one. Making people wait 4 months to buy books on their Kindle will, at best, simply hurt ebooks, because no one wants to wait for new stuff, least of all, words. At worst, it'll put people off of buying those books entirely—they'll wait for them to hit nook at $10, but'll have lost interest by the time it comes out. And then the publisher's still screwed. More to the point, like the music industry found out, and as the movie and TV business is struggling with, the new model is going to break the old one, and arbitrary limitations, will fall like the dead trees they print things on.

I do not envy you, Mr. Publisher Man. [WSJ]