Espresso vanishes in froth

Those Espresso Book Machines we heard about a few years back? The ones that would sit in bookstores making any text available in print-on-demand, in less than one hour? How many are there now in the whole of the USA, in the run up to Christmas 2011? Just 23, according to a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal. Just another sorry example of the failure to adapt to a revolution in books that’s shaping up to be as big as Gutenberg. In this case, a failure of the bookshops to grab onto something that might make them relevant again to discerning buyers.

But it’s part of a wider failure. From authors who still don’t ‘get’ the internet and Kindles, through stick-in-the-mud publishers large and small who refuse to convert books to Kindle, via those who refuse to release ebook editions until well after the paperback version of the book is out. The pirates are going to eat you all for lunch, especially after the release of new non-destructive home book scanners.

Another thing. Why does no-one bundle the audio book with the same Kindle ebook, while offering a hefty discount? My buying thinking goes like this: If a new print hardback is $16.99, I’m going to wait a year until I can get it for $4.99 or less, used on Amazon. Don’t even bother to tell me “oh, there might be paperback in ten months’ time” — because by the time the publishers finally crank out a paperback, the used hardback will very likely be cheaper than the new paperback. Then I might review it, tell people about it, blog it. But that will be a long time after the publisher’s primary publicity/marketing window has closed. Many people will have the pirated ebook on their Kindle by that time, and will forget about buying anything. Now, sell me an audio book version and a Kindle version bundled together on the first day of the hardback sale, and let me have both for the half the price of the hardback (say, $8.49) and I’ll be very tempted. I’ll tell lots of people about the great deal. I’ll review the book on Amazon much quicker that if I had waited for that used hardback. Such a deal is not going to eat into new hardback sales to me, because of the reasons I stated earlier. And it’s not going to eat into paperback sales, because I want either: i) the Kindle version or ii) the used hardback. What it would do is provide a solid chunk of early revenue and publicity, and forestall any temptation of readers to piracy.

The new Mark Steyn book is a useful case study. On publication day you has exactly two choices, which you still have. You get the $19.99 hardback. Or you go download the pirated edition. That’s it. And for a gigantic New York Times bestseller. No official Kindle version, and no audio book version. Maybe we’ll eventually get these, but who knows when? Sell me an audio-book/Kindle combo deal on the first day for just $9.99, and I’d be willing to bet that piracy on this title would all but cease. And Mark would be richer than he already is, which he fully deserves to be.

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