It’s all in the timing

When I first read the New York Times piece today about how Random House is wrestling with the timing of the release of its ebook version of Dan Brown’s forthcoming novel, I thought:  “how silly of them to worry that e-books would cannibalize sales of the hardcover books, especially a blockbuster like  The Lost Symbol is sure to be.”  Isn’t the idea to create more of a muchness, to blanket the market, cover the waterfront  (and all that) with as many forms of a much-desired book as possible?

THen I read on in the piece, which was, incidentally, co written with Brad Stone, who wrote the original NY Times story on vook back in  April – and I realized that of course that the fact that timing has become such a big issue for publishers means that maybe, finally, the so called hidebound traditional publishers are starting to “get” it:  e-books are important, people want them, and maybe not just because they’re currently priced at least half of what the hardcover costs.      The piece doesn’t say so — it wouldn’t, because publishers don’t want to go on the record saying so, even if it’s what they believe — but the fact is that some people actually prefer e-books to “real” ones.  I, as dyed-in-the-wool reader as there ever was one, actually do — for certain books at certain times.  What’s more — and I keep trying to tell publishers this — there are certain titles that lend themselves better to an e book format than a traditional one, and, what’s more, by releasing several formats of books at one time doesn’t cannibalize the existing market, it expands it.  


But this being publishing, even good news can’t be wholly embraced without a lot of sturm und drang.  What if, what if, what if, is the worried corporate rallying cry.  So let me try a different tack:   What if ebooks (and, of course, by extension, enhanced ebooks like vooks) ended up acting just as videos did to theatrical releases and, closer to home, audio books did to paper ones?  To wit:  that they didn’t make its purveyors poorer and sadder, but that, because they expanded the market  both by reaching people usually loathe to part with the bills for a hardcover book, and by spreading the word that reading is another form of entertainment, and one within the reach of the masses.

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