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E BOOK: “ET TU TEXTBOOK?”

THE DEATH OF THE BOOK

WHEN THE DEATH of “THE BOOK” is bemoaned, the moaning is really over THE NOVEL. For it’s THE NOVEL that one curls up with, and it is THE NOVEL about whose heft is lovingly spoken of. However, even the staid textbook publishers have moved into the 21st century.

According to a recent article by D.C Denison in the Boston Globe,

The behemoth textbook publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Inc. and Person Education are producing interactive digital textbooks with dedicated teams working with Apple to design textbooks for the iPad. The core K-12 textbook market in the U.S. is estimated at $3. billion, serving 50 million students, according to paidcontent.org.”

This video displays the extraordinary transformation of textbooks.

The failure of publishers of THE NOVEL to move into the 21st century is especially troublesome. As stated in the Purpose section of this blog, “Just as the iPod changed the shape of the music industry, … the entire book publishing industry, is on the brink of a paradigm change.” The question is can The Book adapt and survive?

According to Anthony Horowitz in a recent article in The Guardian

“Everywhere, publishers are being squeezed out. In 2010 it was Andrew Wylie with his Odyssey Editions, “cutting publishing houses out of the future” as the Guardian put it. Then came Sonia Land selling 100 Catherine Cookson titles directly to Amazon, bypassing Transworld and Simon & Schuster. The Ian Fleming estate … excluded Penguin in promoting digital rights in Bond.

While the museums and textbook publishers are pushing the bounds of the new media, publishers of THE NOVEL seem to be stuck in the compact disc phase of the music industry.

Indeed, the business model appears to be the same, high prices for what’s essentially an extremely low- cost digital product. The major costs, printing, transportation, warehousing, retail space, and returns have virtually been eliminated. Aside from advertising, weren’t these the high costs that presumably justified a price for a printed book of $25-$35, and upward? Certainly, it wasn’t the cost of the royalties to the author. It would seem that the result of eliminating these major costs, while keeping the prices high, would translate directly into higher profits.

Publishers are experiencing a backlash from the consumer to the high prices charged for an e book, which is only a digital version of their print book. In addition, publishers have raised prices as more and more people purchase e-readers. The regular prices of many e-books are getting more expensive.

“Electronic versions of books that also have print counterparts used to be deeply discounted to reflect the lack of overhead costs for printing, storing and shipping. Now, however, many are selling for just a dollar or two less than the paper version. For example, the e-book version of J.D. Robb’s new novel ‘Celebrity in Death,’ costs $14.99 on iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble — just 93 cents less than the hardcover price of $15.92 at Amazon and Wal-Mart.”

So how much is a fair price to pay for an e-book?

Compared to the e-textbook, e-book novels are static, digital versions of the printed book. No new content or value is added. In the face of this, the reasons given by publishers for the high price of the e-book novel are elusive. As observed by Charles Cooper in CNET,

“A lot of people believe that charging $10 or more for the portability and convenience of an e-book is ridiculous. The book publishers haven’t helped their cause by doing a poor job explaining their case.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on March 8, 2012 that, “The Justice Department has warned Apple Inc. and five of the biggest U.S. publishers that it plans to sue them for allegedly colluding to raise the price of e-books …”

Publishers?

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