Ebook Strategies for Traditional Publishers

This post, from Clifford Fryman, originally appeared on his website on 12/10/09 and is reprinted here in its entirety with his permission.

Many traditional publishers are scared of the growing popularity of e-books. If there was ever any doubt of it, the announcements over the last two days of three major publishers delaying the release of the electronic book versions of at least some of their titles by three weeks to six months after the hard cover releases is proof. What is their reasoning for such a move?

“We’re doing this to preserve our industry,” Mr. Young said. “I can’t sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices. It’s about the future of the business.”

Mr. Murray said that if new hardcover titles continue to be sold as $9.99 e-books, the eventual outcome will be fewer literary choices for customers, because publishers won’t be able to take as many chances on new writers.

The problem is these publishers are fighting e-books instead of embracing and using them to their advantage. No matter how bad they want it, the reality is that e-books and their lower price points are inevitable. They should be planning for this instead of trying to postpone it while alienating potential customers in the process.

I’m not a publisher, or even someone with a business degree, but I do I have a few ideas of strategies publishers could use to make e-books work for them. Note that none of them includes delaying the release date until after the hard cover release.

  1. Serialize e-book editions of potential best-sellers.
    Publishers would serialize the e-book edition of potential best-sellers by breaking the book into three equal parts. Release the first part the same day as the hardcover edition is released. The next two parts would then be released one per month over the next two months. Each installment would be priced from $1.99 to $3.99, whatever would bring the e-book edition to approximately in-line with the price point the paperback edition would be set at.
  2. Bundle backlist books with e-book editions of potential best-sellers.
    Publishers could take advantage of the e-book edition of a potential best-seller to promote backlist books from the author or of other authors who fall within the same genre. Prices would be set at around $19.99. Customers would get two books, the author’s older books could be sold, and readers could be introduced to another author they may decide they like and eventually buy more of their books.
  3. Bundle books by debut authors with e-book editions of potential best-sellers.
    Instead of releasing a hard cover or paper back edition from a new author, test the waters by releasing their debut novel only in an e-book edition that would be bundled with a potential best-seller in the same genre as their book. Again, the price would be set for around $19.99. Customers would get two books, publishers could take a lower cost risk on new authors, and the new author would get the promotional advantage of being included with an expected best-seller. If the new author is well received and interest is high enough, the publishers could then release print editions in either hard cover, paperback or both with the knowledge that the potential for sales is already there.

Like I stated above, I’m not a publisher or someone with a business degree, but these seem to make sense to me. What do you think? Are they feasible options publishers could take? Or am I way off base in my thinking and should leave business ideas to the professionals? Don’t be shy, speak up and let me know.


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