Monday, October 29, 2012

Some good - but insufficient - ebook publisher suggestions

As an industry with more history than most other forms of media, the pain book publishing is going through in trying to transition to digital is quite fascinating to follow and something we can all learn from.

As we've seen with music, film, and games, publishers are not only trying to assert rights that protect existing business models (e.g. trying to curb piracy) but also are pouncing on opportunities to gain rights that previously they didn't have, or had lost (e.g. rights for end users to resell books; rights for libraries to lend books, etc).

BoingBoing last week linked to an interesting piece by Joanna Cabot, calling for a return to common sense. It's a good piece, and a good starting point for discussion, but insufficient on it's own.

The TL;DR version is that she calls for three things:
- If granting rights that are really more akin to rental/lease than ownership, then say so explicitly and don't call it "buying"
- Understand that books are purchased by households, not neccesarily individuals, and sharing among household members shouldn't be a crime.
- Understand that individuals want and need to move books between devices, so don't make it difficult to do so.

In short, she's calling for e-books to allow for the same things that paper books do. If I rent a book I'm expected to return it, and if I buy it, I can do with it what I want. If I buy it or borrow it, I can share it with other members of my household, etc. She is saying that e-books should not allow us to do LESS than their paper counterparts. I agree.

However, it's not enough to stop there. e-books should allow for far more. They should allow for quoting, sharing, promoting. They should allow for commenting and conversing with authors, critics and other fans. They should allow for augmenting metadata about the book, its settings or its author. Some of this stuff has more to do with the e-book's usage in other services (e.g. imagine virtual book club social network groups), and some about opening the format to others (e.g. metadata).

Some of this is publishers not getting that these things can ultimately sell more books than their piracy-paranoid policies are saving in lost sales. Part of it is them rightly being scared that ultimately their role in the ecosystem may be less needed than before.

I think that if conversations in publisher board rooms are focused around "how do we ensure they pay?" instead of "how do we make the e-version of this book the most engaging and valuable, and how do we make it reach the most people?", those publishers are going to lose. The forward thinking ones asking the latter question, they are at least thinking in the right direction.

No comments: