Going Rogu

I’ll bet you thought that was a typo, right?

Well, Going Rogue is the new tentative title of Sarah Palin’s book, due November 17, 2009 from Harper.

So, why did I spell it “Rogu” in the title of the post?  Because they aren’t going to have an “e” book release at the same time as the hardback.  Get it?  No “e”…oh well, I thought it was funny ;)

The subject, though, is pretty serious.  When publishers release a book, they are having to decide between a simultaneous or staggered release with their paperbooks (p-books) and e-books. 

They understand p-book sales pretty well, although it’s a lot like the movies: you never know for sure.  It’s really important to be able to make a good guess: you don’t want to have too few books (people may buy something else instead), and you don’t want to have too many.  Publishers typically “guarantee” retailers that p-books will sell: if they don’t, they may have a “buy back” plan (usually with credit for future purchases).  At least, that’s how it worked when I was managing a bookstore.

So, along come e-books.  That’s a new factor, and one that is growing in significance.  The publishers don’t quite know how to factor that into how many p-books to print.

Oh, I’m pretty sure they make more money on each e-book versus each p-book.  After all, e-books cost less to produce and distribute, although they may pay a higher royalty on an e-book.That might make it seem pretty simple: “If we sell an e-book instead of a p-book, that’s better, right?”  However, it’s more complicated than that.

Let’s say a publisher puts out a book.  They set the paper “suggested retail price” at $25 and the Digital List Price (DLP) also at $25.  That’s common, by the way…I think increasingly so over, say, a year ago.

They probably get $12.50 from Amazon for either a copy or a download…that would be a normal retail mark-up.

Note that the publisher gets the same amount, regardless of the price Amazon sets for it at the retail level.

So, wouldn’t it be to the publisher’s advantage if everybody bought e-books instead of hardbacks? 

Absolutely!  Assuming prices stayed the same, you bet!  No printing, no shipping, no warehouses…party!

However, it’s going to be a long time before that happens.  While e-book sales are growing rapidly (especially at Amazon), they probably won’t be ten percent of the overall publishing market by the end of the year.

Even if you make twice as much profit on ten percent of your market, you don’t want to jeopardize the ninety percent.

If selling e-books helps the publishers, how does it hurt them?

Price Perception

This is a huge factor.  If somebody sees an ad for a book at $9.99, they don’t want to pay $15 for it.  They may not even want to pay $15 for other books.  A lot of people are not going to notice it’s an e-book versus a p-book.

The publishers are worried about people who see the price and don’t buy either version.  The p-book customer may decide to wait for the paperback, or may just buy something else. 

If the only choice is a hardback at $15…that’s status quo, it’s what people expect.

Bestseller Rankings

Movie studios aren’t the only ones who worry about opening days.  Sales beget sales.  Being the number one bestseller is great publicity. 

Rankings can be pretty narrowly divided.  Losing ten percent of your sales might make the difference between number one and number two…and that can snowball.

In an earlier article, I wrote that the biggest book of the year got a simultaneous release…and did well.  It actually sold more (initially) in e-books than in p-books, but was still number one in p-book.  Amazon may have been able to convince them (or they may have just decided it themselves) that they would be number one even if the e-book siphoned off some sales.  That meant lower risk in doing it…and they probably benefitted significantly by having huge e-book sales.

What happens in the future?

As e-book sales become a larger part of the market, it will become less about protecting the p-book sales.  That’s not going to happen right away, though.

It’s up in the air in the near future. 

  • Recently, True Compass (the Ted Kennedy memoir) got a staggered release, as I wrote about in this earlier article
  • The Sarah Palin book will get a staggered release, according to this Charlotte Observer article.  Harper spokesperson Tina Andreadis says they want to “…maximize hardcover sales over the holidays”
  • The release of Stephen King’s next book, Under the Dome, is considered another major test for staggered versus simultaneous

UPDATE: Christian Science Monitor on the staggered release of the Palin book here.

If you want a simultaneous release, what can you do?

You can try writing to the publishers…they do take that into account (although it’s much easier to write to companies than it used to be, so each individual contact has less weight.

You can contact Harper, the publisher of the Sarah Palin book, here:

orders@harpercollins.com

You can contact Scribner, the publisher of the Stephen King book, here:

Consumer.CustomerService@simonandschuster.com 

It’s one of the rules of project management: you have more opportunity to affect a project earlier in the process.  If you want to mold the future of e-books, take action now.

Thanks to Amazon Kindle Community forum member R. Chilson for alerting me to the Charlotte Observer article.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.
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3 Responses to “Going Rogu”

  1. R. Chilton Says:

    Excellent article, Mr. Calvin. Hopefully we will see the “big” lists including eBook figures in their bestseller lists very soon. That should negate one issue. As to the perceived cost that consumers see…That could change. Can you imagine the book clubs offering an eReader, at a significant discount, as an enticement to join their club? Not a Kindle, but a stripped down, basic eReader.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks, R.!

      The USA Today does supposedly include e-books…however, it’s hard to correlate the data from the different sites. Amazon is notoriously not forthcoming with figures on sales. ;)

      I’d say the most stripped down reader (and it’s been around for awhile) is the eBookwise…they have a configuration as low as $109.95. :) Another possibility is a book club offering a free e-reader, with a purchase plan. For example, they could require that you buy a minimum of twenty books in two years, or something along those lines. That’s basically what the cell phone companies do, after all. They would be counting on some people buying more than that, of course.

  2. R. Chilton Says:

    USAToday vs. New york Times? No comparison for prestige. I think you and Mr. Windwalker have extrapolated a lot of data on Kindle and eBook sales. Publishers should take note.

    I, personally, still buy a few paper books-mostly cooking or gardening but, never, EVER a novel.

    As I read more about eReaders I am astounded by what they CAN achieve. The snobbish attitude that is emerging to eReaders is, um, amusing. I always thought READING was the intent of bibliophiles, not the medium. Ah, well…

    Thanks for your steady and even hand on the boards.

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