Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Thursday, March 31, 2011

John Grisham is Afraid of E-Books

Count author John Grisham among those who are afraid that ebooks will make printed paper books go the way of the dinosaur.  On the Today Show, Grisham says that with deep discounts on paper books being offered by Amazon and Walmart, and ebooks being sold for a fraction of what a hardcover book could bring, it will be harder for authors like him to make money and for new authors to get published. 

With all due respect to John Grisham, I think he may be a bit stuck in the past, or how things "used to be" in publishing.  Publishing is a business, just like any other.  It has used the same delivery method...printed books...to move a product since Gutenberg invented the printing press.   It has been a recent development that publishing companies have embraced a technology to help them move their products...namely ebook readers.  Amazon says they now sell more ebooks than hardcover books. 

About 25 years ago, the music industry was just starting to use a new format to sell its albums:  compact discs.  I listened to a CD in a music store and was blown away.  I had to have one.  I ordered one of the first CD players available, and ordered it directly from a company in Japan.  It set me back $800.  When it was delivered, I raced out and purchased ONE single CD to play on my new CD player.  The reason I only purchased one was because CDs were $30 each back then, and this was in the mid-80s.  That was a lot of money back then. 

Now, you can buy a CD player for $10, and CDs are even cheaper.  As the technology became more widespread and adopted by the consumer, prices for the products came down.  This is what is happening in publishing right now.  As e-book readers become more popular, and more consumers purchase them, the price is going to come down, and that means the end-product...the books...will be lowered in price also. 

Does that mean authors and publishers are doomed, like John Grisham says?  I believe the answer is "no" for several reasons:

Look at the music industry.  Recording artists aren't losing money.  They still make as much money as they ever have, perhaps even more.  They may not make all of their money from selling music, but what they lose to cheap downloads they make up for with tours and the sales of other products, like t-shirts.  Record labels are finally embracing digital technology and making money from it. 

Paper books won't disappear entirely.  Did you know that about 30 percent of all Americans don't use the Internet, Facebook, download music, etc.?  Some people just aren't into gadgets.  Instead of buying MP3 players, they still listen to vinyl albums, and new vinyl albums are still being made, by the way.  Some people will always prefer to read books on paper.  Paper books may not be the main way people get their books ten years from now, but they'll still be there. 

Books aren't going away, but bookstores might.  Remember the corner "record store?"  I used to go to the record store every pay day to buy the latest album releases.  People don't get their music this way anymore.  They either download it or buy it at a discount store like Walmart.  Books will probably wind up being the same way down the road.  You may not see as many bookstores around ten years from now, but you'll still be able to buy books. 

Adapt, or die.  As with everything in business, the authors and publisher who will be the most successful will be those who embrace the new technology and look for new ways to diversify their products and make money from them.  Stephen King was one of the first authors to release a new book in ebook form to the masses, and he continues to be very successful.  He recognized early on that this is the way books were going to be sold in the future.  The authors and publishers who cling to the notion that their hardcover books should sell for $30 new at at the corner bookstore are in big trouble. 

Also, Grisham is mistaken in his notion that "aspiring writers will find it harder to get published."  More books are being published now than ever before.  Some authors are going the traditional route...getting an agent, shopping their manuscript, taking a small advance and hoping their book sells for $30 at the corner bookstore.  Others are self-publishing or cranking out ebooks and selling them online, cheap. 

Printed books may not necessarily be endangered, but authors and publishers who don't adapt to change certainly will be.

You can watch the John Grisham interview here:


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