Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Publishing Can Learn from Netflix

Nearly every day, I receive an emails from publishing industry newsletters touting the surging sales of ebooks, and all but writing the obituary for the printed book.  The newsletters contain news of the latest independent bookstore to close, along with a quote about how bookstores are having a hard time competing with the likes of Kindle. 

This is true, to a point.  The Apple ITunes store made it easier than ever to purchase music, enabling people to download their favorite songs, rather than making the drive to their local music store.  As a result, the local music stores are gone, but does that mean you can no longer buy CDs?  No. 

Devices like Kindle and Nook make it easier to purchase books, and the number of ebooks being sold has definitely exploded.  I think the means of selling paper books will definitely change, but I don't think it will go away altogether, just like CDs haven't gone away altogether despite the fact that nearly everyone seems to own an IPod or listens to music on their smartphone.  For a good example of the reason why, look no further than Netflix.

I subscribe to Netflix.  Instead of running to the corner video store, which we still have here in Mustang, I can just log-in to my computer and within a couple of minutes I'm watching the movie of my choice at home.  My family also opted to receive DVDs in the mail from Netflix because some movies are only available on DVD through the service. 

Netflix announced last year that it would be dramatically boosting the price of its DVD rentals.  The reason for the increase is because Netflix wanted to move more subscribers to downloads and eventually phase out the DVDs. 

The reaction?  Subscribers went berserk.  More than one million people cancelled their Netflix subscriptions. 

It turns out people didn't want to give up their "dated" DVD service.  Despite industry predictions that DVDs will eventually go away, many people prefer to keep using their DVD players and Blu-Ray players rather than watch a move on a desktop computer, laptop or phone.   Netflix quickly backpedaled and reinstated the old policy on DVDs. 

Despite the major increase in sales of devices like Kindle and Nook, and the surging sales of ebooks, printed books aren't ever going to go away completely, unless for some reason all the trees die and we can no longer make paper.  Many people still prefer to read a printed book.  I have had people tell me they will NEVER buy an ereader or purchase an ebook.  They like to handle printed pages and be able to collect the hard copy volumes and keep them on a bookshelf in their home. 

And who uses ebooks the most?  You would think that it would be a technology used most by young people, but studies have shown most ebooks are purchased by middle-age people in their 40's and 50's.   Another survey indicates that most college students prefer their printed textbooks over ebook versions. 

I don't think ebooks are evil.  They give authors and publishers another product to sell.  Debating whether an ebook or printed book is better is like debating whether CDs or vinyl albums are better.  The end product is the same; the delivery method is different.  As always, the businesses that can adapt to change and (listening Netflix?) provide the customers with the products they want will be the ones that survive.  Those who can't, won't. 


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