Josh Catone is largely right when he writes Why Printed Books Will Never Die. Although the pedant in me has an issue with the word “never” given that one day the universe will degrade into a particle stew. For now I’ll give Catone poetic license.
Ebooks are not simply a better format replacing an inferior one; they offer a wholly different experience.
A good point. I’d read an ebook on a plane. I read work documents on a tablet or ebook. When reading for pleasure I still want to see print and feel paper.
Whenever I hear people predicting the death of printed books I think back to the Roman, Greek and even earlier texts which can still be read today, then remember early electronic texts stored on 8-inch floppies or using now dead digital formats. Some of these are already lost forever.
A year ago Dan Gilmor complained about greedy US publishers forcing ebook prices to climb by between 30 and 50%.
In the US electronic books are now priced at the same, sometimes higher, than the hardback version of the same book. As Gilmore points out, this is a terrible deal because unlike physical books, you can’t resell, trade or give away your finished ebook.
The same dumb thinking is at work in the music and movie industries where digital media costs as much as physical media.
I’ve made this argument before, I’ll make it again. Printers use raw materials and machines to make physical books, CDs or DVDs. They package and ship them to warehouses before shipping again to stores.
Factories, packaging companies, shipping firms, wholesalers and retailers all clip the ticket. These are input costs and they’re not cheap, they can account for over half the retail cost.
While we can understand publishers wanting to recoup some of the cost-cutting benefit from digital media, they can’t expect to have it all. Doing so has three direct consequences:
- Consumers see high prices as a rip-off. This has the knock-on effect of undermining otherwise valid moral arguments against copyright piracy.
- It slows migration from the old low margin physical model to the new higher margin model. Why would consumers choose what is still an inferior experience when the cost of hardware plus higher cost of media makes it more expensive?
- Reduced sales mean set-up costs of a book, CD or DVD are spread over fewer purchases. Surely this is a time when publishers need to seed the market.
At the start of 2013 we’re at a point where the decline in printed book sales has stabilized while the hitherto triple-digit growth in ebook sales has fallen to a still impressive 34%. And sales of ebook readers plunged 36% in 2012.
So where do we go from here? Will publishers cut ebook prices sharing some of the extra margin with their customers or will they paint themselves into a corner?
New Scientist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For most of the last six years I’ve subscribed to New Scientist magazine. My degree is in Physics and I like to keep up to date with the subject – even if only in a casual way.
Right now I’m on a subscription breather. I do this when the pile of unread paper magazines gets too high. Most likely I’ll subscribe again early in the New Year.
Or maybe not.
A one year subscription to the New Scientist print and web editions costs NZ$255. That’s a good price.
What isn’t so good is the magazine wants NZ$383 to extend that subscription to smartphone and tablet. Presumably we’re not talking about accessing the standard website from mobile devices. I guess the extra NZ$130 or thereabouts is to pay for apps.
An online-only package including smartphone and tablet is NZ$229.
I’ve no objection to paying for an online subscription. I don’t expect to get this kind of information for free and lord knows its difficult to make money from selling advertising into online publications.
But to charge an extra $130 just to view content via an app seems a bit steep.
What do you think?
After hearing Newsweek lost 51% of its print circulation in the space of just five years London-based digital media blogger Martin Belam looked at UK newspaper performance. He found the British market declined 27% over the same period.
How do New Zealand newspapers compare?
I went to the Audio Bureau of Circulation and found comparable numbers for the three large daily metro papers and the two main Sunday papers. This is not a direct comparison, The Herald on Sunday was just getting started in 2007 and that had a big impact on its direct rival The Sunday Star-Times.
During the five-year period the five big New Zealand papers collectively shed 16% of their readers.
The biggest loser was the Sunday Star Times down 28%, while the Herald on Sunday increased its circulation by 11%. The Dominion-Post is down 19% while the New Zealand Herald and the Christchurch Press are down just 15%.
Among these titles Fairfax newspapers lost ground to APN titles.
So, for now at least, New Zealand’s newspapers are holding up relatively well.