Publishing’s LP problem

Media Bistro’s Jason Boog reports that nearly two-thirds of Amazon’s best-selling Kindle books are in fact, not sold – they’re given away, which is to say, their “price” is $0. I’m surprised at how high this percentage is, and agree with Boog’s take: that publishers need to cut e-book prices, if they want people to buy them.

But lower ebook prices won’t be enough. Traditional publishers need to stop assuming that every content item merits being a full “book.” A lot of novels could be trimmed, and made more interesting – and saleable – as novellas, or short stories. And many non-fiction treatises should be articles. Being shorter, they’d then be cheaper, and would sell better. Of course, it would be hard to publish them in print and make money, because there’s a high fixed cost, in print-publishing each title, and a low sale price wouldn’t allow houses to recoup this investment, even by selling a lot of copies, if the price for such a title were no higher few bucks. But the fixed costs for e-publishing are much lower. Publishers would have to learn to market these titles, but low prices and a high content-to-text-length ratio should be a lot of help in this. To the extent old-line record companies have weathered the rise of the MP3, they’ve done so by learning to sell music by the song, not the album – that is, by selling customers only what they want, at a low price, and not trying to get them to pay more, for filler they don’t have any interest in. Book publishers need to follow suit – and stop thinking of themselves as only “book publishers.”