Thursday, October 29, 2009

Seth Godin, right again

Once again, Seth Godin gets it right.

Kindle readers buy two or three times as many books as book readers. Why? I don't think it's necessarily because using a Kindle leads someone to read more books. I think it's because the kind of person who buys a lot of books is the most likely person to pony up and buy a Kindle. I know that sounds obvious, but once you see it this way, you understand why book publishers should be killing themselves to appeal to this group. After all, the group voted with their dollars to show that they're better.

Now, as someone who has a Kindle, I'd argue it does lead one to buy more books (it's so easy that I can't stop!). That aside, what he says is true: Kindle users are a (certain type) of voracious reader. These are the people who evangelize not only the Kindle itself, but also the books they're reading. They're probably also on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads talking about what books they liked. Publishers should be going out of their way to get their books into their hands, not holding back their hot properties. Honestly, who's going to want the Sarah Palin book after the first month on sale, anyway? All the juicy tidbits will have been quoted at length, rehashed and remixed by time the e-book is released. Seems like a big waste to me.

While there's certainly room to debate and experiment, publishers need to start looking at Kindle and nook and other e-reader owners as allies, not enemies. Once they do, I think we'll see what a boon e-books can be.

(Editor Unleashed via Galleycat.)

- Michael


  1. But isn't the issue that e-books are posted on file sharing sites almost immediately? I know a lot of voracious movie watchers who never pay a cent to watch a movie, audiophiles who never pay a cent to listen to songs on their MP3 player.
    As per the NYT article:

  2. I heart this post. You are so right.

    @Anon: While that may happen, I do think that misses the point of this post, which is that Kindle owners are voracious book buyers and publishers really should be rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of selling MORE books to this already receptive audience.

  3. Anon -

    I more often see photocopied versions of my author's books on fle sharing sites than I do e-book versions. People will pirate when things aren't readily available to them. Not releasing an e-version at the same time as the hardcover is more likely to cause people to pirate, as wrong as that may be.

    And thanks, Carolyn!


  4. Publishers need to stop treating all of us as if we were pirates. I suspect that the people who are reading/listening/ watching for free would have never gone out to buy the book/cd/dvd anyway, so they aren't loosing much. It's the rest of us who are put off by an attitude that assumes we aren't willing to compensate an author/creator just because we don't necessarily want to support traditional institutions that reward only the sure fire profit-making successes and ignore the less commercial creative endeavors.

  5. mlouisa,

    You make an excellent point and it's been my experience, too. Pirating, whether music, books, movies, whatever, offers exposure to people who wouldn't have sought out that stuff in the first place. And in many cases, this has led to sales, not only to the person who originally downloaded the item for free, but to their friends and family, who then get them recommended. I'm all for paying artists and authors -- I aspire to be one-- but I'm far more likely to support an artist or author whose primary goal is to create excellent work than those seeking to profit from mediocre work. If publishers want us to buy, they'll publish quality (and take risks on something new) to sell.

  6. There are publishers who are doing what Godin suggests (romance? sci-fi/fantasy?) now. This is because, it seems to me, the transition to ebooks doesn't kneecap their particular business model. I don't know this from experience, but it seems like if you're publishing relatively inexpensive (to acquire, to produce, and to buy) regular books for an audience that buys a lot of books, then jumping to a 9.99 ebooks isn't such a big deal.

    On the other hand, if you're publishing books that are relatively expensive (mainly for publishers to acquire and for consumers to buy), then no matter how much sense it may make in the long term to embrace ebooks, in the short term, the transition to 9.99 books might be really rocky. I don’t have an MBA, but in what consumer product sector does moving your best customers from a high price, high margin product to a low price, low margin product not result in serious turmoil? The trick isn't so much getting the consumer buy-in or selling the actual books, it's staying in business while you do it.

    Are there ways to navigate this transition? I’m sure there are (and it will be an exciting time to work in books), but I have no doubt that there are as many wrong answers to the question “How can publishers transition to ebooks without going out of business?” as there are right ones. And I’m pretty sure many of the wrong answers are fatally wrong.
    It seems like Godin is saying "ebooks will make your business stronger!" but he's neglecting to mention that this is only if they don't kill your business in the process.

  7. I am definitely reading more books because I have a Kindle app on my iPhone. I have my phone with me everywhere I go. This means I have a novel with em everywhere I go. No more wasting time with silly phone games. If I have free time I am reading a novel.

    I'd say the Kindle app is responsible for me tripling my reading.

  8. Andrew,

    Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful response. I think I read what Godin's saying a bit differently. He's saying that e-book readers can be a book's biggest advocate. When a Kindle user blogs about how great a book they just read was, I don't think they're going to mention that they loved the Kindle edition in particular. By appealing to these high-volume folks, they're arming them to be advocates for their books.

    If Amazon and Wal-Mart are willing to drop the price on hardcovers BELOW the price of e-books, maybe Amazon is willing to use the top bestsellers as loss-leaders on the Kindle, giving publishers time to figure out how to adjust their business models (not that they were really working all that well, anyway).

    - Michael

  9. Thanks for this. As somebody who hasn't been all that interested in e-books (I hate reading stuff on screens), I've never bought into the idea that books (and bookstores) were going to become irrelevant. Mainly because the argument/presentation is a bit short-sighted. The whole, "Books will cease to exist!" opening line tends to throw me into a funk.

    A couple of things:

    1.) I think the idea of voracious readers helping to market a book (via their blog, etc) is spot-on. I can't see somebody championing the Kindle version of a book...

    2.) I don't buy CDs - ever. It is too much of a hassle. I can go to iTunes, listen to what I want, and then download it immediately. It's cheaper, easier, and - of course - faster than having to deal with going out. If anything, it seems like e-books would increase the sales of a particular book (not to mention the sales coming from actual books). Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like that is a good thing? ;)

    3.) Re: inferior work. I don't know if I buy this. You can just as easily pick up a book at a bookstore and read a couple of chapters - I just did this with Libba Bray's "Going Bovine". I liked it, so I bought it. I don't know if you can say somebody isn't aspiring to create excellent work in this context...but, I may be wrong (it's happened...once.) ;)

    Anyway, thanks for makes me want to consider buying an e-reader....gasp! (you know, if my wife will let me...)

  10. I don't own an ereader and won't, probably, until it truly replaces print. Otherwise it would be just one more thing, in addition to paper books that I'd have to haul around.

    But I am the ereader type. I have three books going at any point in time. One print book for places like the bus, the bus stop, and my bed before night-night, one audiobook for the car and the dishes and the yardwork, and one ebook on my laptop or netbook for reading while I'm waiting for some code to compile at work.

    And, yeah, I blog about books and talk about books a lot.

    What I'm saying is that Godin's idea can be applied more broadly. By going beyond print, not only to eReaders, publishers can make it possible for big readers to have more opportunities to consume their products.

    Plus there's the simple sense of expecting fairness among consumers. Whatever the costs of acquisition of titles, and the cost of converting to non-print media, consumers are well aware that electronic media, electronically distributed are WAY WAY cheaper than print media. And they expect a cut of the savings. And they should. And you will alienate them, the way the music industry did, if you don't cut them in.

    I, for one, get all of my audiobooks from the library or from an Audible subscription, otherwise I can't afford them. The retail audiobooks are severely overpriced.

  11. What's so funny is that everyone's blogging agreeing with you. Where are the publishers? Are they following this?

    I'm sure they're out there, but I haven't seen any blog posts saying the opposite.

  12. Mr. ChompChomp -

    I agree. Publishers should be doing more to court high-volume readers. They should also be bundling things like hardcovers/e-books/audiobooks, when possible to give value to the consumer.

    - Michael

  13. You are absolutely correct. I have almost as many books on my Kindle as real books on my bookshelf, and I've only had the Kindle for a few months.

    It is easy to buy books on the Kindle. I actually like the reading experience, because I can read what I want anywhere.

    Sometimes I feel like nonfiction, so that's what I read. Other times I want an entertaining thriller, so I pick one up.

    The point is that I don't have to bring a backpack full of books with me. In fact I even have the iPhone app so that I can read while waiting for attendees to show up to meetings.

    Yes, I have a website. Yes, I am on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Shelfari, and blog about books, and yes, I think booksellers should be interested in selling to me. I know that sounds arrogant, and it probably is, but I do buy a lot of books.

  14. When publishers hold back a Kindle copy, not only are they missing the most desirable audience to help with word of mouth marketing, but they are also missing sales figures they may not recognize (perhaps Freakenomics, but sales none the less) : (1) as a Kindle reader, I am able to consume more books because it's just plain easy to tote that little device around; (2) as a true book lover, when I read a *great* book on my their Kindle, I'm often compelled to buy an additional hard copy for my home library (or as a gift for a friend);(3) there are Kindle users who have a hard copy of the book in one location and then another copy on their Kindle at home. I'm friends with a handful of "three-Kindle" families. An example of a book at two locations would be a students who purposefully leaves their reading book at school and then purchases a second copy to read from their Kindle at home. I've witnessed parents and 5th grade students selecting books when and only when a Kindle copy is available (if there is not a Kindle copy, the student selects another title.)