Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why you can't compare apples to oranges

Or digitally downloaded music to ebooks.

I often hear the publishing industry compared to the music industry- both by authors and by people in the media. Time to get with it! They say. Times are different now! The digital age has changed everything! The music industry learned this in the early part of 2000 and it is about time for the book industry to adjust.

There is no doubt that the computer age has changed the way people get information (think Wikipedia, Twitter feeds for news, Google) and it certainly has altered the way people get their news- for better or for worse. And I say for worse because it means that an incident like a nuclear meltdown or an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can be headlines everywhere you look one day and nowhere to be found the next. We as a society now have the attention span of a 10 year-old boy with ADHD when it comes to the catastrophes that grabbed our undivided attention the day before. But does the digital age really force a change on the book industry beyond what they have decided to impose upon us?

Book sales are down because people are watching more television and playing with digital devices. That is a sad thing for all writers. And we should all mourn the fact that there are fewer and fewer people reading. It is not good news for any of us! And I personally don't think that formatting a book to eReader is going to get more people to read. It might get more people to buy more books (yes, I know ebook sales are up! That is because the people who do read are enjoying their new toy and buying lots of books which is a good thing! I am not poopooing that!) because the books are cheap(er)- at least right now. 

However, there are numerous problems with the ebook phenom which could mean that eventually the ebook drifts out of favor or becomes the latest victim of PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE. (You've heard of that right, folks? That's when a device is sold to you with a usable life of about 3-5 years?? Like your computer. Then they force you to buy a new one because the old one is virtually impossible to run anymore? Cars are even breaking down much faster... Furniture... You name it! But we've all had to deal with the device du jours: first there were VHS players which paved the way for the short lived Laser Disc which quickly led to the DVD which is now possibly being replaced by the Blue-Ray disc although before it can replace the DVD, I wouldn't be surprised if something else doesn't overshadow both DVD and BlueRay the way the CD overshadowed the Album and the tape.) And new devices mean new formats for those novels which may not be selling very well (and it may not be cost effective to take them over to the new format...) because the money isn't in the book sales people, it's in the devices!

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

The reason you cannot compare the music business to the book business is quite simply: THEY DO NOT SELL THE SAME WAY!!!! Music is, primarily, sold by the band that created it. A big recording company may eventually get behind it and get it on a  radio station but that is probably AFTER the song has already gathered some following by going from one small venue to another and then getting in a little larger place and a larger place. The band records their songs in a small studio, slogs the CDs at the venues they are playing in, selling them as they go. People buy them because music is something you can listen to over and over if you like it. And you can listen to it for years and years (still love the Eagles after a hundred plays...)*

Books on the other hand sell by word of mouth, by book cover, reviews (although reviews are not the death knell authors would like to make them out to be nor are they a guaranteed best seller maker, either), by publicity and by author readings (which are NOT like the band playing in a venue because if no one knows you, you might be sitting in an empty room waiting for a stray passerby, unlike a band which at least has the draw of alcohol to bring in a few boozers- lol) And author readings are tough because they don't really give the reader the chance to browse the book, they merely show off the author's skills (or not) at reading aloud. And furthermore, if you are an author who has difficulty with public speaking or are not very personable, this could mean big trouble for your sales.

But by far, the biggest way to sell a book, unfortunately, is by having it on display at a bookstore. Ask any Barnes and Noble Bookstore Manager and they will tell you that when they put a book on display, sales on that book immediately go up. How do you get your book on that display? You have a name that will sell a book or that the corporate bigwigs want on the table. And how do they decide that? Usually you have a name or a connection to a name that will sell books.

Now the question is: how is that going to translate to the ebook "sales table"? When I browse the BnN Nook book page the best sellers are still on the "display table", if you will. It's the same ol' same ol'. They know what will sell and what they can leave back in "the stacks" as books that the author will have to promote themselves if they want them to move. And back in the stacks? 2 million books! Some well known authors like Faulkner or Fitzgerald that you might want to have in your ebook library (of course if you think ahead to the day your Nook is obsolete, you might want to get that treasure in hardback after all) but many, many more authors that the reader hasn't a clue about. And they are going to have to gamble on the book being worth the time and effort based on the cover and the overview given on the page... that is, if they even find that book/author at all out of 2 million in the first place. (And what happens if they read a couple of those unknown authors and they are completely unreadable-- I mean really unreadable! How does that affect their browsing the next time? Are they more cautious? Are they less likely to buy based on cover art or reviews?)  So many choices and SO MUCH competition. Too much competition!

And how do you play over the noise of that band?

I don't know.

*One way they are alike however is that neither industry wants to pay the artist for the work they have created. Story after story abounds, from writers and musicians alike, of being ripped off by the companies that are supposed to be "helping" them. And in actuality neither industry is benefiting from the theft the internet is an accessory to. Mo would also argue that the  "the cottage" industry that has sprung up (in other words the idea that anyone can self-publish or self-record) has  harmed the record industry by allowing anyone and everyone to make a CD as there is no "weeding", so to speak, "of the chaff." Poor musicianship abounds without anyone saying, "You simply aren't good enough to play."

1 comment:

  1. It is a dilemma! I don't have a good answer, but can just say that I buy books for my Kindle rather than in the bookshop these days.


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