Same old story – publisher preoccupied by paper

Bran HambricA few months ago, “The Last Tycoon,”  T.J. Stiles’ biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, received several withering reviews on Amazon.com.  Most of the critics hadn’t even read it.  They were owners of Amazon’s ridiculously successful Kindle digital reader.  Their enmity stemmed from the book’s high price in digital format – well north of the typical $9.99 for most titles.

Ultimately, the publisher reduced “The Last Tycoon” to $9.99, and presumably the reviews improved.

Apparently,  Sourcebooks, Inc. didn’t get the word, or worse, believe they can swim against the digital tide.  After all, the music business stuck to its guns, and CD sales are doing so well.  Why not the publishing business?

Oh, wait, iTunes is kicking everyone’s butt.  Nevermind.

Sourcebooks won’t be releasing their upc0ming Harry Potter wannabe,  “Bran Hambric: The Fairfield Curse,” by Kaleb Nation, in digital form – at least not initially.  Here’s why:

“It doesn’t make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99,” said Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, which issues 250 to 300 new titles annually. “The argument is that the cheaper the book is, the more people will buy it. But hardcover books have an audience, and we shouldn’t cannibalize it.” An e-book for “Bran Hambric” will become available in the spring, she said.

That’s close to the same logic employed by the music business, but Trident Media Group’s Robert Gottleib takes it a step further:

“It’s no different than releasing a DVD on the same day that a new movie is released in the movie theaters,” he said. “Why would you do that?”

Considering the post-theater revenue of most movies, a better question might be why wouldn’t you do that?  Since the advent of the VCR, personal ownership of films has skyrocketed.  In the mid-80’s, when the standard price for a cassette dropped to a reasonable level, sales jumped.  It’s easy to forget that once upon a time it cost 69 bucks to buy a rental copy of “Foul Play” for your own use.

I’ve had a Kindle since Christmas, and since that time my reading budget hasn’t really changed. I do have more to choose from, so publishers are making less per title from me.  But that’s not a bad thing when you consider that I’m finding new authors, broadening my horizons.

Kaleb Nation is a first-time novelist.  How can limiting the availability of his work help his career – especially among the hardcore readers who own a Kindle?

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7 Comments on “Same old story – publisher preoccupied by paper”

  1. Catherine Says:

    Actually, the Bran Hambric story isn’t at all like Harry Potter. Why does everyone assume that boy + some magic = Harry Potter?


    • Honestly, I don’t know what Bran Hambric is about – but it’s clear the publisher is hoping that kids that liked Harry Potter will buy this.

      • Paul Samuelson Says:

        Or readers that likes Savvy, since the cover art is by the same guy. Or readers that like Stephanie Meyer, since he’s known to be her number one fan. And they’re definitely trying to hit those kids that love Harry Potter (or, wait, are there any kids that don’t like Harry Potter?). Or kids that like to read good books in general, since “it’s clear” there’s a lot about this book you don’t know.

        I could go on, but not releasing the digital version until 6 months after the hardcover (obviously) will help his career by adding value to the purchase of a hardcover by having users pay extra to see the book first… much like first-class seats on airplanes.

        As a music writer, I can see your confusion, but I’d also like to point out that authors (and publishers) don’t make revenue from concerts, T-Shirts, endorsements, etc. Therefore the profit margins are much smaller and it becomes necessary to encourage readers to buy hardcovers.


  2. I may be a music writer, but I know the marginal costs of publishing are ripe for the same kind of shake-up that’s happened with music and movies. Entire stores exist to sell only remainder copies of books. On another subject, if Stephanie Meyer didn’t make money on all those Twilight t-shirts, she should fire her manager.

    • Paul Samuelson Says:

      Yes, there are Stephanie Meyer t-shirts, and Neil Gaiman t-shirts, and Harry Potter ones… so that’s 3, out of how many books published in a year? And OF COURSE the costs associated w/ publishing are going to be shaken up (rightfully so)! And of course digital will become increasingly important, I just don’t see the overhwelming necessity to release the book at the same time as the HC! Especially at the $10 price point laid down by Amazon. How can anyone make any money off of that? So, the only options left for the publisher (by amazon) are to release the book (for $10) or not to. And (especially from a pubisher who is experimenting with DRM-free publishing) I think it’s a great stand to take against an HUGELY powerful retail outlet.


  3. As a committed environmentalist, I believe that any time a book is delivered digitally instead of by a UPS truck, it’s a good thing. Take a stand against Amazon? Why not take a stand against publishers, who (like record companies) create no original content, yet reap most of their clients’ profits?

  4. Elly Sparks Says:

    I work in a bookstore.
    A) The cover is a Harry Potter rip off. Kids see it and automatically get excited thinking it’s a “new” Harry Potter.
    B) The book is horrible. And it IS a Harry Potter wanna be.
    C) I couldn’t believe someone would publish this book and did a bit of research on Kaleb – it’s obvious the only reason he was signed to a deal is because he has a lot of starry eyed Twilight fans that he’s deluded into thinking he’s got Stephanie Meyer’s ear (he has a whole website devoted to Twilight).
    On Twitter, he follows 62 people – most of these are young, pretty girls. It’s so obvious what this homeschooled/marketing genius is up to – making a brand by riding on the coat tails of someone else – what’s worse is – young people are falling for it.

    The Kindle Issue? It’s obvious to me the publisher decided NOT to make it available because most of his “fans” (the people will buy his books) do not own Kindles. Also – the publisher is no doubt hoping to make his money right away on Kaleb Nations book by limiting it to hardback sales. If it was available for Kindle, word would spread that it’s a cheap knock off. I think sales will tank in a few months when people realize this book is nothing memorable.


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