Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Netflix Model Damages Book Publishing Forever

Books are not a commodity meant to be sold by the pound. But recent developments in the marketplace dictate otherwise. And should the new pricing model put forth by companies such as Oyster and Scribd succeed; the industry will be downsized significantly.

Scribd announced an all-you-can read buffet plan that will allow subscribers to gain unlimited access to e-books for $8.99 a month. Oyster, a NY-based start-up, offered a similar plan for $9.95 a month. Scribd’s offering includes most of Harper Collins’ catalog and other books. Oyster offers Harper Collins, Workman Books, and many others.

So why is this the worst thing to hit publishing- ever?

First, you devalue books in the eyes of readers. Regardless of the quality of the content and the inherent value an author or a publisher brings, all books become the same.

Second, publishers and authors have less of an incentive to put out quality books because they won’t be able to make up for it on price.

Third, authors will earn less because the book cover price will become less.

Fourth, such appealing printing expedites the exodus from printed books and book stores. This will put book stores under and printed books will become too costly in comparison to the ever-cheaper e-book. Some readers just love print and some books are made for print (art, photography, architecture, gift books, and cookbooks).

Fifth, the publisher's brand is further eroded. If all kinds of books are thrown together in the same barrel, no one’s checking the label. The big five will become indistinguishable to the consumer. They will dilute their names and make themselves insignificant.

Sixth, a cap on pricing limits the growth of the marketplace. At annual subscriptions of $108, even if 200 million Americans signed up, the marker would hit21.6 billion dollars. But we don’t have 200 million book-buying Americans. Out of 310 million people, you have a lot of kids, non-English speaking immigrants,  illiterates, usually impaired, and slow learners. Something like at least one-fourth of all Americans did not read a single book last year and many others did not buy one.

Lastly, once the only differentiation in the marketplace is price, everything goes downhill. There will always be a retailer looking to discount books even further, which will steal profits from publishers and authors.

I oppose the Netflixation of books but if you were to have such a system, I’d impose the following:

·         Limit the number of book rentals per month, per user.
·         Only send one book at a time.
·         Have a multi-tiered system, based on whether a book ius a best-seller.
·         Charge more than 10 bucks a month. I’d rather see a discount based on usage. For instance, the first book of the month is full price. Second book is half price. Third book is 55% off. Fourth book of the month is 60% off of cover price. Link the price to usage. And distinguish that each book has a different cover price.
·         Only make backlist books (those 6 months or older) available for this service.

The industry should rethink its participation in any pricing strategy that devalues books or injures the print book market. Once they swim in a Netflix pool it will be hard not to drown.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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