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What Is a Book Worth?

Big hype for publishing this week: Macmillan versus Amazon. If you haven’t heard the story, first of all, where have you been? And second, here’s a short version. A couple of weeks ago, Amazon “offered” a deal to publishers: they’d give them 70% of the profits on their e-books, with the caveat that e-book pricing HAD to be $2.99 to $9.99. Period. Macmillan, a publishing powerhouse, responded that they, not Amazon, would set the pricing for their e-books. In other words, no deal. Amazon, in turn, responded by yanking the sell buttons on all Macmillan books, not just e-books, but print as well. Macmillan held fast, and Amazon caved. My feeling is that they caved because the other big publishers would take courage in Macmillan’s bold move and hold fast as well.

 

There is a lot at play here. I happened to be in NYC last week, and shared conversations with a great many industry professionals. Here are a few things that were mentioned:

 

·         If all the major publishers refuse to cave, Amazon will essentially have only small press and self-published books to sell. No big names. No bestsellers. Unless those authors want to deal directly with Amazon, of course.

·         Amazon has become so focused on selling things OTHER THAN BOOKS that books are a relatively small percentage of their income now. Maybe they’re tired of selling books?

·         With the advent of the i-Pad and similar devices, the Kindle may very well become obsolete within the next few years. Maybe this is a last-ditch effort to capitalize on the Amazon e-book platform while they still can.

·         The e-book market is growing, but for now it remains a small percentage of book sales. While some doom-and-gloomers have declared print going the way of the dinosaurs, not everyone believes that digital publishing will eclipse print.

 

My thoughts. First of all, bravo, Macmillan! Your authors may feel threatened by the lack of Amazon sales, but their books are still available through many outlets, at a price point that will allow them to write for a living. Because here’s the deal, all you people who think book downloads should be cheap, or even free: Seriously??? Do you have any idea why books cost what they do? The actual materials and printing per unit are usually under $2 each (pop-ups are pricier because of the engineering). The rest of the cover price goes to salaries for editors, copyeditors, designers, illustrators, marketing people, salespeople, truck drivers, receptionists, etc. Not to mention leases, utilities, legal costs, shipping, warehousing, promotional materials, trailers, website design and upkeep. The list goes on. And, yes, the publisher makes a profit. Aren’t businesses SUPPOSED to make a profit?

 

Oh, and just BTW, how about allowing the authors to actually make a living? Writing a book is a year of my life. Some writers write faster or slower, but we all need to pay our bills! Recently, there was an article by a book pirate—someone who scans books and distributes them for free downloads (he makes money by charging “membership fees”). His take was that he was only ripping off big corporations. Uh, no. Those corporations are paying employees. And one of them is paying me. I want to keep writing great books for you, but I have to earn a living. If you can’t afford to buy them, I understand. But please get them from a library, which does buy the books.

 

Beyond that, I want to advocate print. There is intrinsic value in pulling yourself away from your screens, big or small, and reading a real book. We are increasingly becoming a society cut off from one another by our screens. We text, rather than call, connecting us by our voices. We email, rather than visit, or even write real letters, giving the personal connection of our handwriting. At the recent electronics convention in Vegas, they introduced a reader that can duplicate picture book pages, with a disembodied voice that will read the pages for your toddlers. Where is Mom’s touch in that? Where is Dad’s voice? Where is that amazing connection that comes from sitting a child on your lap, turning the pages, pointing to things and giving them words for those things?

 

I’m all for technology. For gadgets that help us navigate our world. For interactive computer games, even. But not at the expense of human-to-human connection. The future holds such possibilities. But if we forget that, first, we are people, the future is dark, indeed. Text when you must, but call when you can. Pick up a real book and share it with a friend. Go to the library and see what’s there. Read to your babies. Take them to the park to play. Don’t let a computer babysit them for you. There is joy in human connection. Unplug for a while.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
heidiayarbe
Feb. 2nd, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
Bravo
Thank you for this great blog. And thank you for the last line: Unplug for a while.
Cold turkey on all electronics ... as soon as my first draft is done! Promise!
Hugs and glad you had a great NY weekend.
Heidi
959rewind
Feb. 2nd, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
Amen
Thanks Ellen. You said it all!
jess_jordan
Feb. 2nd, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC)
Reading is one of my favorite--if my my absolute favorite--activities, and part of that joy comes from holding the book in my hands, smelling the pages, dog-earing the corners, sticking it on my shelf when I'm finished. As convenient as an e-reader must be, I prefer the intimate connection I have with a real, "live" book.

I am guilty of some of the other technological sins, however (particularly texting). And it does affect my willingness and ability to communicate in other methods. Thanks for this!
daisywhitney
Feb. 2nd, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
Brilliant insight, Ellen! And thanks for pointing out that, um, authors do, you know, want to be paid to write! There is SO MUCH that goes into a book before it's printed and so many people that make it what it is.
alexabarry
Feb. 5th, 2010 02:55 am (UTC)
Wonderful post. I especially love the last two paragraphs. My son is eight months old and has just started to turn the pages of board books. His face when he makes a different picture appear is magical and of course books are good for biting too :)
fxlxh
Jul. 4th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)
i honestly rather have a true book in my hand. my dad has one of those pad thingy for e-books .... it seems really breakable.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )