Ebooks Must Fail? Only If They Remain in Current Ecosystem

Evan Schnittman: Why Ebooks Must Fail

How do ebooks cover the huge advances needed to buy books if we cannot generate the cash, especially at their extremely low, discounted prices, cover the advances that an entire industry has come to require? The answer is that ebooks, alone, cannot.

What this means is that unless a very different model evolves, ebooks can never become the dominant version of content sold by book publishers. It means that ebooks will always be priced to sell, but sold as an afterthought, not as the primary version of a work. It means that the need for blended e plus p models will evolve, in order to take advantage of all the great qualities of ebooks, while providing the financial support and structure that print offers. It means that consumer ebooks, as a stand-alone version of an intellectual property, must fail.

This is a valuable lesson in book economics — 20th Century book economics, that is.

The key words in Schnittman’s piece (or at least the short portion I’ve quoted) are “huge advanced needed to buy books” — an assumption that we may need to challenge as the financial ecosystem of books, not just the distribution chain, evolves over time.

The huge advances themselves seem unsustainable. That’s a good thing, because they warp the marketplace.

Moreover, it’s unclear why publishers alone are expected to cover authors’ costs given that, at least in the case of much non-fiction, authors make money in ways other than selling books — namely consulting and speeches, among other things. Why shouldn’t the various parties in this ecosystem (a word I use deliberately) collaborate to sell books and other services and share revenues? Complex, sure, but worth it in the end.