(Slept too late – so no time to blog for both Paper Not Included and here – so here is what I've written over there)
Publishers are missing the two important things that they should have for every ebook release.
Ease of access and wide access.
Ease of Access
Why do I use iTunes to download my music instead of torrent sites? Why do I pay for albums instead of typing “band name + torrent” into Google?
First – because it is wrong and illegal, but secondly and perhaps, for many people, more importantly it's because iTunes is easy. I can buy an album with one click – I don't have to worry about it being in an odd format that my iPod won't play, I don't have to worry about it being a fake file or it being a low resolution thing that sounds bad.
*Click* = *bought*.
I don't have to type in my credit card details whenever I buy something, I don't have to log in with a password – I boot up the software, press a button or two and suddenly the file is downloaded and synced to all my devices.
It's this ease of use that makes Amazon so attractive to use – Find the book, press the 'buy it now' button and it uses your stored credit card to purchase the file and then send it down to all your 'Kindle' devices (be that Kindle, PC or iPhone – still waiting on that Mac option folks…).
In contrast look at Waterstones site – I have to type in my account details to log on to the site, then find the book using the frankly awful search engine (want to look for ebooks? well you need to do an 'advanced' search, and then we'll still return paperback and hardback results), then add it to your basket, then view your basket, then checkout, then type in your credit card details (plus expiry date, and security code). Then, and only then, are you able to download the books you want.
It's actually simpler to google for a torrent.
(I won't go into the problems of DRM, as that's a whole other discussion).
So, if you are a non-Kindle user, you are stuck using an awful website.
What is the other reason for going to the torrent sites? Regionalisation.
All my friends are blogging about a great book that's been released in America, they all love it and the subject matter is right up my alley.
I go to buy it and, lo and behold, 'this book is only available in the US'.
Now, I could wait, in the hope that they will eventually release it in the UK, and hopefully I won't have forgotten all about it in the year that this takes to happen. When I do forget about it maybe the publisher will pay all over again for the marketing that will raise it's profile on my radar.
Or I could physically import the dead tree edition from America, pay excessive shipping, import taxes and hope that when it is delivered it's not been dropped into the moat at Kellett mansion.
What is more realistic, and simpler option, is to search for a torrent of the file download it and hope that it is either a decent scan, or the ebook with the DRM stripped out. Then should the book ever be released over here – buy the actual legal copy in order to reward the author and publisher.
And that's if I (a) remember, and (b) am honest.
Are you starting to see why regionalisation of books is a really bad idea. It is pretty much always possible for me to get your book via torrent, and no draconian Digital Economy Bill will stop the committed pirate, especially when 'committed' means 'able to click a button or two'.
A Proposed Solution
As I have mentioned in the past, the real game-changer about Apples iPad is the iBookstore (or however it is capitalised) – a simple and easy way to download books, with a decent economic model for the publishers and simple syncing with a device.
Sadly it seems obvious that Apple will restrict their books to iPad DRM format – thus leaving the Sony Reader, and countless other devices, out in the cold. You won't be able to read your iPad books on anything other than an iPad.
This is my suggestion – and it's for all the publishers in the UK, if not the world.
Get together, and get together quickly before the iPad gains too much traction – form a jointly owned company, association, or whatever. Create a piece of software that is cross platform, both on the user's end (PC/Mac/Linux/iPhone/Blackberry/maybe even Xbox and the like), and on the formats that it supports (iPad, Kindle, PDF, EPUB, Mobi, Plaintext).
Make it amazingly simple and easy to buy a book – 'reduce the friction' as I believe they call it in the business lingo world. Make it so easy to buy a book that an impulse buyer, like me, can easily slap down my money and have the book sent to me within seconds without having to type in my credit card details for the umpteenth time.
Do away with regionalisation with ebooks. If you are spending some of your marketing budget on internet awareness (and if not, why not? Internet users read almost by definition), then why are you saying that you don't want the money from people in America, in Europe, in the Southern hemisphere?
Sure – you won't make the money on selling the regional rights to a publisher in country X, but won't you make up that money by expanding the market and from word of mouth marketing (and remember, those world royalties are going straight to you, not via someone else who takes a cut – disintermediation). Plus ebooks can be 'in print' forever – check out that long, long tail.
I'd also say do away with DRM, but that's a discussion for another day.
If you create an iTunes for ebooks – then you control how your books are sold, not Apple, not Amazon, but the publisher. Split the cut however you like, fiddle around with minimum and maximum prices to reach the ideal selling point, suck money directly from my credit card as I always have the purchasing client to hand and clicking on one button gets me my book.
Is it really that difficult to build a bit of software that is,
Simple enough for my mum to use.Good, effective search.Frictionless purchasing and downloading.Multiformat.Multiclient.A large and persistent library.Without pointless barriers due to geography.
If publishers do this I can guarantee that the percentage of ebook readers that resort to torrents will drop. They won't go away (because for some people free is all they can afford), but it would stop people like me from wondering if breaking the law on this one occasion is maybe worth it.
Hell, make it simple enough and more people will download ebooks – and with a per-unit-purchase price of pretty much zero, that's all profit.
And if publishers don't want to work together then at the very least Waterstones need to start from the ground up and completely revamp their web experience – perhaps starting with a cross platform piece of software that will act like iTunes…