A little while ago I blogged about the future of e-books. It’s a big topic. Lots of challenges. And one of the issues is the business model.
Authors traditionally derive income from intellectual property licensed to a publisher on the basis of unit sales. Usually that royalty is based on actual publisher returns, per book, rather than the nominal cover price.
That still works in the E-world. Indeed, if anything it’s got every advantage. E-books cut out just about all the publishers’ post-editorial costs – printing, marketing, warehousing, distribution and all those costs that accountants create. E-books invoke none of these, but they’re usually priced to match the print edition.
Which sounds great – but the hordes of publishers and authors giggling all the way to the local bank are notable by their absence.There are a couple of reasons. One is to do with proprietary E-book technology and what that does for its market penetration – and I’ll cover that in another entry.
The other is more fundamental to the nature of E-anything. Files are copyable by nature – it’s what computers do. And today’s Z-gen computer culture expects to be able to get what they want for free. If it’s not free – well, ways are usually found of making it so, DRM or not. I’m not the only one to worry about that – the other day a Daily Telegraph blogger discovered just how much had already been pirated even without being released as a formal e-book. The writing, as he points out, is on the wall.
The problem is that as a creator of original intellectual property, I want to be paid. So do my publishers. And it’s not to profiteer. It’s to do things like eat, have a roof over our heads, wear clothes. That kind of thing. Which to me suggests we’ll probably all end up following the Google advertorial revenue model, awful and intrusive though that is.
I don’t mean Google will necessarily handle it all themselves – more on that later. But I do mean that their vision of free content interleaved with relevant advertising is an obvious answer.
This may mean that some books simply never appear electronically, because they’re not compatible at level of intellectual and literary integrity with US commercials.
But either way, it seems to me we’re gonna dance to that tune. Like it or not.