A Tale of Two Mind Sets

by Rachel Baker on December 23, 2010

On MSNBC this morning, I ran across an interesting article about Oprah’s newest book club pick – A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations (Penguin).  Apparently, book sales are not going as well as they usually do when Oprah picks a book because of these books can be gotten for free on eReaders.

The article is here: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/40715900/ns/today-books/ and if you don’t want to go to msnbc, then feel free to click this link for the google search of this article.

With the eReaders becoming more popular and financially viable, I wonder how the publishing companies are going to be able to maximize on the investments made when publishing an actual book.  I wonder if the first publishing run of new novels will be decreased and then reassessed on buying trends before more books are published.  And what will this mean to people who don’t own eReaders?  One day, I predict first edition books by modern authors will be more highly coveted than they are today – like when first runs were only 500 – 1000 copies.

Back to the article though, it just doesn’t seem financially viable to publish new editions of old classics that can be accessible to the general reading population for free. When thinking about the effect eBooks will have on the publishing industry, the advantages of book clubs on a publishing companies bottom line never occurred to me.  This book is $11.22 for paperback, if a book club of 10 members wants to read these stories because Oprah made it her book club pick, then that’s 112.20 spent – now multiply that by the hundreds of book clubs in the country that will be purchasing this book at some point as a group.  These same book club members could feasible buy eReaders for $189.00, get the two books for free, and then continue to read books for free while also having reading guides available for no cost. Here’s the free reading guide for Oprah’s pick from the publisher: http://us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/oprah_65_a_tale_of_two_cities_great_expectations.html

And for book clubs, here’s a list of reading guides available from readinggroupguides.com – its extensive.  Sure, some of these books will cost to purchase, and some are not available on Kindle, but they will be eventually.  And new books are being published on Kindle all the time for a fraction of the cost. Gone are the days when one has to think about the long-term financial investment of being in a book club, really.  Small groups of people could feasible decide to make the initial investment in an eReader and then form a book club that only reads the free books available.  It could happen – and I suspect, it will happen.  And frankly, it may be more rewarding to those members to go back and read “the classics” for free.  I know personally, I’m thoroughly enjoying reading the stories of H. Rider Haggard – to the point of addiction (I don’t know if he’d be considered classic or not, but my point is I’d never have read his stories without my Kindle – because I never would have thought to pay for them).

How can publishing companies compete?  What can they offer in a new addition of a classic Charles Dickens book that would make it worth buying at full price?

If french flaps, rough-cut high-quality paper, and complimentary front- and back-cover designs highlighting each novel and including foil and debossing are the only things that makes this book different than an eBook copy, then why spend $8.00 (Kindle) – $12.00 (Paperback) for books one can get free?  I think this is an especially valid question in today’s economy with so many people penny-pinching.  If I want some extra stuff, I can buy the same two stories with 300+ pages of historical materials on my Kindle for $0.99.  The complete, unabridged novel A Tale of Two Cities, with a critical introduction; the complete, unabridged novel Great Expectations, with a critical introduction; a complete biography of Charles Dickens by Frank Marzials; and a complete history of the French Revolution – for my money, this is a much better deal.

I constantly wonder what the future of the book publishing industry will look like. I go back and forth between “oh it will be fine, people will always buy books” and “the book as we know it is doomed.” I think today after reading this article, I’m in a borderline “books are doomed” mindset.  I’m sure it will change in the next few days, but I can’t help but wonder if future generations will not have the ability to experience the sensory (touch and smell specifically) joys of reading.  With the accessibility to have eReaders on all our personal devices, I can’t help but wonder if the next generation of kids will only hold books in their hands when they are in school and have to lug around those big heavy textbooks – or will they all just have eReaders loaded with their text books and any other additional reading.

What do you think the future of book publishing will look like? Will the big publishing companies survive? or will we have more small indie publishing companies that can publish at a fraction of the cost by never touching paper and ink?  And what do you think will happen to book stores?  How will they evolve?

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