Part 1: What New York Publishers Are Doing Right with Ebooks

First let me start out with the news of Random House’s ebookstore closing. If you didn’t catch the “news” feature last week, Keishon emailed me that she noticed that Random House was telling people to download their books because contentlinkinc.com was closing. I emailed Kelley Allen, Director of New Media at Random House, about the closing. He replied with this message

Hello Jane,

Thank you for your interest in ContentLinkInc.com. On November 30th 2006, our eBook store will close.

Please note that Random House Inc., strongly believes in eBooks and will continue to publish both our frontlist and backlist titles. Our titles are and will continue to be available at most eBook retailers.

If you have previously purchased a title from ContentLink, please archive the eBook file onto your computer before November 30th or you will lose access after the shutdown of the store.

Sincerely,

Kelley Allen
Director of New Media

On the one hand, I thought the contentlink store was crappy. It never had the “new books” featured on its home page. It was hard to tell what books were new additions and what were not. On the other hand there were often books there that were no where else for sale on the net. Hopefully that will change overtime. David Rothman wondered if it signaled some softness in the ebook market or whether it was just a business model wrinkle.

It does make one wary, though, of buying ebooks because of their transitory nature. I would be less sanguine if I haven’t taken steps to protect myself. As Rothman noted, you don’t have to be worried about your paper purchases if the local Borders closes its doors.

So, in spite of that, what are publishers doing right? First off, they are releasing their books in an eformat. This is key because not all books are being released in eformat so that means you have to convert it to eformat yourself (and the legalities of this is still iffy) or obtain an illegally eformatted copy and truly most people do not want to go there. Most people want to buy their music, books, movies legally. Steve Jobs believes it. I believe it.

Second I think that there are two major publishers who deserve recognition for doing something right in the ebook marketplace:

Simon&Schuster does two things for ebook readers. It prices all of its ebooks at 40% off. This takes away the sting of the ability to resell, trade or swap ebooks and lessens the burn of losing your books in a harddrive malfunction or some other such digital catastrophe. The second thing it does is release one or more books a month as an early release – before the paper version is in the stores.

HarperCollins isn’t pricing its ebooks as favorably as Simon & Schuster and it isn’t releasing its ebooks weeks in advance but it has put out more romance ebooks than any other major publisher. According to Jane Friedman, HarperCOllins has digitized over 12,000 of its backlist titles. I know every month a different Avon author sees the digital release of her backlist. This is great for readers like me who want their entire book collection reduced from paper to bytes. Avon also does a great job of releasing its new titles in ebook format. There are few romance books that are published by Avon that are not also in ebook format.

Unfortunately, that’s it for what I think major publishers are doing right in the ebook area. What do you readers think?

Next week: What new york publishers are doing wrong with ebooks

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0 comments on “Part 1: What New York Publishers Are Doing Right with Ebooks

  1. Well, I must agree with you that contentlink’s webpage sucked. But I knew how to navigate it. I shouldn’t have to pick a category and select “date published” to find new books but it worked for me. Plus, their pricing especially for hardbacks was cheaper than Fictionwise. Some titles were not available anywhere else and that is what makes me mad that they’re closing. I find Simon & Schuster hard to navigate as well. The webpage takes a long time to download for me, their new books aren’t properly displayed either especially on the day it’s released. New books are nowhere to be found. Case in point: Stephen King’s new book , Lisey, wasn’t found on the new releases page the day it was released. I find that despite the price being “right” it’s frustrating having to “find” these new books. I wonder if it’s purposely done so that you have to buy the paper for sales (NY times list). Do ebook sales count to be on national lists? I don’t know.

    However, what’s troubling for me is that I must get into the practice archiving my books and backing them up. Another question for contentlink is that: are you informing people that your bookstore is closing? Those who have accounts and such? I didn’t receive an email. I just think that if I hadn’t visited their site every Tuesday, I’d have missed out on about 10 ebooks that I’d purchased and not really archived.

    Sorry to be long-winded. Back to my book. I did buy Darkfever from Powells (who I will be haunting in place of Contentlink.)

  2. I’m glad you started with “What publisher’s are doing right” because there seem to be problems even here. You were able to put together a longer list of “what publishers are doing right with ebooks” than I would have.

    I’d rather buy most books in ebook format. Although I respect that publishers want some form of DRM, I’d like to buy ebooks in a format that I will still be able to read in 5 years. I believe that ebook prices should be less than paper; I’m particularly annoyed when the paperback version of a book is out but the ebook is still selling at hardcover prices.

    I look forward to your article on what publishers are doing wrong.

  3. What a short list. This is why I don’t buy ebooks. I want to be able to read my books 10 years from now (well…the keepers…you know how it is). I don’t want to worry about the format being obsolete or the store going out of business impacting my enjoyment of something I paid for already.

  4. I don’t want to worry about the format being obsolete or the store going out of business impacting my enjoyment of something I paid for already.

    I’m right there with those frustrated with DRM and ebook formats.

    I would suggest, though, that we consider that having the ability to re-download books we’ve bought is a benefit of ebooks over print. If you buy a print book, and drop it in a mud-puddle or just read it until it falls apart, you can’t go back to the bookstore for a free replacement.

    A lot of the independent (non-New York) ebook publishers don’t offer “bookshelves” and claim to be unwilling to replace books because of computer failure. (Some will work with you, despite their website’s stated policies, though).

    When I first started buying ebooks, I bought quite a few from Simon&Schuster’s website. Then they stopped selling eReader format books and deleted the bookshelves for those of us that bought that format. However, they did send emails out so we could re-download copies, if we wanted to. So I did. And I backed them up. A few times.

    I was frustrated, yes, and I’ll admit that I’ve hesitated going back to the S&S website, even though they carry eReader format again.

  5. Keishon – you have a good point. An email should have been sent to all contentlinkinc customers. I wouldn’t have known about it if you hadn’t emailed me.

    LinM – the pricing is seriously out of whack and I agree with you re: the ebook selling at hardcover price when the paperback book is out.

    Angelle – yes, it is a short list. being an ebook reader these days does take some type of committment.

    MikiS – DRM is a big problem particularly when these vendors are going in and out of business in the space of a nanosecond. My list of what they aren’t doing right is so much longer.

  6. Oh, I just thought of something else that’s right about ebooks, although you can’t really credit it to New York publishers. It’s the ability to find an author’s backlist long after the books have been published.

    I can’t say how many times I’ve found a new-to-me, but not new-to-everyone-else author and tried to find some of their more recent backlist at the brick-and-mortor bookstore. Unless they’re bestsellers, it doesn’t happen (and not always then, either).

  7. I started reading ebooks in the mid 1990’s, when only techie/science fiction types seemed to be doing much in the mainline ebook world. Compared to those days, I am very happy to see even a few publishers realize that they can put out their ebooks b\efore the print version. Usually, I am left wondering when & if the mainstream publishers will get around to adding a digital version.

    I love ebooks. Sure, I have backups of my backups, but once I realized I was responsible – not the ebook store – for making sure I could find a book again to reread: I have my external hard drive for backups, and an SD card, and the 2 GB card which I acutally use with my ebook reader. Oh – and my laptop, on which i download in the first place.

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