Publishers and ebooks - slight return

I spent my last post looking at Publishers, ebooks and what successful strategies could be used to make money. I want to return to that briefly, as I’ve just read in the Sunday Times that two publishers have got it completely wrong.

Random House and Hachette, which together control just over 30% of the British book market, are to offer downloadable versions of titles by authors ranging from Delia Smith to Ian McEwan and Michael Parkinson. Every other major publisher is drawing up plans to follow suit, pitching the books at just below the price of a hardback.

The bold emphasis is mine – to highlight the catastrophic error of history repeating itself (when the recording industry finally started trying to sell MP3s online, greed got the better of them too. They priced the files far too high. Now, their profits devastated by their rapacious pricing strategy, they’ve been forced to accept more realistic—i.e. much lower—prices).  Let’s make this clear: you’ve only got a viable business strategy if your ebook version costs less than your paperback version.

Another alarm bell rings when Fionnuala Duggan, head of the digital division at Random House, makes a passing comment:

“We hope that there will be inter-operability,” said Duggan, “in other words, that the ebook will work on any device.”

It’s simple, Ms Duggan: don’t release them in proprietary ebook formats and/or shackle them with DRM.

A PDF with a simple digital watermarking system (to be able to trace any “pirated” copy of an ebook to its “pirate”) is enough to fulfil all your requirements. You will only have inter-operability problems if you choose a proprietary ebook format and/or DRM.