I recently read the book “Too Big to Fail“. In it, there’s a discussion of the treasury department’s “Break the Glass” plan. Essentially, they had a few analysts put together a “what if the whole world melted down at once” thought experiment, so they could be prepared for the very worst case scenario. As it turns out, they used that paper as a very loose blueprint for many of the actions taken in the latter half of 2008. I sincerely hope the publishing industry has a similar plan in place because it’s looking like they might need it.
“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” came out last week, and a whopping 29.4% of sales came from ebook sales. This is the much-anticipated third in a trilogy, and the first two books are available in ebook form, which no doubt helped the momentum. Still, this is a huge chunk of sales to go to ebooks right out of the gate.
This is hands down the most compelling reason yet to abandon the “windowing” practice many publishers are trying. It doesn’t make sense to try to squeeze an extra handful of hardcover sales out of the few people who can’t wait for the ebook version. That slight gain is offset by annoying ebook readers, who are just as likely to hold off or buy another book instead of running out to buy a hardcover. And it’s only going to get worse with more iPads, ebook readers and smartphone apps out there.
If publishers don’t have a “break the glass” plan, they need one STAT. A 30% cut to ebooks is pretty hefty, and they can’t wait until it’s a 50% or 75% cut to start planning for it. Accept that the business model is changing, and rather than fighting it, innovate within it. Otherwise, Amazon, B&N and other self-publishing and non-traditional publishers are going to steal more authors and more market share.
Incidentally, the one place there weren’t any sales of “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” is in iBooks, due to Apple’s insistence on agency or bust. Somehow, I don’t think Random House is terribly upset!