The eBook/Paper Book Conspiracy?

The eBook/Paper Book Conspiracy?

It’s human nature to get very focused on our personal niche areas of expertise. After a while, you become the proverbial hammer, and everything starts looking like a nail. I admit to having fallen into that trap before, and I fear Rich Adin fell into a similar trap with his latest column, “Is This The Next Sneak Attack on eBookers?”

Basically, Rich’s issue is as follows (courtesy Teleread):

I have enjoyed the “Safehold Series” of books by David Weber. Because Weber is one of my favorite authors, I buy his books in hardcover so I can read them and add them to my permanent library. A week ago, the fifth book in the series, How Firm a Foundation, was released. I had preordered it in hardcover and eagerly awaited its arrival.

It arrived and I put down my Sony 950 Reader to take up Weber’s book. That lasted a whole five minutes and two pages. The publisher chose a font size that was so small I could barely read the text. For my eyes to read the text, I needed a magnifying lens. This is the first time this has happened; I don’t know whether my eyes suddenly got worse (not likely based on the lack of problem I have with any other pbook I own) or the font size was deliberately smaller than usual in an attempt to keep production costs down.

Now I was in a quandary. Do I struggle to read the book? Do I put the book aside and simply not bother to read it? Do I break down and buy the ebook version, thereby doubling my cost because the book is published by TOR, an Agency 6 imprint? I struggled with these choices for about 30 minutes and ultimately settled on the third choice. The ebook cost $1 less than the hardcover, which was significantly discounted, so I effectively doubled what I paid to read this book.

Now, Rich’s thesis is that this is a subtle way for TOR to push buyers to the ebook instead. Not that Rich needs reading glasses, or that it was simply a cost-cutting measure to keep the page count low, but that it was a conspiracy to push ebook sales. It’s a theory that just doesn’t hold water for a number of reasons. One, it assumes publishers would go through the sunk cost of publishing a hardcover just so people would see it and have the incentive to grab the ebook. Two, it assumes that consumers specifically go through the trouble of getting their hands on the physical book, only to then make the decision to buy the ebook instead. That assumes someone orders from Amazon or treks to their local bookstore, then changes their mind. I’m sure it happens, but I doubt it’s the main shopping pattern of the average consumer. Three, it assumes that there’s a great deal of overlap between ebook-using readers and hardcover-buying readers. Aside from Rich, who admitted he likes to have the hardcovers of this series, you’re more likely to see someone committed to one or the other, unless the ebook version was being held back for later release.

But let’s say that Rich is right about publishers wanting to drive more consumers to ebooks. There are far more direct ways to do this. Releasing the ebook ahead of the hardcover certainly would help drive word of mouth and give more perceived value to the ebook over the paper version. And with the increased sales of ebooks, why not just send more books straight to paperback and ebook? Hardcovers cost more to produce and command a higher list price, but if they’re not generating sales then move on! Both of these are reasonable ways to drive ebook sales over paper book ones without cutting prices or rewarding a specific bookstore, but it’s much more fun to imagine that instead publishers are targeting very, very, specific consumers and driving them to ebooks with font choices.

As a tangent, I do think adjustable fonts play a very big part in driving ebook adoption. Large print books are usually thick, expensive, and most bookstores have poor selections. Plus you have to admit to your friends that you’re reading large print titles! With today’s ebook readers you can adjust the font size to accommodate whatever is comfortable for your eyesight, and no one has to know if you’re reading words that are

this size


this size!

All joking aside, I think Rich did have a good point; publishers are groping to find their way, and eventually, they will turn to ebooks as the preferred sales format. But when they do, we’ll know it, not because the printed word gets tiny but because there will be marketing and sales incentives!

What’s your take on this argument? Share your thoughts below!

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About the Author

Zek has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to their first PDA (a Palm M100). They quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. They love writing about ebooks because they combine their two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?