A couple of days ago, I made a recommendation for a book and one of our readers, Anji, asked whether it was in ebook form. It is not. Penguin is not ready to release all of its books in ebook format and when it does release the books in ebook format, the price is punitive (meaning it punishes the ebook reader for preferring one format over the other).
It was suggested to Miki, another reader, that the reason for the higher pricing or even the lackadaisical attitude toward ebook releases was the fear that the ebook sales would cannibalize paper sales thus decreasing a writer's chance of getting on the bestseller lists. This is in concert with what a publishing insider told me a while back. The major lists such as New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and even Bookscan, do not take into account ebook sales. This provides a huge deterrent to authors and publishers to provide readers with a same release day, reasonably priced ebook.
I would argue that sales strategies that are employed by Penguin and other companies actually serve to encourage piracy instead of deter it. Publishers like Harlequin and Simon & Schuster take a different strategy.
Simon & Schuster has an early release program in which one or two books are put out in ebook format approximately three weeks before the print release date. This month's early release is Kresley Cole's Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night ($3.89). The concern over ebook sales eating into Cole's bestseller status must be outweighed, in S&S's mind, by the chance for early buzz. The best part of the Simon & Schuster program is that its books are 35% off. They used to be 40% off but sometime in the past year, changed to 35% off. The discount generally means that every romance book sold by Simon & Schuster is under $4.00. It makes it easy to take a chance on an author or buy e copies of print books I already own.
Harlequin releases every single book it publishes in ebook format. The prices are 10% at the e Harlequin site but are often found cheaper at places like Books on Board and Fictionwise. It also has an early release program for every one of its series books from the Harlequin Historicals that Jayne likes to the Silhouette Special Editions that I like. All the series books are available one month in advance, but only at the Harlequin site, as far as I can tell. Harlequin hedges its bets, though, by not including its single title mass markets in the early release program.
HarperCollins toyed with the early release a while back for one book, if I recall, but it hasn't offered a program like that in recent memory. Most Avon romances are offered in e-format but the digital program is not pervasive. I.e., EOS books, the science fiction/fantasy imprint for HC, does not offer its full release schedule in e-format. Lois McMaster Bujold's The Sharing Knife: Volume One was not immediately available in e-form but The Sharing Knife: Volume Two is, but at a punitive price.
If the reluctance to release digital versions of print books is due to the fear of e sales reducing the numbers of print sales and thereby harming an author's chance for placement on the bestseller list, it makes sense for authors, publishers and advocacy groups for the publishing industry to push for e-sales recognition. A sale is a sale is a sale and should be recognized as such.
According to reports from the Frankfurter Book Fair, the world's largest book fair, 44% of industry professionals believe that digital publishing was a “key growth” area. Digital publishing is taking place right now though from small, independent e presses like The Wild Rose Press, Amber Quill Press, Drollerie Press, and Samhain to large, established e presses like Harlequin and Simon & Schuster. Why not recognize those sales now instead of five years from now. The industry should stand up for themselves because "e" does not mean inferior.