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Publisher Experiments I’d Like to See

In the past two weeks, we’ve seen two publishers engage in some experimental changes in the way they sell digital books. Sourcebooks launched a DRM free subscription site and TOR/FORGE announced it would be selling DRM free digital books beginning this summer. Traditional publishers have been quietly moving toward digital first programs for a couple of years beginning with Harlequin’s launch of Carina Press, a digital first, DRM free romance book publisher. These days, particularly in the romance sector, publishers are dipping their toes into the digital pool. Nearly every major traditional publisher either has a digital first arm or is developing one: Harlequin’s Carina Press; Avon Impulse; Forever ; Penguin’s Intermixx; Random House’s Loveswept; and Pocket. St. Martn’s Press has released a few digital only novellas.

With digital book adoption moving forward quickly, however, the publishers need to be a bit braver and a bit more experimental. Here are three things I’d like to see publishers give a try:

1. Differing types of subscription offerings. Every other entertainment media offers a subscription option, from video games to movies. An annual subscription guarantees a certain level of sales a year. Differing levels of subscriptions offers differing access. I’ve had a gold membership, the lowest level, at Audible for about three years. It was a great way to access one book a month. Often I wouldn’t buy a book and I banked my credits. Recently, however, I have begun listening to more audiobooks and I found that the best value was to up my subscription level to platinum. Now I get two books a month and I’ve committed to buying two books a month at the discount for an annual commitment. I’m a sure thing for Audible.

Publishers with extensive backlists could offer subscription access for a reduced price to introduce readers to old classics that would lead to new purchases that are outside the subscription plan. A large house like Penguin or Random House could offer genre specific subscriptions: romantic suspense; contemporary; historical; fantasy. Access to multiple genres could be added at a reduced cost to the reader. A print piece could be generated at the end of the year as a collection item (and could be offered for increase cost).

2. Best of Bundles. I’m not a huge fan of how bundles are sold these days. It’s one huge file and it’s hard to keep track of on an electronic device, but I think the concept of bundling (if the mechanics of the bundle could be worked out) would be a great way to introduce readers to new series.

I’ve always liked the idea of offering first three “In Death” books by JD Robb at a “Introductory Price” of $5.00 for a three week period leading up to her next release with a 40% off coupon for the new release (it’s a hardcover) bought directly from Penguin.

How about trying to partner with other publishers. I.e., do cross promotions. Jayne Ann Krentz is with Penguin now, but many of her backlist titles are with Random House. The two publishers could work together to do cross promotions to sell her backlist and move her front list titles.

3. Pay for Early Access. Baen pioneered the selling of early access to a book at a higher price and many readers enjoy it. Instead of letting eBay sellers reap the benefits of an ARC sale, why not pass the early sales onto the author and reap a profit through an early ARC digital release program. You could price the early releases at a 50% premium mark up. (I would include a note as to why they are more expensive, i.e., they are being allowed into the wild early). Sell readers on the idea that this early ARC release is really a privilege, a luxury and hence why they have to pay more for it.

Harlequin and digital first publisher, Samhain, offers once month early access at a reduction if bought directly. As a result, many books are sold directly from the Harlequin site wherein Harlequin absorbs the entire profit.

Digital formats allow for greater experimentation and I hope publishers start taking advantage of the mutability of digital files and the ease of access to the market. Barriers have come down for authors selling direct to readers but those same fallen barriers increase opportunity to repackage existing content in new ways to meet differing reader demand.

(Some of the ideas here are reprinted from my 2009 article on digital publishing)

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

21 Comments

  1. jmc
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 07:53:56

    I’ve always wondered why more publishers didn’t follow the Baen model. There are a fair number of books that I would pay a premium on top of regular cover price in order to have them earlier.

  2. Janet W
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 08:24:09

    Another oldie but goodie — authors could offer lending privileges. Here’s an example: Josh Lanyon publishes with a couple different publishers, one permits lending and the other doesn’t. When, AFTER being lent one of his books from a friend, I went to buy a book from him, I choose the publisher that allowed lending. Not allowing lending doesn’t get as much bad press as Agency Pricing but I think it should.

  3. Ruthie Knox
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 09:39:11

    @jmc: I wonder if it has to do with publication date? Most genre fiction sales with the NY publishers occur in the first several weeks of publication, and one reason to push preorders is so that first week sales are high enough to shove a book up the best-seller charts. If people are “allowed” to buy a book at a higher price, that book is on sale — and that means first week sales may be limited by the higher price.

    Digital publishing can and does shake up a lot of the traditional ways of doing things, but it’s still the case that just getting on a best-seller list — Amazon or B&N top 10, or USA Today or NYT top 100 — sells boatloads of books. I would imagine publishers are reluctant to do anything to jeopardize that.

  4. Statch
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 09:49:35

    I would rather see a subscription model from the book retailers, so that it cuts across publisher lines. For example, Amazon could offer a subscription service with different levels, similar to Audible. The reader would get broader access, the publishers would not have to manage the service, and they would get a cut from what Amazon makes. I’m an Amazon Prime member now, and have used their lending service a couple of times, but would be willing to pay extra if it included books from the big publishers.

  5. jmc
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 09:57:10

    @Ruthie Knox: Oh, there’s no doubt in my mind that one of the reasons early purchases/sales aren’t done is the concern about first week sales, especially in context of numbers needed in the first week in order to make the NYT. Authors often complain of pre-street date sales hurting their chances of making the list and the Baen model presumably carries that same risk.

    But that’s a little short-sighted IMO. Has Baen’s business been damaged by it? It doesn’t seem so. And presumably the early readers create a certain amount of buzz that creates sales during the “regular” first week after drop.

  6. LG
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 10:21:56

    @Statch: Same here. I don’t want a subscription limited to a single publisher, the same way I don’t buy all my books from any one publisher.

  7. Ruthie
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 10:28:49

    @jmc: But what I wondered was if there really would be a “regular” first week, for an e-first publisher that followed the Baen model. Surely an e-book’s on sale when it’s on sale, as far as the best-seller lists are concerned? I wouldn’t think the publishers could get away with saying “The pub date is April 6, but we’re going to go ahead and sell these higher-priced copies on March 21. But it’s not on sale yet. Not really.” Could they? Maybe I’m thinking too hard. :)

  8. Estara
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 13:38:37

    On the BAEN note I would like to point out to interested parties that the newest Sharone Lee & Steve Miller Liaden Universe novel, Dragon Ship, is now available as unproofed e-ARC at BAEN.

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  10. Darlynne
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 16:28:04

    Besides no DRM, no geographical restrictions and open platforms–although, yay, Calibre–I wish lending were easy or even truly possible. I love the idea of being able to send books–more than one and for more than 10 days or whatever the current limit is–from my wifi ereader or desktop account directly to my sister’s or my friend’s. That the same book would be locked out on my reader is perfectly fine. If it’s locked out until my sister returns it? Also fine. This is how we’ve always rolled with print books.

    Bravo to the publishers who are waking up to the brave new world. At least we’re seeing a shift in out-dated thinking.

  11. Thomas P.
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 20:56:31

    Actually Baen has found that the sorts of folks that pay extra for the unproofed eARC will usually go on to buy the final proofed ebook when they come out and often the Hardback book as well to put on the shelf with the rest of the series. They are also a great way to start “buzz” about a title a few months before the edited release of the ebook and dead tree formats.

    For example the eARC of A Rising Thunder by David Weber was released in November 2011 as I recall. The finished eBook was released on February 15th 2012. The Hardback was released on March 1st 2012 and was #3 on the NY Times Hardcover Fiction list (They don’t count Baen’s ebook sales since Baen only sells through it’s own storefront so the placement on the combined ebook-hardcover list was much lower). Does that sound like it cut into 1st week sales?

  12. Kaetrin
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 21:51:19

    I love the idea of subscriptions. I even signed up for the Sourcebooks one but then the first book I wanted was geo restricted and the response when I tweeted Sourcebooks was “we’ll give you a refund on your subscription” (which I don’t have yet BTW) – I took that to mean that access to books on their subscription plan was going to be very restricted and therefore, they didn’t think their subscription programme would work for me.

    Until geo restrictions are sorted out, subscription plans are going to be problematic for many and this will affect the take up rate outside the US I’d think.

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  14. Mikaela
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 03:38:06

    I would love to see something similiar to Discover a new love for Fantasy and Mystery. That said, right now I am putting my hopes to Afictionado. Beeing able to borrow books by authors I am curious about , and then purchase them DRM-free and at a discount would be really nice. ( Note: This is just a me daydreaming.)

  15. dphilblack
    May 01, 2012 @ 06:10:32

    The not lending option with Amazon UK is killing me!! Not sure how it is in the US but we can’t borrow from libraries e-books either (yet… I’m hopeful).
    This is hugely unprofitable – if I lend my friend a book from an author I like, she ends up getting into it and buying books for herself. It’s bonkers not to open it up and I hate that publishers are really nervous about it (okay, okay piracy etc etc but most reader pay). Follow the BBC/itune temporary downloading model. You borrow a book, it’s available for 30 days and then it expires. I’d happily pay for that. Why wont the book market (libraries, publishers, authors)get along to do it? Everyone wins!
    Another thing is the discrepancy between whats available in other countries, so the books avaiable for the Kindle in the US is huge compared to what we get in the UK. Considering I can pick up a paperback on Amazon marketplace from the US for about £2-3 pounds and to hell with copyright, you can have wonder what the point is?
    Grrr… just venting! But I do love my kindle :-)

  16. dphilblack
    May 01, 2012 @ 06:11:59

    @Darlynne:
    So with you on this!!!

  17. Walt Boyes
    May 01, 2012 @ 09:52:15

    @Ruthie: I think you are thinking too hard. Baen’s model, which has been in place since 1998 or 1999 (!!!!) goes like this.

    If you are dying to read the book, they’ll sell you the electronic ARC shortly after the author turns in the book, for a fair sum.

    Then, the ebook (all edited and polished) goes on sale at an astonishingly low price, one month before the paper version does, AND in the preceding months, you can sign up to read the first 25%, the first 50%, the first 75% of the book, until the entire book is posted. The ebook is DRM-free and available in many formats, including, believe it or not, RTF. I know of at least one person who formats the RTF version of the eARC into a print formulation and prints and binds it.

    Baen has more than a decade of data that indicates this model actually drives up both ebook and print book sales and it drives Amazon rankings.

    I am a little surprised that the original article didn’t mention this. Baen’s data is conclusive.

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