Here we go…
Scott: There will still be printed books in the future. After all, you can still buy LPs and even have current hits put onto LPs. You can also buy buggy whips. However, once ebooks come into their own, having a printed version of an ebook will be viewed as a luxury and an oddity. It is all about economics. If there isn't enough demand, there won't be a supply. Additionally, some books will only come out in ebook format and the author and their agent won't even bother considering coming out with a printed version.
Robert: Scott and I agree on many things and we agree about e-books possibly coming into their own. In fact, I wrote a blog post about print publishing possibly being replaced by internet content of which e-books are a part, although I didn’t specifically mention them
Scott: As for Amazon stubbing their toe with ebooks, I've covered this before in Part Two.
Robert: I was referring to Jeff Bezos stubbing his toe when he chose to remove books that readers had paid for, then taking from their Kindle readers without notifying them he was going to do so. See: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/07/23/bezos-apologizes-for.html
Scott: As for major publishers surviving by somehow buying the electronic rights to ebooks, what? Ebook writers will be giving their ebooks away for free to get larger download numbers.
Robert: I agree that free sounds good. But disagree that free will always win the day. Many people have been burned by freebies, so they are liable to distrust things that are given away free. Behind FREE they perceive a gimmick. For example, nine out of ten computer users bitch about Microsoft’s operating system and have been complaining to high heaven since MS DOS (most of you probably don’t remember that). But there is a solution. It’s a completely free operating system called Ubuntu produced by Linux, see: http://www.linux.org/. The Linux operating system has been around for some time and because it’s FREE you’d think one would be on everyone’s machine. But not even 1% have changed over. Where Microsoft is a buggy, expensive and closed proprietary software system, meaning it’s copyrighted and users are blocked from decompiling the software and revising it, Ubuntu is open, meaning it’s not copyrighted and open to anyone who wants to improve it. However, Microsoft is still king. Why is that? I believe it's because free stuff makes people nervous. It’s perceived there’s something wrong with it, there’s some hidden charge or, in the case of free software, it's going to harm their machine. Isn't it human nature for folks to think that expensive is good and free is cheap crap. "If it's so good, then why are they be giving it away?" So the first thing that has to happen, in my opinion, for the free e-book system to work consistently is to somehow change the perception of FREE. There’s even a saying that you get what you pay for. By the way, giving away ebooks free isn’t a new idea, but there’s always been some gimmick tied to them. See: http://publishingtransformed.blogspot.com/2009/06/giving-it-away-when-free-e-book.
Scott: As for people being sick of advertising, like it or not, it is just part of life. It has been part of life of magazines for centuries. Been part of life on radio and TV for decades. Now if you want to talk about what people are really sick of, let us talk about the ever-increasing retail sticker prices of printed books.
Robert: I agree that books are expensive and the most expensive are hardcover books. We are by far the richest country in the world. Avid readers with money still buy hardcover books because they don't want ads in their reading material. I say this because of what's happened in television quite a while ago and more recently in radio. People who don't mind advertising view commercial television, which because must of it is hooked to cables is no longer free. The same with radio--commercials for some, but a vast number of listeners have switched to satellite radio, especially in their cars. I also envision packagers taking care the labor intensive parts of publishing in the near future and I see these packagers being based in India and China. If this vision is true, then packagers will hire writers and pay them on a work for hire basis. So we reach the first point of contention—will writers be willing to give up fat advances for work for hire contracts?
Scott: As for why ad agencies haven't done this already, you have to understand about the world of advertising. In the world of publishing, an average book sells 12,000 copies. That's just too small peanuts for most advertisers to consider. And unlike magazines, there's no certainty that average will be reached by a book. On top of this, inserting a full-color print ad into a printed book is expensive. However...
Robert: I disagree. I understand quite a bit about marketing books as I have to help my clients do that. I also understand that marketing departments run large publishing houses, from the CEOs, on down. So when you speak about the world of publishing, you've stepped into my world. In this world, you have to include Random House, Penguin Putnam, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins and Hachette (formally Warner). This is big publishing. When we speak of publishing in general, we are talking about 300,000 PRINTED titles produced a year—no small potatoes here when looking at some single titles that sell over a million copies their first print run. Most mega bookstores stock 80,000 titles on their shelves. As a side note, part of the economic problems encountered by most publishers these days is because mega-bookstores strip shelves every three months of books that didn’t sell and return them to publishers for a 100% refund. Bookstores increase their bottom line at publisher’s expense—not a good system. Just thought I’d throw that tidbit in. The problem as I see it that most publishers don’t see e-books as a threat. They don't see them producing the kinds of numbers mentioned above, that of millions of downloads--not in the near future at least. Maybe in twenty years or so. Ad agencies are well aware of these numbers. These numbers and the huge profits generated by publishing came to the notice of those European corporations who acquired publishers in the 1980s so you have to know that ad agencies have been aware of these huge profits for years. Wouldn’t this be an advertiser’s dream come true? How come they haven’t been taken advantage of it ? If this hasn’t been done in the past, then there must be a reason. Point of contention two--why haven't ad agencies seen the profit potential of ad based books?
Scott: With ebooks, things change and become more attractive for advertisers. Giving away the ebook for free will greatly increase its download numbers. In fact, charging people for ebooks will reduce how many see an advertiser's ad. That happens and advertisers will pay you less for the ads in your book. It is then to your profit advantage to give away your book so your download numbers are as large as possible so advertisers will pay you as much as possible. This is not possible with printed books but totally possibly with ebooks.
Robert: Before this can happen, you’ve got to convince some superstar writers like Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Danielle Steele, etc., to start writing e-books that are going to be given away. When authors of this caliber are talked into doing this, publishers will see the threat and I’ll be convinced this will work. Until then, I don’t see enough of a draw to get the volume that will convince large advertisers this is going threaten their existance. Nothing said so far convinces me this will work—nothing yet. If I can’t be convinced, how can big companies be talked into puting advertising dollars into free ad-based books?
Scott: Secondly, putting in a full-color ad in a printed book is expensive. It isn't in an ebook. There is no printing cost with an ebook.
Robert: I agree that full color e-books might be something to consider. This was thought to be a great idea for children’s picture books because it would cut out the huge printing costs. However, the idea didn’t fly because parents, if they wanted a hard copy, still had to print them and the expense was just trickled down to them. So this idea never took off. As far as color ads, the same problem exists as to how to get readers to want free e-books in the first place. As stated in the paragraph above, the problem of getting quality authors to buy into this is where this whole theory falls apart. Solve that and this might have merit. Writers, writers who are good enough to demand good advances from standard print publishing houses, don’t have to resort to ad-based, free e-books to make a buck. They do okay the old fashioned way. Convince good authors first to give up their print publishing contracts in lieu of a possible work for hire one and you’ve made some headway. Or convince them that they aren’t going to get paid until you sell some advertising and then they might not get paid until you get enough of their books out there somewhere down the road so that advertisers will pay for content advertising. In the meantime, when you put content ads in books, the author has to be very careful as to how trademarked and brand names are used. Using them wrong can land the author in court. There are some very good hints online as to how to do this, but I have to say that use of brand names and trademarks are highly restrictive. Also, small publishers can get away with no advances because they aren’t getting top-notch authors. See what the RWA has to say about publishers who don’t pay at least a $1000 advance. Also check with the Author’s Guild on that too.
Scott: And why this hasn't been done yet is simply this is all still new. The internet is new. Less than twenty years old. We are still getting used to it. We are still experimenting with it. We have yet to tap its full potential. Ebooks is the newest wrinkle of the internet. Ebooks haven't even take its baby steps yet. Read up on the history of print and you'll see it took a VERY long time for print to become a success. Cut ebooks some slack.
Robert: As I’ve said before, e-books supposedly were going to put print publishers out of business ten years ago. It hasn’t happened and I don’t see it happening in the near future. Yes, the book replaced the scroll…eventually. But it didn’t happen overnight. Actually, when you get right down to it, books, because they're advertisement free are cheap. Yes the price would come down if ads where placed in them, but would readers rebel? By the way, books used to be much more expensive than they are now. I fact less than a hundred years ago, you couldn't afford a book unless you were rich. So things have improved, not gotten worse. There’s a great story as to how New American Library (NAL) came into existence and put books into the hands of average people.
Scott: As for editorial review, advertisers will not put their ads into just anything that comes along. They'll be selective. None ... not even Microsoft ... has an unlimited advertising budget. They have to pick and choose where they spend their ad dollars. If you're a writer (or an agent representing a writer), your sales pitch to advertisers or the ad firms representing them will be partly about how great of a writer you are (or represent). And advertising executives won't just take your word for it. They'll read the book (or have one of their underlings do so), they'll want to see what critics say about the writer, what other successful writers say about the writer (and/or the book in question), and so forth. It will be just as hard ... if not harder ... for a new writer to get sponsorship as it is today to be published. On the bright side, writers can seek smaller sponsors initially and build up to the Coca-Colas, Exxon, and such of the world.
Robert: My question is what exactly is in this for the new writer, whose biggest complaint is that he or she can’t get in because the system is stacked against new writers? Isn’t this proposed system supposed to let everyone in? What’s being advocated above seems to me to just be a swap of one set of gate-keepers for another. I don’t see the big switch here. Also, I see large overhead in hiring acquisition editors, copy editors and a publisher to get the publishing part accomplished. Someone has to filter stuff that's going to turn those readers off who might tolerate ads in their books, even if they are free. I see the cost of this being a barrier to free e-books, so this is another problem area, as I see it anyway.
Just because you go to an e-book format doesn’t mean that you do away with publishers. The only difference between a print and e-book one is paper and binding. There’s still a cover artist involved. The books are set up so e-readers can read them and very expensive software is involved in the whole process. One big savings is that you do cut out distribution costs if books are given away, but there has to be some sort of storage and downloading capability no matter which way the author goes—another cost. So publishing wouldn’t be dead, it would just be transformed, so to speak. Whether you put ads in books and give them away, books still have to be published.
Scott: As for the "large" area that you (Robert) disagree with me being about the future role of agents, I don't have a clue what you're disagreeing with. I've read that paragraph over a few times and still don't see it.
Robert: You’re right, Scott. I did kind of go off on a wild tangent after I said that there was a large area of disagreement as to the future role of agents. What I was trying to express is that the role we now have is actually new and not the role literary agents originally played, which was being contract experts and going head to head with lawyers that publishers hired to write very complex contracts. I love contracts and I love negotiating them, but I also love books. I’m in awe of authors—the real ones—the ones who write books that are marketable. They are my heroes. So if books aren’t in the mix in the new agent’s role, I will no longer be a literary agent. I’m not interested in anything that doesn’t involve books and authors. I don’t want to interest ad companies to invest in putting their ads in books. I don’t like advertising and have no desire to be retrained to do this. I doubt that any agents would be interested in this new world. One big drawback that I see is that large literary agencies make large amounts of money. For instance, Stephenie Meyer’s agent made tons of money in the last few years. Could she, Stephenie’s agent, be convinced that your idea would pay her as much?
I also wouldn’t want to be part of trying to convince good authors that they should morph into ad-generated or work for hire instead of royalty-based paychecks. I’m a pretty good salesman, but I’m not that good. For another, I have to believe in the product that I’m selling before I can convince others to buy it, and, as you can see, I don’t believe strongly enough in this theory to buy into it, but I’m still open to being convinced.