The Real Truth about Ebook Purchasing

July 17, 2012

How many books are on your “to read” list right now? 10? 20? More? The real truth about ebook purchasing—really about any content acquisition these days—is that we are so overwhelmed by choices that our to-be-experienced list is already quite overwhelmed. That doesn’t even take into account the revisiting of older content! So when publishers threaten to withhold ebook versions of new releases for a few months, who is it really hurting?

Joe Wikert, currently publisher at O’Reilly Media (with former executive experience at Wiley and Macmillan) shared his thoughts on the issue in a blog post yesterday that asked if you can force a customer to buy print instead of ebooks. Short answer? Maybe for bestsellers, but not otherwise. And the real reason for this shows up in the first comment: “As an avid (over 100 books a year) reader: If a book I want isn’t available in ebook format, and for a reasonable price, then I’ll just leave it on my TBR list until it is, and go on to reading all the other books on my list.”

I do not own a TV, and haven’t had that or cable TV service for a number of years now. And yet I don’t lack for content. Between Hulu for current shows (with a slight delay) and Netflix for a vast back catalog of movies and TV, my visual media needs are well met. Hollywood had better come out with a really good flick to get me into a movie theater for a first run viewing. Otherwise, I am more than happy to wait and rent it from iTunes. The same goes for books.

Not only do I have a rather large list of work and pleasure reading already lined up, there are the old favorites that I automatically loaded onto my reader (because duh . . . it has umpteen gigabytes of storage). Call it windowing, or call it the embargo it really is, if a publisher wants to delay my access to a book, what they really better be hoping is that I will still want it when they finally say it is okay for me to have it. In the same way that Hollywood better hope that I remember about their latest release in the brief rental window they allow via iTunes.

Frankly, it isn’t like my choices are all that limited. The real fight is to capture my attention long enough that I actually execute the purchase or place the hold at a library. Case in point: I received a print ARC of Ready Player One, but I handed it off to a colleague I though would really appreciate it. I guess he did, because I never got it back. Subsequently, it fell off my radar just enough that I never reacquired it. Yesterday, it popped back into my mind when I saw a blog posting about it winning an award. Random House shouldn’t be worrying about how many times extra to charge a library or whether or not to use a delayed release . . . they had better just hope I even remember their book exists!