By offering consumers a low cost digital product, the economics of ebooks create a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle. The low price expands the available market by making it affordable to more consumers; low production and distribution expenses allow the publisher to earn a healthy margin; and the larger addressable market allows publishers to sell more units at greater profit margins.
Mark Coker, Why We Need $4.00 Books
One of the problems with the new media business model of trading exposure for content and attempting to monetize the eyeballs (a la The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Geek Dad, etc; all a variation on the B2B editorial model, but with even more of a self-promotional angle) is that it makes the content suspect. Without a firm editorial vision, the result is typically a mish-mash of shallow opinion and punditry, with the occasional gem slipping through.
In his first essay for The Huffington Post‘s new Books section, Smashwords founder Mark Coker offers a half-hearted op-ed on ebook pricing, taking the narrow position that print books are too expensive for many consumers, especially those in developing economies, and that $4 ebooks are the mass-market paperback of the future.
Of course, there’s not a single mention of the prohibitive costs of eReaders, smartphones and their expensive data plans, or broadband Internet access. It’s a classic case of willfully ignoring the forest for the trees.
As a counterpoint, HuffPo also published author Jason Pinter’s “Why the Digital Revolution is Missing the Big Picture“, taking on the misguided marketing of eReaders to people who already read:
By marketing the Kindle to people like me — i.e. ‘adults’ who already read regularly and don’t need to be sold on how great books are– publishing is merely doubling down on the biggest problem facing the industry: not enough people read books. Right now, e-readers are being touted as an alternative to paper. Big mistake. E-readers should be promoted as a cool option for non readers or hesitant readers. Instead, those readers are stunningly being ignored.
It’s a strong piece, and while both Coker and Pinter are obviously writing for HuffPo to raise their profiles and sell more of their stuff — freemium in effect, and absolutely nothing wrong that — Pinter’s contribution actually adds something of value to the discussion (and doesn’t try to take some faux moral high ground), whereas Coker’s feels more like self-serving filler.
Much like the ad-supported print magazines that have been shuttered over the past few years, when the emphasis is on page views and ad impressions, content becomes a commodity and the editorial focus becomes fuzzy. As a result, the brand not only faces a credibility problem, but its long-term viability is challenged as commodities are more easily challenged by competitors and there’s no shortage of contributors willing to offer up free content if it gets them a broader audience.