We hope that not only you will enjoy this piece, but you'll also take part in the discussion we hope to generate following this post. If you need further incentive check out the giveaway at the bottom of the post :)
A New Business Model for the Book Publishing Business
by Justin Locke
The Internet has been viewed by many in the book business as merely a glorified sales brochure and order form, but this is "horseless carriage" thinking. The way it is being used by the major used book resellers (i.e., Amazon and Half.com) has fundamentally changed the environment of the book business, in very much in the same way that television and VCR's changed the movie business, and radio and recordings changed the music business.
For those of you who don't remember, when television came along, Hollywood viewed it entirely as a threat. The big movie studios nearly went broke, as up to then they only made money selling tickets in theaters. But after a while, they figured out how to do a new business model and take advantage of this new medium. Now, big Hollywood movies make most of their money, not from theatrical releases, but from television and DVD sales.
Something similar happened in the music business. Before recordings and radio, orchestras had a simple business model: if you wanted to hear a concert, you had to buy a ticket. But when recordings and radio came along, the musicians' union negotiated to put various fees in place so that musicians would get additional payments for "electronic transcriptions."
Composers of music have similar "re-use" payments structures under what is known as ASCAP. When an orchestra plays a piece that is under copyright, a payment is automatically made to the composer. Same thing if their music is played on the radio or TV. Every time you hear a golden oldie in an elevator, a little payment gets made to the owner of that original song. It might only be .2 cents, but it adds up in a hurry.
Unfortunately, the traditional book selling establishment has at its core a 19th century business model, one that is very similar to the music business before electricity. If you want to buy a book, you buy it new. That's where the money is made, period. There are no provisions for more payments down the road. Yes, Amazon's Kindle and other e-book deals are more or less doing what movies and music have done. But what is getting missed is the huge change in the used hard copy book business.
Here's the big thought: While books themselves are still made of paper, the WAY in which used books are sold and distributed has changed. Radically. It is as much of a change as television or radio.
Books are not electronic of course, but the way in which used books are now marketed on the internet has fundamentally changed, into its own new form of "electronic distribution." We need to recognize this, and change the way the business works to capture proper payments.
The used book market is different now because in the old typical traditional local used book store, the store might have a title you want and then again, they might not. So physical used books stores, while nice things to have on the block, are not a huge threat to new book sales, as they are not the place to buy "hot" or new books. You are limited to what they have in stock right now, which could be anything.
But now, virtually any book, even one that is recently published, is available "used" (at a lower price), on the internet. And when someone buys and reads a used book, the copyright owners of that book get zilch for that "re-use" of their intellectual property.
Pardon my vision here, but I think it's time that authors got the same deal as union musicians, composers, television actors, and screenwriters.
What I am proposing is a very simple system similar to the ASCAP model. If a copyrighted book is sold on line, the author (or their estates or whatever) should get some small payment for that "re-publication" (from the legal definition of the word "publish": "to make available for sale") of their work.
I don't know what that fee would be. I am hoping you, dear readers, can offer some insight and suggestions. Perhaps 15% of the sale price, or perhaps 25 cents, whichever is greater? Right now I am getting 100% of nothing, so I am open to suggestions.
In terms of execution and monitoring, I would think that ISBN numbers would make this a breeze to set up. Authors would also need to register, just like members of ASCAP. You would have to accrue a minimum of maybe $50 to get a payment (to save mailing checks for 25 cents).
All sorts of little details would need to get ironed out of course, but that's the concept. And I confess, I have no idea how one would set up a literary form of ASCAP. Federal legislation? I await your insight.
Note, I suspect that it might be a good idea to exempt non-internet on-site sales in bookstores. It's a tradition, it's too easy to cheat, and they don't make much dough anyway. Also the bookkeeping might prove onerous. Although with printed bar codes, maybe not.
Amazon charges $4 for shipping a book when most books only cost $2.50 to ship. Shouldn't some small piece of that remaining $1.50 go to the person who created the book? Composers and musicians and movie producers get re-use payments. How is it that musicians and B-movie moguls have shown themselves to be smarter than authors of books??
Also, from an environmental perspective, instead of publishers always being motivated to make past editions obsolete as much as possible, and always look for ways to sell new books and cut down more trees, authors and publishers would have economic incentive to encourage the purchase and "recycling" of used books, as it would become an added income stream. Updates to existing books could be sold on line. Not sure if this would be a meaningful carbon change, but it's worth looking into. As the cost of paper continues to go up, who knows, could be a huge paradigm shift.
I have a new page on my web site that invites people to start doing this on a voluntary basis. I call it my go-green publication partnership: http://justinlocke.com/gogreen.htm
Big picture: If this added payments system were to work with books the same way it has worked with movies, added income will encourage ever more creation of new products, instead of publishers and authors being squeezed at every turn. At last, readers will not have to choose between supporting their favorite authors and a cheaper deal. Everybody wins, and furthermore, it's the right thing to do.
(c) Justin Locke
Thank you for reading. We invite and encourage your comments. And we also have a giveaway!
Justin Locke is donating a copy of one of his books, and the the winner will get to choose between Real Men Don't Rehearse, his very popular and laugh-out-loud musical memoir of his playing days with the Boston Pops (see the writeup in this month's International Musician Magazine) , and his new book, Principles of Applied Stupidity (How to get and Do More by Thinking and Knowing Less). Find out more about each book and his other publications and his professional speaking at www.justinlocke.com
Raz @ Eco-Libris