The E-Book Curmudgeon

Have I reached curmudgeon status yet? Probably. If not, I still have my eyes on the prize.

That’s one reason I appreciated Tom Woll’s comments on electronic publishing in his book Publishing for Profit

All revenues, cost of goods, and expenses of the e-book [should be] held against the appropriate division or profit center and judged according to whether or not they result in profits. Note that we’ve said nothing about hits, eyeballs, or any other measures of website “visibility” here. . . . Just getting hits or eyeballs doesn’t guarantee sales.” (p. 283)

Now there’s a consultant you gotta love. Spare me the hype, the glitz, the shiny new thing. If it loses money, that’s a problem. And what is so wrong or out of fashion or dull about making a profit with print? Of course, if you can do it digitally, go for it.

E-books, therefore, should be treated no differently than any other product line, category, or division of the company. Profit is the goal, nothing more or less. If you can’t generate profits, then either rethink the business or get out of the business. (p. 285)

Having been sufficiently curmudgeonly, there are some very attractive possibilities with digital publishing:

* Searchability. Especially with reference or academic books, this is a very attractive feature, even for those who prefer print. So attractive they might buy the book twice—one in print and one in digital.

* Reduced costs. If you can reuse the electronic file of the manuscript several times with minimal conversion costs, you are on your way to cost savings.

* No returns. Especially with e-books sold on a nonreturnable basis, all of the amazing complex problems associated with physical returns are eliminated.

Most publishers will benefit from aiming for the kind of balance Andrew Brenneman suggests when it comes to a digital strategy. Don’t ignore electronic publishing. But don’t be swept up by irrational enthusiasm.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

7 thoughts on “The E-Book Curmudgeon”

  1. Smart, clear-minded advice from both you and Woll. So how does this blog (and the others IVP is hosting, or the flowering of Press-related Facebook activity) relate to the argument of this post?

  2. Hi Jon

    Good questions. The things you mention (blogs, Facebook activity, etc.) fall more in the category of publicity than in sales.

    The effectiveness of publicity and advertising are notoriously difficult to measure, of course. Except in rare cases (such as a coupon) it is hard to know if someone bought a book because they saw an ad for it, or if it was a contributing factor (in addition to, for example, personal recommendation) or if it was no factor at all.

    Folks wiser than me will have to weigh in on this. Conventional wisdom is, of course, that publishers need a mix of all these to be successful.


  3. Right, I hear you. But this blog can hardly be described as anything but “real content” itself. (And I’m sure you’d agree!) But here you are, giving it away for free…. Aw, never mind me. I’m really not trying to smoke out your secret plan to use this blog to sell books. 🙂

Comments are closed.