Open Letter to Book Publishers

Dear Book Publishers (all of you):

I am not a huge believer in the universal maxim of the long tail but it has some merit because I have given in to it. Convenience of the online world makes it both realistic and generates sales. While I understand that music != book publishing, imagine this scenario:

– Someone online refers to me a band. In this example we will use the Indie band Mogwai. I look up Mogwai on youtube and listen to several songs.

– I like these songs. Instead of spending the next month hunting down Mogwai in a mass-market record store, where I will surely fail, I fire up iTunes and give $9.99 for the album. Certainly Apple takes their cut but some of this flows to the band.

– It goes to my iPod where I inflct the songs on everyone around me.

– I enjoy these songs and I tell others to look into it, generating more instant sales.

– I like Mogwai so much I look for “bands like Mogwai” like, say, Explosions in the Sky.  I may indeed spend more money!

More listening, more downloading, and perhaps more purchases in the halo of one person mentioning one band. I love music; I do this often. Yes, CD sales have crashed but easy access to the media for a reasonable (lower than the CD itself) price has ensured that not only do I not pirate and will not pirate, but I am happy to fork money over. $9.99 for a complete album of indie goodness is, to me, a reasonable price point.

But right now in books this happens:

– I find a book from a book review (usually, let’s face it, NPR) I would like to read.

– If I am exceedingly lucky the book is available for my Kindle and I download it.

– I enjoy the book! I look for “more like this.”

– The old NOT FOUND sound from Family Feud* plays. Either not found or exceedingly expensive. More often than not, not found.

– Sure I could order a dead tree book from Amazon or go on a quest but I am reading off my Kindle where life is simply simpler for me.

– I will not buy “books like this.” Sale lost.

You know, I am supremely irked at the lack of back catalog available on the Kindle. I realize that getting these books into digital format with professional layout is what we call a “jobs program.” But you cannot tell me for a moment that all those, say for example, Pynchon books** sitting in the literature section (read: book report section) of the bookstore actually sell and that you won’t at least get halo sales by people simply clicking on the “books like this” link in electronic form, in a form that takes up minimal space on a HDD RAID Array somewhere.

I totally want a publishing industry. I want gatekeepers to hold back the tidal wave of crap. I want editors. But we need to acknowledge that it’s the content that’s important and not the paper. Sure, I really would prefer all my books to be in dead tree form with that rippling sound of the pages and the satisfaction of a book mark moving further in a book but reality is that I want to read AND run around like a maniac and I want to give you money and the device is fitting into my lifestyle. Just like it is fitting into other people’s lifestyles. I am hardly alone.

So look. Start scanning in that back catalog and not just the stuff available from Penguin Classics. Stop fighting over the price of new releases and embrace the long tail. Price them reasonably. Because right now, you’re losing sales and your friendly customers are all hunting for that long tail book as a badly formatted PDF on bittorrent out of sheer frustration.

I understand there may be contractual issues that need to be worked out but I want to give you money. Why will you not take my money? I am boggled.

Love, me.

* I’m old.
** GRRR. And no Nabokov — DOUBLE GRR.