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23 April 2009 @ 07:38 am
Ebook branding  
kriswrites pointed me to a post about ebooks at The Idea/Logical Blog: Some ebook observations.

What this post suggests to me is that publishers need to change from a "book" model of selling their products to a "software" model. Software publishers today manage to sell products very like ebooks, with the same problems of "need to be quality-checked on every platform they run on" and "retailers want to use margin to gain share," yet they seem to be doing very well. The key is that many different strategies have been successful (for different products in different markets at different times) -- publishers will have to become as nimble in selling ebooks as software publishers have been forced to become in selling software. And, as with software, the pricing will be all over the map -- bestselling fiction for $4.99, technical titles for $499 -- as publishers learn what the market will bear. The transition to this model will occur as it did when video tapes moved from a "priced for rental" model to a "priced for sale" model in the 1980s -- same product + different market = entirely different price points.

The branding problem is an interesting one, and differs from the software model. On my computer, the user experience of the Apple-branded word processor, the Microsoft-branded word processor, and the several other brands of word processor differs enormously, but the content (the words they process and the things you can do to those words) is quite similar. But on my ebook reader, the user experience of the Tor-branded, Del Rey-branded, and DAW-branded ebooks is nearly identical although the content of each book is unique. This makes it tough for a brand to establish itself.

Some publishers will try to impose a "house look-and-feel" on their ebooks to create a brand. This won't work because the ebook experience is so malleable -- devices vary in their capabilities, and users want to impose their reading preferences (e.g. font and font size) which is one of the main selling points of the ebook over the paper book -- and anything the publisher does to put anything other than plain, readable text on the screen will be resisted by readers.

One thing that publishers can do to establish a brand is to make sure to nail the aspects that make one ebook better than another on the same platform. Make sure the illustrations are the best possible for the platform, make sure the table of contents works, enable any optional features, and do the right thing for every supported platform. This is a heck of a lot of work, but quality control in a multi-platform environment always is, and in the software business we have a saying that "quality doesn't cost money... quality makes money."

I think, though, that the bottom line for branding ebooks is identical to that for paper books. A publisher can get some aspects of a paper book right or wrong (font and font size, paper quality, binding) but fundamentally most paper books are quite similar -- ultimately the thing that readers will remember about a publisher, if they remember anything at all, is whether or not they consistently provide the kind of books they want to read. That's how to create a brand.

Allan: joanallanh on April 23rd, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
My principal problem with ebooks from many resellers - oh, let's pick on Amazon, just 'cause we can! - is that they're priced the same as a paper book.

A printed book that costs $14.95 to buy has a substantially higher wholesale cost than an ebook ... so why does the ebook version still cost $14.95?

Kalimackalimac on April 23rd, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
Because, as DDL discussed, prices are set by what vendors believe the market will bear. They have very little relationship to costs.
Kalimackalimac on April 23rd, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
This seems very insightful, perhaps because it lies at the intersection of two of your careers.

Concerning branding of e-books, it might be useful to compare it with branding of traditional books, especially paperbacks. To what extent do you think the physical characteristics of paperback books, excluding the covers, has affected branding? Certainly companies had their own distinctive typefaces and even grades of paper, but how important was that for branding?

Far more important is the style and level of book associated with each house, and this can even be rebranded. A Del Rey book has traditionally meant a different thing from a Ballantine book before it. And that will surely remain in the e-book world. In fact the greater number of books being published, the more useful is branding in helping to direct readers to the works that will suit their tastes.
dd-bdd_b on April 23rd, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
I'm convinced the vast majority of book buyers have no idea who published nearly any book they've read. Special cases might be due to trouble finding that book or something.

Except, of course, for the yellow DAW books of their early decades; every SF fan learned to recognize those.

"Brand" is the holy grail of modern marketing, but I'm not at all sure that publishers aren't chasing their tails on this one.

The real brand-name is "Weber" or "Bujold" or whoever.
kellymcculloughkellymccullough on April 24th, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
I'm with you on that. The problem of mapping the software model onto books is that software companies are actual content producers or at least perceived that way, and publishers are perceived as much closer to packagers, with the authors clearly seen as the producers. To the end user the differences between a Baen Lackey and a DAW Lackey and Tor Lackey are invisible, just as are the commonalities between one of my books and one of Tate Hallaway's and one of Jim Butcher's (Penguin, edited by Anne Sowards).
Steve Hutchisonfoomf on April 23rd, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
I've noticed that some places want to charge me MORE for an e-book than for a paperback.

I'm willing to pay about 80% of what I pay for a paperback, for an e-book*, if it's in a portable, general format. I am absolutely not willing to pay through the nose for any DRM'ed format, which is one reason I haven't bought a Kindle (the other reasons being technology and feature issues.)

Basically, if it's a 20% surcharge to get it in the cheapest paper format, and more than that for a deluxe, sturdy, bound, acid-free-paper, high quality hardcover, that's reasonable to me.

I also have several "free" e-books that have caused me to buy the sequels, prequels, etc. and some that I got simply because I own the books themselves as well, and I want them easily available on my Eee.

* Note that when I say this I also want to say that I am much more likely to buy an e-book when the author gets a significant cut of the proceeds per book, rather than the publisher and middlemen eating 99.99% of the average take.

Edited at 2009-04-23 08:34 pm (UTC)
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