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Publishers disconnect on e-book biz

Bob Moon Oct 2, 2009

Publishers disconnect on e-book biz

Bob Moon Oct 2, 2009


TESS VIGELAND: Sarah Palin’s memoir hit the top of the bestseller lists at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders today. The former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate’s book is called “Going Rogue: An American Life.” But her fans will have to wait until November 17 to get their hands on a copy.

And I say hands, because there will be none of that new-fangled “Kindle-ing” with this book.
Not until more than a month later, anyway. Publisher Harper Collins has decided to delay the release of an electronic version of the memoir until the day after Christmas. A column on the Slate Web site first made note of that.

Senior correspondent Bob Moon wondered why publishers are taking different approaches to the e-reader challenge.

Bob Moon: Certainly there must be some kind of rational reason for leaving out users of Amazon’s Kindle book reader — not just the Palin book, but also Ted Kennedy’s memoir, “True Compass” — currently two of the hottest-selling titles.

Sarah Rotman Epps: What I see is an industry acting somewhat irrationally, and against its own interests, out of panic and fear.

Sarah Rotman Epps follows the fast-emerging e-book business for Forrester Research. She says it’s a power struggle that reminds her of Apple’s pricing dominance over music on iTunes.

Epps: What publishers are afraid of is that Amazon will play the role of Apple, taking revenue out of their pockets.

Amazon’s top-selling digital versions commonly go for around 10 bucks. But Epps says publishers would prefer to charge list prices as high as $30 or $40.

Fred von Lohmann represents the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He warns publishers are inviting piracy.

Fred von Lohmann: I do think that’s going to become a real threat if publishers decide to take the view that people only get to read what they tell them to read, in the format they tell them to enjoy, at the price point that they insist on. That’s exactly the kind of short-sighted, anti-customer attitude that landed the music industry in so much trouble.

Von Lohmann says e-book readers are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

von Lohmann: We’ve gone from, you know, a few hundred thousand people who have a Kindle, overnight, to millions of people who have an iPhone already in their pocket and now that iPhone can be a book reader.

As von Lohmann explains it, the Internet has a way of solving the problem — like it or not.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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