Macmillan ceo John Sargent reported a new ebook policy for the house yesterday, blending enhanced, premium price e-versions with a delay of “several months” on other titles: “Our goal is to give the consumer what they want, when they want it, at a fair price. In 2010 we will publish our bestsellers in several ways. Some bestsellers will be enhanced with additional content and priced to reflect their increased value to the consumer. These will be published at the same time as the hardcover and will be available for three months as special editions. We will publish other bestsellers, without enhancements, several months after the hardcover release. We will adjust the number of special edition bestsellers we publish based on the market response. Working with our authors, we will continue to experiment with new models going forward.”
Sargent declined to indicate planned title counts–either for the enhanced ebooks, or the delayed titles. Most of the additional content will be text-driven–such as author interviews and readers’ guides–so the bulk of the enhanced titles will be published for standard ebook platforms. The WSJ says those versions will have “a list price slightly higher than the hardcover edition.”
Trident Media Group’s Robert Gottlieb comments (below): “Fortunately publishers have the upper hand now as they control the making of ebooks and the rights in agreements signed in recent history, so that the retailers should either come to the table and work out what is good for the publishing industry or simply wait for the moment in the publishing schedule when the ebook arrives and is available for sale through their businesses. What John Sargent is saying, in my opinion, to retailers is let’s agree on pricing and go forward from that point.”
On the issue of establishing a different release window for some ebooks, Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg reiterates that release “sequencing has been a common practice in other media for quite some time,” just as publishing has long offered “different formats that have traditionally been released at different points in time.” The house’s new policy reflects the “simple decision that the right sequence of publishing the ebook is the time-frame between the hardcover and the paperback.” He notes “we understand that this is an urge with digital media to have it more, faster, now. We’re trying to hit upon a happy medium.”
He underscores that “contray what people are thinking, we do value the patronage of our ebook reading customers. Everybody needs to understand that what we’re talking about is finding a way to work with our authors, our retailers, and our technology partners to simultaneously grow the ebook business but sustain the long-term health of all the parties in our industry…. We’re trying to take the long view.” Rothberg says their new ebook release window should provide an additional marketing opportunity as well.
In more comments from yesterday’s post on Stephen Covey, agent Liza Dawson takes a different view, with concern that publishers are trying “to convince us that we should take reduced royalties on digital editions” and appreciation for digital distribution’s potential to expand markets: “Once it becomes clear to publishers that this battle is really about distribution rather than format, it will be easier for them to see who their allies are: Young readers who want their gratification immediately; readers like me who see an author on Jon Stewart and order a book that night; fiction fans who wait breathlessly for the next Elizabeth George; agents who don’t want publishers building their businesses by reducing the royalties of their authors; and most of all, our writers who want their books read by every single person who is strong enough to hit the “buy” button on a Kindle or sign a credit card receipt.”