So bear with me as I dive off the cliff of sanity. I have an idea I want to explore. You may have heard about Oyster. It is the “Netflix for eBooks”, basically “means you pay a small monthly fee for unlimited access to the company’s e-book collection.”
There are a lot of sites like this. Part of me is really drawn to this idea of book consumption. The books are licensed and your membership helps pay for that license. You then have access to all kinds of books without the wait of the library. As a reader, this is very appealing. Books are expensive and just one YA book now (in the US) is the cost of a nice work lunch. This is why I still shop at Amazon.
As a working publishing professional, I have to wonder how much things like Oyster and Scribd hurt the industry, the publisher’s bottom line, and ultimately jeopardize my job (I know Amazon is not good since it uses books as a loss leader). As publishers lose money (and trust me, publishing is not a super profitable business to be in), they cut back. That means cutting back on buying some books, and more importantly, on work personnel. This means less people to work on projects, and the ones who are there have to do more work with half the resources. It is not pretty.
But how do we balance the consumer desire for cheap books without de-valuing the art (and books are art)? Some people say digital books are cheaper to produce, but that is not true. Yes, you are not having the cost of paper, printer, shipping, and storing, but you have traded for the cost of digital work. And the people who still would be needed for a print book are still important for an eBook.
I don’t think books will ever disappear, but I do wonder about the changing nature of publishing. Consumers want cheaper books. Publishers want to make money. How will these two desires balance out over the long run?
Side note: I found this cool document that explores new business models in publishing.