February 7, 2010

iPad, e-books, and price wars

This has been an interesting couple weeks in publishing! The iPad is all the rage and it’s not even out yet. MacMillan became a publishing hero by standing up to Amazon, first insisting that it carry its e-books for $15 instead of $9.99 and then for refusing to back down after Amazon stopped carrying MacMillon’s books. Apparently the CEO even got a standing ovation at last week’s Fifth Annual Winter Institute (wi5), according to a tweet or two I caught last week. And The Onion even spoofed the whole thing. Quite a lot of play for publishing industry insiders. Usually if there’s any big publicity it’s about big-name authors, so I have to admit, it’s been a little exciting.

But what’s the what here? Publishing is changing. There’s no question that the iPad is going to be a game-changer. I laughed aloud when I read this aside from David Carr in the New York Times last week (because it's so dead on):

"To emphasize that a new competition in the book space was underway, Mr. Jobs lingered over a slide of the Kindle, a device that looked like it had been manufactured by Mennonites by comparison, even as he gave Amazon due credit for building out a robust new business."

The Kindle is just two years old and already it’s about to become obsolete. I own one, and I know I’m not going to be the only person to wish I’d saved my $300 when I get my hands on an iPad.

I’m happy that e-books are going up in price. It seems right to me, given how much work goes into creating books. It’s true that there will ultimately be fewer costs for e-books. No paper. Easier distribution (maybe). But we’re certainly not there yet. And the truth is that so so few authors make real money on their books.

This is an interesting time to be in publishing. Things are changing so fast that it seems hasty to jump too quickly to buy the next new thing, even if it is coming from Apple. The truth is that the Second Gen Kindle is way better than the first. And there’s no question a later version of the iPad will be significantly better than the original. And Apple puts out products faster than reality TV stars fade into oblivion. And at $499, I would put a lot of money (maybe even $499) on the price going down within a year.

It’s tough to resist when iPad pulls out all the stops, but if you can wait or are wondering whether you should wait—--wait.

Until next month.