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Ebook pricing models and theories of value


I saw a news item today that reported the fastest growing app category for the iPhone is e-book readers, and now another that the e-book is the "killer app" (read this article).  The iPhone is a tremendously exciting development for authors and publishers because it gives us a chance to find new readers and experiment with new reading experiences.  I’ve been thinking alot about digital reading versus print reading in terms of the value proposition.  Had a great conversation with Mark Coker, founder of e-publishing platform Smashwords about the essential differences between e- and p- value propositions.  I know some publishers disagree, but I think the perception of readers will determine values in e-books and digital reading environments, and publishers ignore this reality at their own peril. 

Evan Schnittman, who works for Oxford University Press and writes the excellent new blog Black Plastic Glasses is one of those who feels differently and writes compellingly on publisher economics. Meanwhile, Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly Media recently suggested that readers who buy a print books should be given a free e-version of the book.  Why not recognize the reader’s desire to read in multiple formats, and why make them pay extra for that privilege?

Somehow this discussion of values in the digital environment has got me re-reading the great essay The Economy of Ideas by John Perry Barlow, former lyricist for the Grateful Dead and founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation (more to come about this important essay in subsequent posts). 

Searching around the web for further discussion about values and writing, I found this wonderful quote by French poet Paul Valery:

“Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.”
Paul Valéry, Pièces sur L’Art, 1931 Le Conquete de l’ubiquite

I think we are ready for his "amazing change."  I’m going to start publishing inexpensive e-books on Smashwords soon.  And a cool app for the iPhone will certainly follow that.  If there are any writers reading this post who want to talk to me about working together, contact me.

Posted by David Wilk on 05/01 at 11:45 PM
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