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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The distinction between owners and readers

Wise words from the top

John Makinson, CEO of the Penguin Group (pictured), says it all:

“There is a growing distinction between the book reader and the book owner. The book reader just wants the experience of reading the book, and that person is a natural digital consumer: Instead of a disposable mass market book, they buy a digital book. The book owner wants to give, share and shelve books. They love the experience. As we add value to the physical product, particularly the trade paperback and hardcover, the consumer will pay a little more for the better experience."

- John Makinson, CEO of Penguin Group, in a Wall Street Journal q&a yesterday


Rick Spilman said...

I find it ironic that the head of the Penguin Group is the one to make that distinction given that Penguin established itself selling inexpensive paperbacks through non-traditional outlets in the 1930s.

Penguin has been impressively backward in their pricing of their ebooks. I doubt they will do any better with their attempt to "add value to the physical product." They might do better going back to their roots of providing low cost books with high quality content.

Joan Druett said...

Thanks, Rick -- and I couldn't agree more. There is a rack at the front of Whitcoull's here that is constantly full of the famous (or infamous) orange Penguin paperback classics, very cheaply produced, and not at all durable. If he was putting his policy where his words are, the company would be producing classics in high quality bindings, aimed at collectors and the buyers of school prizes.

Shayne Parkinson said...

Yes, it is rather ironic that it's the head of what Tolkien referred to as one of the "soft-shelled fowl"* of publishers who's made this comment! But I do agree that e-books can fill the same niche as mass-market paperbacks. When people talk about the pleasurable sensory experience of reading a paper book, I don't think of those flimsy things that refuse to lie flat, have overly narrow margins, and have print that mysteriously gets smaller over the years. Curling up with my e-reader is a good deal more comfortable than that! A lovely, high-quality hardcover is a different matter entirely.

* For anyone wondering: when a paperback version of The Hobbit was first suggested to him, J.R.R.T. responded with a clever play on paperback/soft-shelled. An extract: "I do share your reluctance to cheapen the old Hobbit.... I am not fond of Puffins or Penguins or other soft-shelled fowl: they eat other birds' eggs, and are better left to vacated nests."

Joan Druett said...

Shayne, I love it! Totally agree.

As a postscript, I do believe that Louis Hachette was the first man to produce mass market paperbacks, to be sold in strange places, such as railroad station.

And look what has happened to Hachette since!

Rick Spilman said...

What strikes me as sadly funny is Makinson's focus on packaging rather than content. Rather than figuring out the best ways to deliver great content to his customers, he is talking about "adding value" to the binding. That is a battle that the big publishers have already lost.

Shayne, I wonder whether Rowling's initial reluctance to bring Harry Potter to ebooks is parallel to J.R.R.T's concerns about "cheapen[ing] the old Hobbit?"

Joan Druett said...

JKR (or her agent) could be thinking about the wholesale piracy that is going on. I was told that the demise of the REDgroup was largely due to an ill considered decision to move into music and movies, which have been raided on the internet to the point of non-existence. I think music shops are in an even tougher environment than book shops -- we called at Newcastle NSW, a city of 200,000 and searched for a locally made CD, to learn that they don't have a single music store. Could the same happen with eBooks? And how do you cite an eBook? I'm starting to come up with this problem. In the "old" days even if a book you cited went out of print, it was still available somewhere. But what will happen when eBooks go out of print, so to speak?

Rick Spilman said...

Piracy seems less of a concern in ebooks than in music. The most widely pirated ebooks appear to be technical manuals rather than novels and most non-fiction.

The marvelous thing about ebooks is that they need never go out of print. Most of the 600 or so books on my kindle are out of print book in the public domain. Scanning made them available and accessible to everyone. Before the internet I had to dig through the back stacks of libraries or the dustier corners of used book stores. Now I prowl and

I am hoping that they work out a fair resolution to the problem of all the "orphan books" that are out of print but still under copyright. There is a vast library of essentially inaccessible books published between around 1923 and the 1970s.