Should publishers be agnostic about print v. digital delivery?
A lot of B2B publishers talk about trying to move their subscribers off of print. For some it’s almost an ideological thing, but typically they do this for a number of very practical reasons, including …
- To save the cost of printing and mailing.
- To avoid following print to its oft-foretold grave.
- To take advantage of the things digital delivery can offer, like speed, the ability to collect more data, the “social sharing” options, etc.
My response has been …
- If people want print, give them print and pass along the cost so that the publisher is agnostic about delivery method.
- The “print is dying” mantra was mostly hype. Print is alive and well, although it will lose some share of the market.
- Yes, digital delivery does have many advantages, and it’s wise to take advantage of them, but it should be the reader’s choice. Publishers shouldn’t force digital on people.
I’ve long thought that publishers should take a “we don’t care” attitude towards delivery methods. If people want the product on the iPad, we’ll deliver it on the iPad and include the costs in the iPad price. If people want it on paper, we’ll deliver it on paper and pass along those costs.
So the offer would be something like …
|iPad delivery||Add $5|
|Print delivery||Add $10|
The idea would be to pass along the real cost of providing the content in different formats.
There’s a very simple problem with that model. It’s not how prices work.
The price of a thing is not based on some equation, based on the cost of goods and manufacturing plus a reasonable return on investment. That might work for electric utility rates, where we set up commissions to oversee regulated monopolies, but that’s not how price works in a free marketplace.
In the non-regulated world, the price of a thing is based on what people are willing to pay. Period.
It doesn’t matter why consumers prefer one thing to another. They might be completely wrong-headed about it — as they are with the cost of print.
Misconceptions about the actual cost of making books have plagued the book publishing industry for years. Consumers think, for example, that kindle prices should be far less than paperback prices, but in reality the cost of printing is a small portion of the cost of the book.
If we were to derive book prices from some sort of actual costs + reasonable return analysis, those costs would be very different from what consumers expect. Kindle prices would be closer to the cost of paperbacks.
But that’s not what consumers expect.
“Why are you charging so much for this kindle book? It’s just an electronic file! It hardly costs you anything?”
That very prevalent attitude is completely wrong, but it doesn’t matter that it’s wrong. It’s what the consumer thinks, and that influences what he’s willing to pay.
So, the price of print or digital delivery has to be based on what people are willing to pay for it, not on what it actually costs the publisher.
Publishers could try to educate consumers about actual costs so they can justify their prices, but that’s usually a bad idea. You’re trying to sell something, not to educate people about your problems — which they don’t care about in any event.
This means that real prices determined by the market will probably never line up with publisher costs. (There’s no real reason that they should.) And that means that publishers can’t be agnostic about delivery method — because the publisher will inevitably make more money in one format than in another.