ARCreader: the chicken or the egg?

Monday, April 27

well, it's official. it's no longer a numbers game. GalleyCat came along and did the math on the ARCreader.
Let's examine the costs:

1000 reviewers 
x $3/galley 
x $1/ U.P.S. mailing cost 
x 375 titles/year 
$1.5 million /year

That's $1.5 million a year the average major publisher is spending printing and mailing out to the same 1000 reviewers every year.

Now, let's examine how much it would cost to mail each reviewer all a Kindle, including shipping costs.

1000 reviewers 
x $400 /Kindle
x $0 / galley 
x $0 / U.P.S. galley mailing costs 
x 375 titles/year
they go even further and point out that if publishers pooled their money to buy ARCreaders, they'd save even more -- the article is well worth the read. i actually think the Kindle is not a great example practically speaking (given most booksellers would rather DIE than own a Kindle, except of course GC is talking about reviewers, not necessarily booksellers, but still) but it is useful because it's on the high-end of the price range. and, GC uses a low figure for ARCs; my info stated $3 - $7. so taking that into account, this is a conservative estimate of the potential savings. so why haven't publishers done this already?

i followed up with my reps this week, as i suddenly realized i'd been waiting for over a month on hearing whether or not they'd be able to send me digital ARCs. and the answers all around were a resounding "No," except for the one yes i reported earlier on. these reps, i should mention, are at the big publishing houses. 

however, some independent publishers, most notably Unbridled Books, have already gone ahead and are offering digiARCs right now, through NetGalley, and i've heard that there are many more participating publishers soon to be announced. my bet, though, is that these new additions will not include the big houses.

so what's the difference? if it's not cost, what is holding some publishers back where others leap forward? my money, my friends, is on DRM. especialy after the kerfuffle involving Stephenie Meyer and the internet leak of an early draft of Midnight Sun, my guess is that the big publishers are on notice regarding digital piracy. and you can't really blame them, per se -- when a bestselling author pulls a project because of something like this, it's a pretty big hit for them. 

so i don't blame them, but i do think it's misguided to let fear of piracy stop a money-saving, efficiency-improving move to digiARCs. just this past week, Gizmodo pointed out a Norwegian study that showed that music pirates bought 10 times more music online than non-pirates (is that right? non-pirates? there has to be a better word. landlubbers? e-lubbers?). i have anecdotal evidence that tells me the same thing, in the form of a good friend. he rips, burns, downloads, and pirates music -- and then goes out and buys the albums. crazy, right? not really. if you think about it, the music you can get through piracy is often of poor quality, and pretty much never a complete album. so the free music just whets your appetite, and makes you willing to pay to get the full "meal". 

as many have pointed out, the book industry is not the music industry, so the analogies only go so far. but i am betting that the independent publishers are operating on the old maxim, "There's no such thing as bad publicity." pirated manuscript? PEOPLE ARE READING YOUR BOOK. and if you're publishing good books, they're going to like them and want more. and if you like a book, you're (insert really high number here)% more likely to want to actually own it -- whether in audio, ebook, or book form. 

the DRM issue is huge, and scarily technical, and i can't say that i understand the nuts and bolts of it. there's a lot going on right now, and who knows which way it will shake out. the part that i'm especially interested in is what it means for the ARCreader.

obviously publishers are not going to pony up money to buy booksellers a device they're not offering content for, and neither will booksellers. some who already have one will participate in NetGalley or solicit digiARCs from willing publishers, but the vast majority of booksellers won't jump on the bandwagon until digiARCs are a reality across the board. and as industries struggle with DRM, the independent bookstores get farther and farther behind the technology wave that is sweeping customers online. 

do i believe that one day the book will be a thing of the past? no. do i believe that ebooks will have (and already have had) an impact on indie bookstores? absolutely. as Jessica pointed out, familiarity with ebooks and ereaders will make us better booksellers. we need to get on board, and get on board now. 

how do we do that? we've made real progress this month with the ABA's release of the IndieBound iPhone app, and we'll hopefully see some more in the near future. while this doesn't directly relate to the ARCreader or digiARCs, it's a great example of independents joining the game on the digital front. but there's more, so much more, to be done within the stores themselves. hopefully we'll come up with some good ideas on our BEA panel (Going Digital). what do i really want to see?
  • digiARCs
  • content bundling (this is another post for another day, but it's coming)
  • bookseller education on e-content across the board
what do you want to see?