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Why Have US Trade Pubs Largely Balked at D2C E-bookselling?

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s feature story describes the growing popularity of direct-to-consumer e-bookselling in Scandinavia. It’s a practice that is far more profitable than working through retailers, as is customary in the United States, but one that comes with its own headaches. Among them is discoverability. US publishers — save for a few strong brands — remain faceless entities to most readers, who could care less who published a book. They leave the marketing to others, who are in this case either big retailers or technology companies with e-book units. They go direct to consumer.

If you visit Random House’s web site and want to buy a copy of Toni Morrison’s new novel Home, you cannot buy the e-book directly from the company (or if you can, it’s certainly not intuitive), but the firm does offer you 16 e-book retailers from which to choose. HarperCollins’s site — while a pain to navigate and even slower to load — offers me two dozen bricks-and-mortar stores and the iBookstore. Hmmmm…

So what is the problem? Is there a fear of disintermediating the existing retailers by going direct? Maybe, but that seems like a moot point in the face of the fierce competition out there. Is it a general lack of a standardized file format for e-books and the proprietary silos (real or imagined) that various retailers have set up? What’s the trouble?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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  1. Posted May 23, 2012 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    It’s a combination of disinter mediating the existing retailers (I mean, what if it doesn’t work, there’ll be no going back …) and it’s also a lack of digital skills needed and knowledge of brand building. The general public don’t buy a Harper Collins book in the way that they buy a pair of Nike running shoes. This means that each author needs to be a brand – now that’s a lot of work to do … and if it doesn’t work?

  2. Rachel
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    The lack of a standardized file format is a giant barrier to entry. The only option is to sell a DRM-free version of the e-book, and most publishers are still reluctant to do that. Many publishers may also fear that they would become responsible for helping customers with problems loading the file onto their device, since the mechanism would be different than the wireless delivery offered with the new Kindles and Nooks. Publishers are already so stretched, how would they handle this personnel need?

  3. Posted May 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
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