lost book sales 11.08.2010, 8:57 AM
posted by bob stein
Jane Litte recently launched lostbooksales.com, a site where readers tell the tale of how a publisher lost a sale because a book wasn't available in a certain territory or format. While lostbooksales.com is a valiant effort to collect and codify examples of friction in the current supply chain, I think it's important not to exaggerate how much of the problems facing publishers are a function of the mismatch between an outdated rights structure and the electronic distribution pipe which is technically geography agnostic and format flexible.
Jane explains that the motivation for the site came from a comment someone named Suze posted on her DearAuthor blog
If I had the time and computer savvy, I'd set up a lostebooksale.com site where people could submit each book they didn't buy, and why. After the first three or four hundred stories about "I didn't buy Book X because it's not available in my country, so I got a pirate copy", maybe somebody in publisher with the drive, imagination, and ability could prod the industry into action.
God knows publishers need to be prodded into action, but the action needs to be much more extensive than rationalizing rights. The shift from page to screen is taking place in a much broader context in which media consumption, in all it's rapidly proliferating forms, is moving from atoms to bits. And those bits all swim in the same sea and move through the same pipe. All of them competing for our attention.
I'd be keen to see lostbooksales expanded so that people could say "i didn't buy a book because i got the information i needed off a website, or because i figured i would rather watch Season 2 of The Wire, play World of Warcraft, or even read some of the classics which are now available free in almost every electronic format.
Posted by bob stein on November 8, 2010 8:57 AM
Douglas (Watkins) on November 8, 2010 2:42 PM:
I bought a Sony reader and i love it.
"Save the trees"
Mark Bernstein on November 8, 2010 7:05 PM:
None of these issues will matter much to publishers, because few are actionable and even fewer are knowable.
You ask how many potential book sales are lost because people would rather watch The Wire? How could we possibly measure this? Certainly not by asking people or soliciting their tales of woe. I can seldom tell you exactly why I bought a book that I've just read; I can almost never tell you why I didn't buy a book.
If you meet someone who tells you, "I would have bought the new Franzen, but I wanted to play WOW so I didn't", you've met someone with an axe to grind or a chip on their shoulder.
Everyone would like rights to be simpler -- except those people whose share of the rights will be simplified to zero. Sure, it's crazy that you can't buy books in the US that have already been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize -- last year, you couldn't even buy the winner. And sure, it's even crazier in Australia and New Zealand. But tales of a few hundred lost sales in aggregate won't inspire publishers to change everything; they'd change it if they could because subrights are no fun for anyone, and a few hundred sales spread over many catalogs are neither here nor there.