Tech Dirt ran a great article last week (which was a reaction to this New York Times article) about the struggles Hollywood is facing as it attempts to ‘remain relevant’ while important content seems to be moving to cheaper, faster-to-market television.

From the article:

“The industry really only has itself to blame for continuing to churn out expensive remakes and sequels, rather than investing in quality—the continued quest for ‘$100 million films’ rather than figuring out how to make good movies for less money.”

It’s the same argument I feel like I’ve been making for years to the book publishing industry: If you want to compete, compete! I’ve seen (and written) so many articles for TeleRead about what the problems are, and about the specific issues that are turning paying customers away from Big Publishing and onto emerging alternatives. And every time I do so, I get at least one comment from someone who claims to work in publishing, and who goes on to explain why the situation is the way it is, and why it cannot possibly be changed. And so the problems don’t ever get solved, because nobody in the industry has the creativity to break the mold and actually think about doing something different.

For instance: 

♦ Customer complains that they want to buy a book, but can’t because it’s geographically restricted and the publisher won’t sell it to them. Commenter gives lengthy explanation about how rights are sold, and how contracts work, and so on. All of it may be true, but the bottom line is, the customer still can’t buy the book! How can an industry that is losing market share, and that fears it is in decline, possibly justify turning away a customer with money in his hand?

Yes, rights and contracts have been, up until now, sold on a per-country basis. Does that mean they must be sold that way forever? Does it mean there is some command from on high that we all must suffer under such a system, upon pain of death? Of course not! If there were, then why is it that indie authors can sell to whomever they choose? For that matter, why do stores like Amazon and iBooks allow authors to turn off region restrictions at their own choosing?

The only reason this system continues to perpetuate is because of the apathy or helplessness on the part of those with the ability—or the authority—to change it.

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♦ Customer bought a book on the Kindle. Now, they have a Kobo and want to transfer their books, but they can’t seem to open them. Commenter gives lengthy explanation about DRM and how authors and publishers use it to ‘protect’ their books from piracy.

The truth? If you’re a big-name author and people really want to pirate you, they will; the DRM is easily circumvented and if that fails, they will scan it from paper. And if you’re not a big-name author, your problem is more likely obscurity. People can pirate you if they wish, but they probably don’t care to (or if they do, they do it in a bundle of 5,000 books zipped straight from their hard drive, and people are downloading it for the big-name authors—not for you).

So, the net result? Legitimate customers are frustrated and confused, and piracy never really goes down anyway.

How about, instead, taking a page from iTunes and making it so easy and so affordable to buy legitimately that people will make your legitimate store their first stop? Or how about offering incentives for your DRM-free content that make people want to get it from the source? I once purchased an e-book where the author had a minor character in the story whose name he would customize with your name if you bought from his site. I also once purchased a bundle where a portion of the proceeds went to charity. Yet another author gives away the download when you go through his website to purchase a paper copy for a school or library.

Innovate, people! Make people want to buy from you!

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♦ Customer bought an expensive e-book that was filled with OCR errors and other proofreading mistakes. Commenter gives lengthy breakdown on the price required to hire freelance editors, and the process they use to edit work at a professional level.

Bottom line? There are easier and cheaper ways to do it, and we all know it. I promise you, if Stephen King put out the call that he wanted a reader to proofread the e-book edition of his new novel in return for an obviously early peek at the book and a mention in the acknowledgements, he would have takers. We’re not talking about major editorial process stuff here, we’re talking about a read-through just to tag the typos.

Amazon has a very popular program (Amazon Vine) for people who want to read advance copies and review them. There are enough people who want to read books for free that you would have a willing army of volunteers. Hire an intern for it. Let college English majors do it for $20 an hour. There are ways. The cost of not fixing this problem is to great not to find one.

The bottom line is, it’s competitive out there in today’s entertainment jungle. Whether you’re a major Hollywood studio competing with an edgy low-budget drama or a major publisher competing with the $0.99 Kindle authors, your customer always has somewhere else they could go. So my advice to you is, if you want to compete, then compete! Innovate. Change the way you do things. Otherwise, you’ll have nobody to blame but yourselves when your customers take their dollars and run.

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