So, I had a thought. I’m always doing that– thinking. If I was one of the Big Publishers what would I do to ensure that I would continue to exist into the foreseeable future?
Well, digital isn’t going away. I don’t think print is going away anytime soon either, but its place in the market is shifting and too much of Big Publishing is still reliant on print, so I’d focus my big moves on digital and assume that the print stuff will sort itself out without a lot of help. I’d want to make sure that Amazon had reasonable competition in digital books. I’d need to make new readers.
So one of the most persuasive arguments against digital is that it makes the initial buy-in too high for those in lower-income brackets. Once you get a device that views digital books it makes the over-all cost of reading lower, but the initial buy-in is much higher.
Now given all of these things it seems totally logical that the Big Publishers should support a program to design, manufacture, and give away an e-reader designed specifically for school children. Make an e-token system that works across the digital book stores of all the major publishers and give out so many digital tokens to each schools to buy books initially, and make it easier and cheaper for schools to buy new books in the future. Make it so parents and relatives can buy e-tokens for individual students. Have e-tokens as prizes for give-aways and marketing participation. Basically subsidize a generation of new readers.
Is it reasonable? Yes and No. There are serious problems. Publishers don’t seem particularly inclined to work together. To my knowledge none of the publishers have looked into the hardware side of things. It would be years to put together and work out. It would be a serious outlay of resources that would not be recouped for many years. In the long run I think it would pay for itself in spades. I think it IS possible and it would well, improve the world overall. The best way to do it would likely to create a non-profit organization (funded by the publishers) to design, create, and distribute the e-readers and digital tokens. The digital store would have to be its own corporate entity possibly with each publisher running its own section of it.
The scary thing (for Publishers) is that Amazon could probably start putting a project of this scope together tomorrow. They have the hardware, they’re making the connections, and they have the digital distribution thing down. Amazon is already the main distribution channel for ebooks. It has already made the jump to publishing print books. I don’t think Amazon is a monster (I live in the middle of nowhere I buy A LOT of things off Amazon. I couldn’t live without them at the moment.) but I strongly believe competition makes for a better market and I see a possible future where the Big Publishers hand Amazon years without viable competition simply by not acting soon enough.