A friend recently let me know about a subscription service called Oyster Books that allows avid readers to borrow an unlimited number of e-books (iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch only) for just $9.95 a month. “I don’t know if it’s good for writers,” my friend told me, noting that most hardcover and trade paperback books cost more than $10, “but it’s good for readers.”
Her remark reaffirmed to me that, as writers–and as an industry– we need to be thinking more about what’s good for readers.
To be clear, I’m not saying writers should be focused on writing what we think would be most palatable to readers. But as part of the publishing industry we need to take more responsibility for making the reading experience easier and more cost-effective. Speaking specifically of book pricing strategies, publisher Molly Stern admitted at a recent panel discussion: “Our entire business is built on pricing inflation.” She added that decisions needed to be made to ensure consumers get the very best price possible.
With this in mind, deal structures for writers should be revised so we get our just compensation when titles are borrowed in this way. Additionally, for readers who do choose to invest the extra money in a print copy, there’s got to be added value. Whether that’s video or augmented texts that give the reader a deeper dive into the themes and facts covered in the story.
Perhaps it’s too much pressure on writers to figure out how to enhance the reading experience. It should be enough that we are working to create enduring comments on society. But I don’t think we can afford to leave these matters to the industry apparatus to work it out. We’ve got to be forward thinking and focused on protecting ourselves or innovators like Amazon and Oyster Books will set the terms for us.