Customers may not be able to control a publisher’s price, but they can control the reviews a book gets on Amazon


If you want to watch how book publishers can accelerate their own demise, watch what happens when the giant book publishers exercise their new-found freedom to jack up the price of e-books sold. I’ve written previously about the work of book industry veterans and Harvard Business School professors in examining pricing scenarios for digital versions of books. The objectives of book publishers in increasing the price of e-books is nuanced, but has more to do with protecting legacy channels and business models than in increasing the money that authors receive or decreasing the price that readers pay.

Those of us who read books on Kindles (and on iPhones and soon, on iPads) have no power other than our wallets to set pricing. And while there is talk of “boycotting” book purchasing if the price is above $10, I don’t think that’s a “boycott” — or, if it is, that’s like saying I’m boycotting Lamborghinis. Not purchasing something you feel is priced higher than its worth (or that you can’t afford, in my case, a Lamborghini) is not boycotting. It’s a fundamental principle of economics. Something to do with pricing elasticity, I believe.

That said, this item in today’s New York Times about the e-book pricing controversy looks into the “reflexive hostility to prices higher than the $9.99” that “voracious readers of e-books have shown.”

According to the article, those who purchase lots of e-books — at least, the ones who are prone to boycotting — are going beyond “not buying” books over $9.99. They are going onto sites like and posting one-stars and negative reviews of such books. And if you are a publisher, you know what that means. Ouch.

While the author-loving part of me cringes at such tactics, the consumerist side of me hears the song, “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables, when I envision such tactics.

Here’s the deal: Economics, not legacy-protection tactics, should set the market price of books. Authors and publishers should be compensated fairly for e-books sold. But the costs of paper, binding, warehousing, shipping and associated expenses should not be. (Or, at least, that’s what the experts say.)

Raise prices above what the market considers fair and not only will they stop buying, they will burn down Paris.

A printer that doesn’t let its legacy business get in the way of its opportunity business

LL Bean bags

First, a caveat. I’m in the content business. To explain it as simply as possible, I’m in the business (at Hammock Inc.) of helping companies find and deploy the content they need for whatever they have as business objectives. While I personally don’t like using the term “content” for such creative expressions as award-winning photography, beautifully written essays and professionally produced video, I am a business person, so I use the language of the marketplace to describe what I do, be it content sourcing, acquisition, creation, deployment, distribution, analysis or, well, whatever term some MBA dreams up next week.

As a “content sourcing” and “deployment” professional, I’m constantly looking for clients who have large-scale content needs, and for how they are fulfilling those needs — not only for business opportunities, but to to see if there is something we can learn to help us be more efficient or creative.

This morning, I ran across one that is not only interesting — it’s inspiring. It’s inspiring because it underscores the dramatic opportunities that exist when a “content” company doesn’t let its “legacy” get in the way of its opportunity.

In my scan of “content” news, I ran across a press release from Quad Graphics, a “printing” company I greatly admire and with whom my company has worked over the past two decades. Quad is one of those unique companies that has never let the term “printing” define who they are, despite being one of the largest printing companies in the world.

Today, they are announcing a relationship with L.L.Bean (another company I have a relationship with — I buy stuff from their catalog all the time) in which Quad will provide all the company’s photography.

“As part of the unique partnership established by this agreement, L.L.Bean will build Studio 1912, a state-of-the-art, 16,000-square-foot all digital photography studio in Westbrook, a Portland, Maine suburb, about 20 miles from L.L.Bean’s Freeport corporate headquarters.

Okay. Let all of that sink in. And then think about the “business” of content creation and deployment.

And then think about this: One of the world’s largest printing companies has recognized that opportunity is created at the same time threats occur. Think about a printer and a direct marketing juggernaut like L.L.Bean recognizing the opportunities and competencies of one-another necessary to envision such a relationship.

Will all of those photographs only live on the printed materials of L.L Bean? Of course not.

Those who know the history of Quad and who were ever privileged to know its founder will understand that such thinking is in the DNA of Quad. Too bad such creativity is not in the DNA of other legacy “content” businesses.