From Studio Tendra:
If you disagree with any one of these you can feel free to ignore the entire argument. I can easily pick apart any one of these statements myself, so I’d understand it very well if you disagreed with them. However, if you find them somewhat likely then the overall picture of the ebook market is a bit dark.
- Ebook buyers buy more than they read. Book abandonment is high and out of proportion with the return rate.
- Sampling the first few chapters is a lousy predictor of how much the reader will enjoy the book. You can only assess basic stylistic issues from a sample, not storytelling quality. Ergo the reader has to buy the ebook to assess the quality of the story.
- Reviews are an extremely unreliable indicator of quality. The average quality of most reviews themselves is very low. Many reviewers are paid shills or just extremely overworked.
- Luck is one of the biggest determinants of bestseller status.
- Striking, marketable, differentiation is difficult in ebooks without having the reader actually read the book.
- The marketing differentiation that is possible without having the reader actually read the ebook (sex, scandal, celebrity) is at best orthogonal to the book’s actual quality and at worst inversely correlated to quality.
- Quality in this piece being defined as whatever the reader values, no matter how rubbish it looks to an over-educated twit like me. I’m not making any assumptions about writing, genre, or style.
- The majority of ereader vendors implement style and design overrides to preserve a baseline of readability and usability, not to commodify their product’s complements. (I.e. they are well-meaning, rational actors.)
- Distribution is becoming mostly self-serve with a very porous filter. (Like, for example, the self-publishing services run by Amazon, Kobo, B&N, and Apple.) Almost anybody with a computer has access to the publishing industry’s full ebook distribution chain.
- Ebook development is underpaid and so will not attract experienced talent from the web industry.
- It’s easier to make a bad book than a good one and so the vast majority of ebook supply will be bad.
The argument I’m about to make is that this situation gives publishers (both self- and non-self) an incentive to market poor quality books (remember the definition of quality I outlined above), that the average available quality of books will fall, and that the overall publishing market will shrink in terms of overall revenue (even though the the number of units sold increases).
. . . .
Reliable information about ebook quality is increasingly hard to find in the market. Reviews have almost completely been gamed; a casual reader has few reliable indicators that tell them whether a review is an honest one or not. Rubbish books, ones that most buyers don’t even read to the end before giving up, shoot up the bestseller lists due to viral marketing. Bestseller lists themselves are increasingly either gamed by publishers or by ebook retailers themselves who are trying to shift their sales in one direction or another.
Even some big publishers are getting into the game by dumping cheap OCR converted ebooks full of errors onto the market. Again, a casual reader has no way to know whether this particular big publisher is one that does a quality ebook version or one who pumps out ebook ‘lemons’ by the virtual truckload.
The same applies to self-publishing. The casual reader doesn’t have access to the information to help them tell the difference between the self-publisher who has invested substantially in the quality of their book and one who is dumping something onto the market looking for a quick profit that requires next to no cash outlay. That is without mentioning the publishers and authors who have been paying for reviews, engaging in sock-puppetry, and astroturfing left, right, and centre.
My worry is that the ebook market has all of the hallmarks of an early stage ‘market of lemons’. The information asymmetry—exacerbated by the information hoarding done by the big ebook retail players—the growth in dishonest actors, and the increasing disincentive for honest actors to even participate at all, make ebooks an ideal candidate for the lemon dynamic.
What this would mean, if true, is that publishers and self-publishers will begin to experience massive pressure to lower prices if they are to move their product at all.
I think this is already happening with self-publishers.
Link to the rest at Studio Tendra and thanks to William for the tip.
While PG understands the economic and market behavior issues, since ebooks are digital goods, technology fixes to allow readers to deal with lemon ebooks are simple to implement. Amazon already has several in place.
The first is a seven-day return period for ebooks. Click a button and you get your money back. Way simpler than remembering to take a physical book back to a bookstore. And you can’t spill tomato juice on an ebook.
Of course, everyone has had the experience of buying an ebook then not getting around to discovering it’s a lemon until the return period has expired.
After this happened once, PG started always downloading samples of interesting books before purchasing. He still does that quite often, but does experience sample clutter on his digital bookshelf. PG disagrees with the Studio Tendra author’s contention that samples don’t work for identifying lemons. He can virtually always make a lemon/non-lemon decision within a few screens.
If he doesn’t want to download a sample and sees an ebook he thinks he might like but can’t read immediately, he puts it in a private Amazon Wish List called Maybe Books. Then, when he’s ready to read the book, he goes to the wishlist and buys it, knowing it’s returnable for seven days.
Other online ebookstores don’t have these kinds of features but still allow ebooks returns (PG won’t buy from anyone that doesn’t allow ebook returns). If a bookstore doesn’t have a sampling or wish list function, PG would be inclined to use one of his favorite programs, Evernote, to save the book’s description page and URL (it’s a right-click function when you install Evernote’s web-clipper) and tag the note with something like books to buy so he can easily find it later.