Friday, April 17, 2009

Paying for digital content

Book publishing is currently going through some growing pains similar to what the music and movie industries have already faced--consumers are clearly indicating that they want digital content, but they have a disconnect between having digital content and paying for digital content. It's frustrating from my standpoint as an employee of a major book publisher--I understand that we don't have to print a physical book, but there are other costs besides PPB (paper, printing, and binding) that go into a book. Things like the author's advance against royalties. Securing a copyright. Paying an acquisitions editor, a line editor, a copy editor, a managing editor, a production editor. Paying for art or a designer. Paying for marketing, advertising, publicity. Paying MY salary (my job is important to your book! I make sure all of our sales people know about it. If they don't know about it, they won't sell it to the bookstore buyers!).

The problem is that as a consumer, I totally see the disconnect. It feels very strange to pay for something you can't touch. I've downloaded movies, music, tv shows. My argument has typically been that no money has been lost--I wouldn't actually pay for these things, I would just do without them. So the content producer is actually winning, since I am one more set of eyeballs seeing their product, and possibly talking about things that I love. Friends and Dr. Horrible are great examples--I didn't like Friends that much, but I watched all the episodes I downloaded. I still don't really get it, and I would never purchase the box sets. However, I love, love, love Dr. Horrible and although it is available for free on the internet (legally!), Peanut and I own the DVD. Granted, that was a gift, but we had talked about buying it anyway.

It seems so weird to hand over money for something you can't touch and which is easily lost by a crashed hard drive. DRM makes it even stranger--I have a terrible aversion to paying for something I would never really own, that I would be restricted from transferring to any device I chose at any time. I'm not thinking about the production assistants or the sound mixers whose jobs and salaries depend on the money that comes from the purchase.

I'm torn--I realize that book publishing will have to change and join the digital revolution, and that some part of that is going to involve dealing with people who don't want to pay for digital content. We're going to have to figure out how to protect content as much as possible without making it difficult for people to own and have what they pay for. Perhaps advertising is the answer--I certainly don't mind it on Hulu. I'd rather be advertised to than hand over my own money any day.

How do you feel about paying for digital content? Does it inherently make sense to you? Or do you feel like you're getting cheated?


  1. I'm of two minds about it. I firmly believe that the content producers deserve recompense for their hard work. After all, if I want them to keep on producing, on what else should they live if not the proceeds from their work?

    At the same time, I have seen that the online subscriber only model doesn't appear to work, for the most part, and there are nuances I'm undecided about. When I buy a book, I have the right to loan it out, copy it and paste it to the walls of my abode, pass word along to friends and such. If you access digital media content, paid for or not, there's a pause of consideration: does this violate the parameters of my ownership? I wouldn't think so but it appears that there are more restrictions placed on DRM than print materials.

    At the same time, I'll admit that I've become accustomed to having free access to such things as serial online publications and webcomics. I'll support them by buying their merchandise and I'm sure that my page clicks and spreading the word helps support them as well, but I'm not purchasing the content. Which leaves me supporting ... what exactly? I'm not sure.

  2. The problem with digital content as it exists right now is that they charge too much for something that essentially doesn't exist. I remember reading that Kindle books run about $10, but I can get a physical copy of the book off Amazon for that amount! This book can then be sold or loaned to friends or returned to the store, depending on how much I liked it.

    If you buy a crappy digital book, there's no recourse.

    I'm not totally against the idea of a kindle, but until they make one that I can accidentally spill a cup of coffee on, I'll probably stick to paper books.

  3. Logically, I understand why they need to charge for content. Hell, I'm going into journalism, and if I work solely as an online writer - very likely - I still need to get paid, yet people are reading the news for free. Ya know?

    But I don't want to pay for digital content. Just signing up for free accounts to access stuff is a PITA already... so I don't really know where I stand.

  4. I will pay, if the cost is lower, as the medium they are transmitting to me is lower.

    They don't need to print books, I can pay for an e-book just fine, but $10/e-book is highway robbery. $5 is the right price for something that you can replicate in terms of repeating its transmission with just a click.

  5. I have 2 comments...and my perspective is that I am a technology editor that produces online content to accompany printed textbooks.
    1) Despite my firm belief in the value of online content, I don't think I will ever want to trade in a physical book for a kindle or reading on some other screen.
    2) to address Fabulously Broke's really don't save THAT much money by not printing something on paper...there is a cost to convert files to a format usable online, but mostly the majority of costs related to a book of any sort is in the development, not the production.

  6. I do feel a little cheated paying for something with restrictions about how I can save it. For instance, I've bought episodes from Amazon of Gossip Girl (back when it was "good"), but I couldn't save it to my computer. So if I go somewhere without Internet access, I can't watch it even though I "own" it.

    I'm pretty digital crazy about everything but books. I love curling up with a good book on the couch, being able to walk with a book in my hands and not worrying about my battery running out! The only book I've ever read online was the few chapters of Stephanie Meyer's latest book - a rehashing of Twilight from Edward's perspective - after she posted it to her site. But reading from a computer screen hurts my eyes if I do it for too long.


Thanks for commenting!