As both the record industry and publishing industry struggle with the question of how they’ll survive in the Net age, Scribner Books came up with an interesting idea. This past September, they announced that they would be selling essays by Chuck Klosterman (author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto) for 69 cents at Amazon and other online outlets. As the NY Times article notes, this seemed like a riff off the iTunes 99-cents-per-song model. Sounds intriguing, right? Especially since there’s no easy answers about how to keep the book biz (let alone the music biz) afloat, ideas like this don’t seem too far fetched.
When I recently asked Klosterman about this venture, he shrugged off the music comparison:
“People kept trying to compare this to the iTunes music model, but there’s really no connection (outside the specific price point). While it’s very easy to imagine the person who thinks, “I don’t like Taylor Swift, but I love that one song of hers I keep hearing on CMT,” there really isn’t a literary consumer who thinks, “I’m not interested in reading this man’s books, but I do want full access to his specific thoughts about Saved By The Bell.” Reading is such a different experience than listening to music. Moreover (and maybe this is ultimately the biggest factor), it seems like most of the people who might potentially download these essays already owned the books themselves.”
He went on to say that while a song that you buy from iTunes is something that you’d probably go back to again and again, it’s not likely that you’d do the same with an essay. Fair enough but some of us bookworms/geeks like to go back to favorite pieces of writing for inspiration and sustenance- I keep a couple of them in my book bag that I carry around actually.
In terms of revenue, Klosterman said that from his perspective at least, this project wasn’t intended as a money maker per se. Royalties being what they are (he’d get 12% of the gross), he’d have to sell a hell of a lot of essays before he gets a return on the 69 cent price tag for each of them. As he noted also, from the stand point of a researcher who just wanted access to an individual essay, the service makes sense. One more effect would be that, as seen by the Times article and this blog entry, an idea like this gets attention. It may also cause other writers and publishers to consider the same idea or tweak it to their own needs. Again, with the publishing biz being so up in the air, don’t be surprised if you see more of this in the future.