Open letter to the Book Publishers

Dear book publishers

Remember the long reign of the dinosaurs – they were supreme for 180 million years.  What’s your record?  Closer to 180 years I think.  One giant curve-ball was thrown at them, and away they went in a puff of smoke.  I remember when my home-town had record shops too.  Times moved on, they put their heads in the sand, and now they are all gone.  Now you guys face the same thing, except you can see it coming.  Evolve or be gone.


Some rights reserved by DjFello

My school has gone digital.  More and more schools will be too.  Every kid has a tablet (a computer for the uninitiated).  Our kids no longer carry textbooks.  Great we thought a few years ago – it must be much cheaper to get the digital rights to a class set of texts rather than having to kill trees, print the things, ship them halfway across the world to our school.  Um, wrong answer.  It ended up cheaper for us to buy most of the text-books, ship them to Vietnam and to put them in a room, never to be opened.  We reasoned that if we had 25 copies of the textbook, we could scan the relevant sections and share the digital copy with 25 students.  We had after all purchased 25 copies of the book, for 25 simultaneous views.  What a sad sad situation.  It will change, or you, publishing guys will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Why do I bring it up again now?  We did after all purchase and scan most of these books a few years ago.  Well, I had an idea today, that can save my school lots $money$ and may well hasten your demise, if you don’t move with the times.  Our school is growing – we need more textbooks for next year.  Today I realised that Amazon sells second hand textbooks, for as little as couple of dollars each.  Could we not buy a pile of pre-loved textbooks, put them in our back room never to be opened, yet now have the rights to a lot more copies?  This would be way cheaper than buying new textbooks, saving us lots of money, and yet no money will be going into your coffers.  Imagine if lots of schools started doing this.

Extinction poster

Some rights reserved by MarkWallace

And in this post I am not even going to enter the discussion as to whether we actually need textbooks at all, but feel that will be the direction of the future.  As I said at the top of this post, publishing guys, move with the times, or face possible demise.

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2 Responses to Open letter to the Book Publishers

  1. Wayne,

    Have to spoken with any publishers lately? The field is changing drastically. Speaking from an author’s perspective, things in the publishing field are continually evolving. I see friends in the field paddling to keep up with changes and understand the constantly changing market.

    I think one problem is that what educators want is not what the public may wants – and both sections are not clear what is is they want…Kindle, iPad, Nook, one-to-one? This is a critical time in the publishing industry, with many companies going under. If you suggest “evolve or die,” – can you give concrete suggestions that someone at a publishing company could take to a meeting and use? It’s easy to predict about what is forthcoming, but hard to help with change.

    What do you suggest publishing companies do?

    • Hi Patti

      You are right – it is easy to say change, but harder to say how. I guess if people want different things, provide different things. The profit margin for the publishers is much higher for digital media, than for traditional media, so even with potentially lower sales, profit can be higher.

      In the example I talk about here, an increasing number of schools want digital copies of textbooks. Most textbook suppliers still do not provide these, and others only on a CD you get IF YOU BUY THE BOOK. Now why would you buy a book just to get a digital copy? If they have identified that people want a digital copy, why not sell it to them directly. I guess, up till now, if a school needs to buy paper copies, to have the rights to scan / use digital copies, then the publishing industry is still making money selling their books – why would they change? My idea was that if many schools decided to just buy used copies (to have rights for their digital copies), the incentive for these companies to keep their heads in the sand is gone, and maybe more would come to the party with digital copies for sale. In the end it really is all about money…..


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