What publishing can learn from Valve

NEWSWEEK NOV. 26 COVERIn an effort to beat this Kindle horse closer to pulp, I present an excellent essay by Ed Champion, a guy who knows publishing. He points out that the publishing industry is stuck in one or two models that just don’t work and things need to change. First, he brings up three examples: Valve offering its hit Left 4 Dead for half-price over President’s Day Weekend and improving sales 3000%, sales of board games going up in recessions because humans enjoy durable entertainment (games, books, maybe DVDs) in a downturn, and Free Comic Book Day which accounts for the most comic book sales over the year.

His bottom line is this:

So if you’re a publisher or a bookseller, consider this. If you know that people can afford a $10 hardcover (as opposed to a $30 hardcover), why in the hell aren’t you learning from these examples? Why aren’t you offering a Valve-like time window where people can walk into a bookstore and purchase a few $10 hardcovers over a weekend? And why aren’t you promoting the hell out of this? Why isn’t there a Free Book Day in which you get to introduce people to the joys of books and you get to know your customers? Why aren’t you forming intimate and personal connections with readers so that they’ll continue to buy your products? And why aren’t you considering that they really don’t have a hell of a lot of cash to throw around right now?

And it makes quite a bit of sense. Books are durable goods, they’re popular with a certain group of people and generally accepted by the mass of people. They’re inexpensive to make and easy to sell digitally – why, then, aren’t we using modern techniques to sell the heck out of them? I’m honestly asking: Are we missing something? Why can’t I get a free ebook every Monday a la the iTunes store’s free music offerings? I read two pages on the screen and then I get tired and go and buy it at Amazon in dead tree form. Or maybe I send it to my Kindle. Or maybe I have a robot read it to me in the bath. When it’s all said and done, however, you’ve made $numberofdownloads-$numberofpeoplewhohatedthebook fans and lost little except a false sense of control.