Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Random House OK w/ $9.99 books. What are Penny Dreadfuls?

Daithi, posted a report at MobileRead forums on statements by Madeline McIntosh, President of Sales, Operations and Digital for Random House, at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute meeting Feb 5.

On the subject of the Macmillan/Amazon conflict, she said that publishers "have no real experience at setting retail prices."  Daithi writes that she also revealed that one of the reasons Random House did not participate in the iPad iBookstore had to do with the pricing issues.

Daithi reported further that:
' In regards to delayed releasing of ebooks, McIntosh said, "Our current policy is we release e-books at the same time as physical books," followed by "I haven't been convinced that it's good for the author or consumer to delay the release. My fear is that the consumer who has fully embraced the technology will buy another e-book that is available or lose interest altogether. What if I train the consumer that the best scenario is to get it free?" '
He adds that McIntosh had worked for Random House for 18 years, left to work for Amazon less than 2 years ago as their Director of Kindle Content Acquisition for Europe, and Random House hired her back last year as President of Sales, Operations, and Digital.  While she may have had personal empathy with Amazon's position, Random House apparently agrees with her take.
  If only they were not usually choosing to disable the Kindle's impersonal-sounding text-to-speech feature, an action which is unfair to the vision-impaired.

In an interesting piece on how, to his "surprise," the Kindle became his "preferred reading mechanism for both periodicals and books" Robert Robb, a columnist for Arizona Republic, writes that he has doubts that the book publishers are reading the market and the potential of e-books correctly.  In his experience, at $10 a book, he's become "much more of an impulse buyer of books" and buys new books he has an interest in, at $10 but not at the list prices. In closing, Robb dispassionately (as opposed to vociferous forum discussions) describes a decision most of us have made and will be choosing more often after March:
' However, the difference between $10 and $15 seems to make the difference between an impulse buy by me and skipping it. I recently read a reference to a history of financial crises. It sounded interesting so I immediately went to the Kindle shop to see if it was available.  It was, but at $15.  At $10, I would have bought it.  At $15, I gave it a pass.

As a quantitative guy, I don't believe in reading much into anecdotal experience, even my own.  But I doubt that I'm alone.  The primary effect of e-books, if the pricing is gotten right, might be to substantially expand book sales, rather than shifting them between formats.
Asked this the other day, I looked it up, having only a vague idea myself, and tweeted back "penny dreadfuls" were "dreadful," often "salacious" books priced low & quite popular. [For a fuller, more colorful description, see http://bit.ly/pdreadfuls]."

 These are books that will be offered by The British Library to Kindle owners, for free, along with the historically-accurate digital representations of first editions of more 'classic' books.  The Seattle PI newspaper has a long, detailed report by Nancy Mattoon on the penny dreadfuls, with sample books. Excerpts:
' Happily, along with the high class fiction, the UK library's freebies will also include the world's finest collection of cheap, tawdry, lowdown, lowbrow, Victorian trash. Get ready to heat up your cold Kindle with a torrid "Penny Dreadful."
. . .
If horror-master Stephen King fathered a child with "true crime" queen Ann Rule, and the kid became a comic book illustrator, you'd end up with a Penny Dreadful. The British version of a dime novel, these serialized stories were originally aimed at working class readers who couldn't afford the one shilling freight for mainstream monthly fiction produced by authors like Dickens. Instead of costing the equivalent of 12 pennies a month, these weekly cheapies gave avid readers of lurid tales a taste of their drug of choice for a penny a pop.
. . .
The most popular of the dreadfuls included highly glamorized sagas of real-life criminals like highwayman Dick Turpin, take-offs on folk heroes like Robin Hood, and horror variants like Varney the Vampire, an English version of Count Dracula.  The original Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street, was a character in one of Edward Lloyd's most successful weeklies, The String of Pearls. Another popular anti-hero was based on a London urban legend. "Spring Heeled Jack" was half-man, half-devil, with superhuman strength, and like a later pop culture icon, the "ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound." '
There's a lot more in the article, so if intrigued be sure to follow the link to the Seattle PI story. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. Thank you Andrys for the illuminating comments about e-book pricing. I am in Robert's camp. I am driven by impulse buying. The impulse stops at $10.

  2. Penny dreadfuls were actually an important forerunner of paperbacks and part of the idea that books weren't just the province of the rich (or even the middle class), as were the American equivalent...dime novels. Yes, like early paperbacks, they tended to be genre titles...as we often see in e-books now. They also had an impact on comic books.

    Bufo Calvin
    I Love My Kindle blog

  3. Andrys, thanks again for the great service you provide to we Kindle-people. I hope you can tell me in a post how do we go about finding and ordering books from the British Library? I may be missing something but just cannot figure it out. Thanks,

  4. Hi, Bufo -
    Yes, the two articles I linked to and excerpted mentioned the paperback and comic book connections. Both articles are - appropriately - colorfully written.

    I liked this (from my 2nd quoted paragraph by Seattle PI writer)
    "If horror-master Stephen King fathered a child with "true crime" queen Ann Rule, and the kid became a comic book illustrator, you'd end up with a Penny Dreadful."

    I think that's a recipe for a highly successful book today. :-)

  5. Michael,
    I'm in that camp myself. I didn't buy many books before I had the Kindle but I'm forever buying on impulse now although never above $10 unless it's for something like Photoshop books, which are usually double the price of normal books.

  6. Thank you for the post. It's nice to know that some publisher has a good sense of the market.

    For me, my impulse buy is under $5 mark. But I buy anything from my favorite author under $10 without even reading the blurb first. Anything above $10, I'll probably checkout the DTB price at Amazon or Costco and decide buying that rather than an ebook if it REALLY interests me... or not buy it, and forget about it 2 days down the road.

  7. Harvey,
    You're not missing a thing. The British Library and Amazon will be releasing these books in the Spring, and at that time we'll get information on how to download them for our Kindles
    Thank you again for the nice words.

  8. Kooritsuki,
    My reaction is like the one you have, if it's over $10, and that's to slap my hand if it's about to press the 'Buy this now' button and then forget about it after a few days (or hours).

    The only DTB books I've bought are the rarer ones on Travel and I've been getting fantastic buys at EBay on some really nice books.

  9. Bravo Random House!

    Are you paying attention Macmillan?

  10. What authors does Random House publish. I'm buying Random House and avoiding Macmillan.

  11. Anonymous,
    I earlier gave the link to teacher-authors instead and have deleted that one. Here's the Random House browse-all-authors page:


  12. Another key point about the 'dreadfuls': The term does not refer to literary quality, but to story content. "A Series of Unfortunate Events" seem like a h/t to the form. They are tales full of dread, intended to instill in the reader the same feelings of dread and suspense.

    I can't wait!

    a different 'anonymous'

  13. I agree 100%, Andrys. It amazes me that people/publishers don't see the possibilities in increasing the size of the pie (people interested in reading), by lowering the costs of ebooks. Of course they need to make a profit, but the incremental costs of publishing the "next" ebook are so low, they can afford to experiment with _lowering_ prices, not raising them! Even beyond the Kindle itself, there are millions of people with iPhones that can read Kindle books, and I know people who own Kindles who do most of their reading on their phone (not me personally, but whatever makes a person happy! *grin*)

    With the huge amount of competition for entertainment budgets and time, trying for impulse buys seems a pretty good idea to me!

  14. Amen, Ken

    Too bad it'll take so long for them to see the bad results for hardcover sales and the losses on any e-book ones, but it's a given, in my 'book.' :-)


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