How Book About E-Book Pricing Wars Got Rushed to Market


In a bold move that shows how publishers can act swiftly – very swiftly – to capitalize on ongoing news events with the e-book single format, Publishers Weekly rushed “The Battle of $9.99: How Apple, Amazon and the ‘Big Six’ Publishers Changed the E-Book Business Overnight” to the market on June 18.  It took less than a month from inception of the idea to having the book available to consumers at digital retailers. 

The 58-page e-book single, written by the magazine’s senior writer Andrew Richard Albanese and the publication’s first e-book single, is a must-read for any consumer interested in knowing about the pricing of e-books.  It looks at the fierce e-book pricing battle that erupted after Apple decided to enter the book business with the introduction of the iBookstore in 2010. That decision ultimately led to the Justice Department’s April 2012 lawsuit against Apple and five large book publishers.  It also spawned a trial that began June 3, 2013.  One of the more unusual aspects of the book is that it was published before the outcome of the trial is known.

The ultra-quick publication of “The Battle of $9.99” is a progressive strategy on the part of Publishers Weekly and one that many newspapers, magazines and other news media outlets should consider emulating.  The strategy boils down to this:  if there’s a big story involving the publication’s sphere of influence, use the journalists who have covered the story to quickly turn out an e-book single.  They have the insights, sources and information to write something quickly and authoritatively that takes advantage of high consumer interest.   It can help keep a media brand strong and often rattles the cash register.

That’s what Publishers Weekly did with Andrew Richard Albanese.  He has probably written more stories about the Justice Department’s April 2012 lawsuit against Apple and five large book publishers than any other journalist.  And he’s embedded himself every day of the trial since it began in early June. So it was only natural for him to turn those impressions and facts into a longer, more substantial work than the average piece in Publishers Weekly.

“He amassed a great trove of information that didn’t fit into daily reporting,” said Publishers Weekly’s Jonathan Segura, senior editor, digital media. 

In late May, Segura and Albanese began discussing publishing a longer story that would cover the arc of the entire business drama about to be played out in a Manhattan courtroom. 

“We knew it would be longer than a story we would normally run,” recalled Segura.  They considered serializing the pricing story on website and then they hit on it:  an e-book single.  They knew they found the right vehicle to tell their story quickly and at the appropriate length.

Within days, by early June, Segura, was in conversation with prominent New York-based e-book publisher Vook.  One critical point:  getting the e-book single published quickly to take advantage of heightened interested because of the trial. 

“We have a reputation for turning out quality e-books very quickly,” said Matthew Cavnar, vice president, business development, Vook.  “Using a company like ours and using the right technology, book publishing can move at the speed of the news.” 

Cases in point:  Vook helped publish books on the Jodi Arias case (“Killer Girlfriend”) in April by two AP reporters covering the story and “Why Romney Lost” on November 9, 2012, just days after the Presidential election.

Even before Vook had seen a draft of the book, they sent four cover ideas to Segura.  Publishers Weekly selected a cover on June 11.  On Friday, June 14, the manuscript was delivered to Vook and it was proofed and copyedited over the weekend.  Once all copy and art was approved, Vook sent the book to iBookstore and Amazon.  Without hours, on June 18, “The Battle for $9.99” was available on iBookstore and the next day the book was on sale as an Amazon Kindle Single. 

“We call that ‘extreme publishing,’” said Cavnar. 

Buy atAmazon, iBookstore

Posted 6-20-13

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