So the digital age brings us full circle, back to the serial publishing of the Victorian era. Random House has announced that it will test selling books by the chapter online.
I’m old school enough to prefer a physical book, but certainly there are plenty of indications that readers will commit to an online series if the topic is right. RH begins with Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Apparently it’s a kind of motivational or how-to book. Library Journal offers this short review:
Chip Heath (organizational behavior, Graduate Sch. of Business, Stanford Univ.; Rumor Mills) and brother Dan (consultant, Duke Corporate Education; cofounder, Thinkwell) team up on a tacky topic. They borrow the “stickiness” metaphor from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which examined the social forces causing ideas to make the leap (“tip”) from small to large groups. The Heaths focus on the traits that contribute to an idea’s ability to catch on, or “stick.” Urban legends—like the one about the traveling businessman who is drugged and wakes up minus a kidney—are prime examples of such stickiness. While totally untrue, these tales make for great retelling, and we seem primed to fall for them. Using engaging examples from around the world, the authors illustrate the six principles of stickiness: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories (SUCCES!). Their fun-to-read book will appeal to communicators in every field who want their messages to be more effective.
Not really my sort of literature (“SUCCES”? What language is that?) but, okay, it’s the kind of thing that could do well, I suppose, considering all the websites that are out there telling you how to reach a wide audience with your blog or to “copyblog” effectively, etc. etc.
But what I’m not sure about is the pricing. Each of the book’s six chapters plus epilogue will sell for $2.99. That means, let’s see, 3 times 7 less 7 cents … the online book will sell for $20.93. Meanwhile, you can buy the hardcover book from powell’s or from amazon for about the same price, or even a few dollars less. The cost of producing the printed book is surely much more than the cost of producing an electronic version for download, so why isn’t the electronic version much cheaper?
Apparently RH sees the opportunity to make significant profit, and it doesn’t think price is a factor in the print/electronic decision. I guess the premise is that if you want to read electronically you don’t worry about what the print version sells for. I don’t know if they have market research to back this up, but it suggests that there is a developing audience that is resolutely opposed to print.
This is just more evidence that books on paper are reverting to their original function of elite objects for a sort of priestly class.