Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Glass Half Empty or Full?

On the back of the announcement from Picador the press vultures are now signalling the death of the hardback.

There are three issues; use, price and content.

The use is simple. Hardbacks are more tactile, easier to lay flat and read and more robust. Libraries require a robust product that can be lent to many and that will continue to look good and survive the handling. The collector wants books that look good after reading and don’t have creased spines. But currently it may be at a price to high for many to differentiate the benefit between the hardback and the paperback. Prices have often risen to accommodate the current discount-mania but leave the hardback out priced. When you look at the likes of Folio Society you see different packaging and targeting of a collector proposition. So why does the hardback often even the same artwork? It’s hardly a collector item or differentiated consumer proposition.

The hardback has for a long time been a great trick. You simply wrap the same content in a hard wrapper and charge twice as much for the privilege. Yes they look nicer, they are more robust and less prone to damage but let’s be real it’s exactly the same content!

The digital issue is in effect exploding the spine and releasing content from the physical cover that was in effect a ’straight jacket’. Even the music business, with its track record of disasters, recognised how to play this game. You now find various different packaging of the music but with different supporting materials. They understand that the collector wants a different package to the regular buyer and are willing to pay for it. There is a whole host of new collector packages hitting the market that will sell and sell at a premium. The video market has long used the ‘out-takes’ that used to go in the bin to enhance the DVD over other channels.

In an age where digital and physical bundles can exists and where there is such a wealth of additional material to support and enhance the offer why on earth do we believe that two pieces of card will continue do the trick? Worse still why do we believe that the issue is so hard to think about its easier to just stop doing it?
The wealth of marketing materials are exploding. We have author podcasts, book video promotions, search inside, etc why do we have to drop hardbacks ‘because they don’t work’?

Hello, why not take the glass half full approach and fill it to the brim?