Podcast Heaven and the iTunes Model Revisted

I finally started adding my music library to iTunes yesterday and noticed that there were a few beloved albums I had to have. Pandora has been fantastic; there are several artists and albums I discovered through there. So, I went over to the dark side and bought the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, The Seldom Seen Kid album by Elbow and, of course, the remastered radio edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

BOOOOOOOOOM! Thirty dollars later…

I also added several podcasts that I’ll be listening to. iTunes has two ways to subscribe, so if you have any recommendations let me know. I’m brushing up on my French and Italian as well, so if you’ve fallen in love with any podcasts from France or Italy, feel free to suggest those, too. I’m not quite ready to mention what I liked and didn’t, but there are a few I’m looking for related to yoga (an audio podcast as opposed to video), jewelry-making and pretty much anything comics, game or fiction-related. I’ve already subscribed to a couple of podcasts in geekdom, but there’s sooooooo many it’s hard to know where to begin.

Needless to say, I’m in podcast heaven. I’m very happy I can take classes, listen to audio fiction, and get different perspectives on the things I’m interested in. W00t!

Spending money with iTunes is even easier than shopping at Amazon, which got me to thinking about the iTunes model and the sheer tenacity some publishers use to think about pricing their books at ninety-nine cents. The funny thing is: I didn’t spend ninety-nine cents. Yes, I was buying albums, but even when I looked at songs, I was thinking about how many songs I could get instead of buying just one to build a playlist. Songs are something I can immediately consume. Download and play right there. I can’t “consume” an entire novel in the same time I can play a song. Even then, one novel differs so wildly from another one that I don’t buy books in volume.

Volume, in my mind, is the key to ensuring the iTunes model is successful. That is also what I feel is missing from the “Hey, let’s copy iTunes because they were successful” conversations. Every graph I’ve seen, every story I’ve heard is the same. In order to have profitability increase on a low-priced item, you’d have to move a lot of that items or similarly-priced items over a longer period of time.

Recently, I talked about the difference between marketing and selling your books. When you start mucking around with pricing, that falls under the retailer umbrella, even if you don’t own the shopping cart. The thing is, pricing an item appropriately is difficult to learn on your own because the issue of why people buy anything is very complex. Sometimes demand has absolutely nothing to do with your book; other times it does.

Just as one example, I’ve been looking at audiobooks more often lately. I have two primary concerns. Price and adaptability. If I can’t listen to an audiobook (or fiction podcast) on my iPod or my computer, then I probably won’t buy it. I’ve had several issues trying to listen to audiobooks on CD and I’m pretty much done with that. Most of the CDs won’t allow me to copy the audiobook for that purpose, because it’s considered just that. Copying. I don’t want to distribute it or share it with anyone else; I just want to listen to it in a format I choose. Add pricing concerns on top of that and for books that don’t warrant the higher price tag (e.g. audio performance sucks), then I’ll look for books within a particular range.

It’s a lot easier to make decisions about what music I want to buy, because I can quickly listen to a sample and make a snap decision. With a novel, even if there’s a sample, I’d have to read a preview before I bought it. Music I impulse buy. Books I don’t. Usually, when I buy a book, I already know I want to pick up a copy. I rarely take a chance on an author I don’t know unless it’s a personal recommendation. While I have made snap decisions to purchase a book in the past, it’s nowhere near as fast as how I buy music.

Now, those are some of my buying habits, and I’m assuming they’re probably different from yours. I wanted to share them with you to show how demand is often different for books than it is for music. Yeah, there are exceptions. There’s a reason why Water for Elephants is selling really well right now — the movie. Same phenomenon happens with comics, too. A movie debuts and the comics get a boost in sales. For a few examples: Wanted from Top Cow, Thor and the upcoming Immortals graphic novel from Archaia based on the movie of the same name.

If you want to read some of my past thoughts on the subject, check out weighing in on e-books and your business model is not your neighbor’s, which was reprinted at SFWA.org. I don’t feel my core message has changed at all, but I do feel that it’s becoming a lot clearer to me that there are distinct differences between looking at price from a retailer’s perspective versus a consumer’s or a marketer’s. No matter how much you may read about pricing, it’s often a challenge to understand how it works until you play around with it yourself. Even then, I’m finding out more and more that it can depend on your inventory (e.g. how much you have to offer people for sale) as well.

I’m confident that the publishing industry will sort itself out, and I think it’s pretty exciting that some authors are learning what works and what doesn’t for them. Still, I wish certain people would stop bashing retailers and publishers. I don’t feel that they’re evil. They simply have their own set of expertise that may be different from an artist, musician, etc. These are fascinating times and I can’t wait to see how the dust settles from digital delivery, internet retail and ever-changing buying habits. The stars only know what the right business model is. For me, that is.





About Monica

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, game designer, and consultant who lurks in the dark.

Monica has published both original stories as well as tie-in fiction for games like Vampire: the Masquerade. Her short stories have appeared in many anthologies and collections including Extreme Zombies, Don’t Read This Book, and New Hero Volume 1.

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