I probably spend more money on music every month than I did in college, when I went to the CD store every week — but all of the money is spent on live shows. The music itself, I download or stream or copy from friends. It’s almost as if the album has become an advertisement for the live show…
Movie’s are doing fine, too. Going to the movie theater is about the experience and, despite ridiculous claims by the RIAA and others about how Media Piracy costs the industry $75 trillion (yep, with ‘t’), many reports, including the recently released and pretty definitive one by the SSRC, prove that in many cases piracy boosts legitimate ticket sales.
But with books, it’s different. As Margaret Atwood points out so well, no one’s going to pay to see an author dressed in gold latex emerge from a giant egg. The act of reading is solitary and anti-social. The experience, the reason why we do it, is to be alone… A a rainy day, a fireplace, a bay window, the English countryside.
Or is it?
Sometimes, I read obscure books because I enjoy them, or to help explore a topics I alone might find interesting, but sometimes I watch scandinavian film noir by myself, or listen to free jazz on the hifi with a glass of scotch… Just because I do something alone, doesn’t define the genera.
So it is with reading. Much of what we read is done socially. We read so that we can use these ideas to engage our friends, we read to have a book that we can talk about, we to engage others — we do not read in a vacuum. That’s the power of the NYT Bestseller list… We read to be part of a community of readers.
If this is the case, can books be given away for free, while charging people for the social experience? Author events are never going to replace books sales, but what about author-led book clubs? Could we charge for the cocktail party experience where books are discussed? Should we start to think about advertising or sponsorship for books or series?
New business models will have to arise to confront a near future where book prices are a fraction of their current cost. Or even free. Trying to stop this from happening is, at best, a distraction from developing these models.