Radiohead's new disk, In Rainbows, is going to be, is already a smash hit, a commercial coup for the band and a pathbreaker when it comes to music distribution. A VC, Fred Wilson, estimates that it may have grossed them $6.5 million in four days. Not bad.
Books are different from music (especially in that 'downloads' are not the way forward; since digital editions are much more promising); but there is a lot that book publishers could learn from the Radiohead example. Precisely because books can be exposed through the web, without being usefully or viably downloaded, the web is a great medium for promoting new or topical books. But publishers really arent doing this.
Here are some topical books which their publishers should be promoting through the web by either offering a significant chunk for free open access, or providing open access to the complete edition for a limited period. All these books would sell in much greater numbers this Christmas if they were promoted in this way. In one or two cases we may find something from them on Amazon, Search Inside. but there is very little from the books themselves on the publisher's own web sites. Why arent these titles being promoted through the web with substantial extracts? Or the whole edition a la Radiohead?
Pears Cyclopaedia 2007-2008, Penguin £20. This is a title which absolutely should be exposed in full from the Penguin website for at least a month.
My Manchester United Years, Bobby Charlton, Headline, £20. Surely at least a chapter should be shown from the Headline web site -- where it is hard to find the book -- and why is there no Search Inside from Amazon?.
Exit Music, Ian Rankin, Orion, £10.99. The publisher offers us an interview and an audio extract, but no facsimile of the print to whet our appetites. Nothing would be lost, no twist at the end revealed, and many buyers would be won over if the publisher hosted a 32 or 64pp sample.
The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane, Granta, £18.99. This author writes so beautifully and is still relatively unknown. Arguably his book should be open access for a few months since very few readers will be satisfied with just a web-read or a web-browse. There is some limited exposure on Amazon Search Inside.
An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore, Bloomsbury, £14.99. The author has just won the Nobel Peace Prize. The book sold well last Christmas, but with vigorous promotion this title might sell even better this year. Given the environmental message of the author it is strange that Gore has not insisted that his publishers promote with open access versions of his book. The book is so beautifully produced that more copies would surely be sold.
An Inconvenient Truth is a very Radiohead proposition. And the message of the book is important for us all. Book publishers have a huge advantage (contrast with the music industry); since temporary open access through the web does not diminish the appetite for a book. With all good books the demand will be stimulated. So why are not new titles made available on publication through the web at least for a few months, AS A MATTER OF COURSE?
.... it really is a no brainer as Radiohead are showing us. (OK, yes there is another view on the Radiohead caper -- see Eoin Purcell).