Very frequently when we talk to publishers they show little interest in selling digital subscriptions. In the case of magazine publishers this is truly weird, because their business has always been about selling subscriptions. The apparent reluctance to sell subscriptions among book publishers is in one way more understandable. Book publishers are not really used to selling subscriptions. They are mostly versed in the practice of outright sale of the book.

Mind you, book publishers, if they keep their eyes open, should realise that selling subscriptions has been hugely profitable for the publishers of academic and scientific journals. Publishers of academic books really ought to be cognisant of the fact that their books would be much more useful, and much more used by universities if they were available digitally.

It ought to be a bit of a ‘no brainer’. If the books are offered as digital resources they will be bought, they will be used. Nor is it at all likely that digital sales will impact print sales in the short term. Since many libraries will wish to have a printed volume as well as digital access.

But we do find it odd that publishers of books and magazines are still often surprisingly reluctant to move to offering a digital edition. They really are, most of them, being very slow. One of the most common ‘explanations’ of why the publisher does not want to try offering a digital edition at the moment is that the web site is currently being, or is just about to be, redesigned/improved/rethought/re-engineered.

Whenever a publisher says this, I have to restrain myself from saying that they will always be redesigning and improving the web site and that this will never be a reason for not seeking a new sale. “You really dont need to improve your web site in order to offer digital editions”, but I dont usually say that, since it is possibly impertinent and one should never contradict one’s potential client. In fact ‘offering’ digital editions can happen with any significant changes on a web site and no more impacts on the design of the web site than building a new warehouse. Come to think of it offering a digital editions is more like building a new warehouse or opening a new sales channel, but of course it costs practically nothing to do so (unlike most new warehouse, or web redesign, projects) …….

Yesterday I had an interesting variant on this ‘explanation’ from a publisher (I will leave it vague whether of magazines or of books) who said that she would really rather not consider this topic of digital editions until they were better organised. “‘Better organised’? So perhaps we should talk again in two months?” I cheekily ventured. To which she replied: “Yes call me again in two months when we are better organised.” I think I prefer that to the “I am waiting for my web site to improve” explanation, but it made me smile. I like the idea that we will be better organised in two months. But in my experience it usually takes a little longer. Which of course is a reason for starting to sell digital editions now. We are selling more than ever. It isnt yet an avalanche but it is building up very nicely.