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Why is Harper delaying the digital release of Sarah Palin book?

By Matthew Shaer / September 30, 2009



So much for that e-book revolution.

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For months, we've heard the same refrain: The proliferation of digital readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the iRex DR800SG will rejuvenate the ailing publishing industry. But one of the biggest books of the 2009 holiday season, Sarah Palin's “Going Rogue: An American Life,” will not hit e-readers until Dec. 26, nearly a month after the Nov. 17 publication date of the hardcover edition.

"Going Rogue," which Palin wrote with the help of World Magazine feature writer Lynn Vincent, will be the first major title published by Harper in recent years not to see a simultaneous e-book release.

"We'll see what we learn," Brian Murray, chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers, told the Wall Street Journal yesterday. "The publishing plan is focused on maximizing velocity of the hardcover before Christmas, at a time when hardcover sales in the industry are down 15 percent."

Well, OK. We see where Murray is going with this. Hardcover sales have plummeted, and hardcover sales are where publishers make a lot of their money. (The profit on e-books is not as great.) But holding fire on the digital version of Palin's book is a little like closing down the website of a major newspaper to force people to buy the print product.

Current trends point to a growing interest in digital readers, just as they point to an overwhelming interest in online newspapers. You can force someone to buy something in dead tree format for a while, but you can't force them forever.

Consider the statement made by Dan Brown's blockbuster hit, "The Lost Symbol," which was published earlier in the month. The book went simultaneously to both digital readers and to book store shelves – and fared well across the board.

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