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The end of pre-orders (pub date and its discontents)

April 10, 2011
by seth godin

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Book publishers make a big deal out of pub date, about getting pre-orders and maximizing launch bang. I maintain that pre-orders are now mostly antiquated.

Since 1900, the expression publication date meant, “it takes a year for us to bring a book to the world, and exhausted, we’ll cross the finish line on Day x and that’s when you can buy it.”

Publishers had to enforce against booksellers selling before Day x because not all stores got their books on the same day.

Online sellers, of course, found out about books months before they were actually available to read, but were also prohibited from selling them. But not from taking orders.

Publishers and authors went along with this, because in many ways, pre-sales are good.

Pre-sales help juice up bestseller list status, because if you queue em up, you get credit all at once.

Pre-sales are also helpful for inventory management. Since it takes a while for re-orders, knowing that the demand is there can smooth things out.

And so, in the case of Do The Work, there’s a pre-sale period. Publishing the Kindle edition before pub date doesn’t work, because it would seriously penalize non-digital readers. And it wouldn’t be pub date if the book came out before then…

We announced the GE sponsorship early because we didn’t want people to start paying for the digital edition only to find out on pub date that we had a sponsor and it was free. That would punish those that stepped up early with their wallets open.

And so…

You can pre-order the digital edition (or the hardcover, fine with us!) but no one gets it until April 20th.

As ebooks become ever more dominant, the nature of pre-orders makes less and less sense, particularly since the Internet has trained us to wait for nothing.

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