33 1/3: Real Books About Music

Hopefully, a lot of you are thinking about the future of paper books these days. Books are objects. E-Books aren’t (although the iPad and the Kindle reader, and many other electronic tablet type thingies, are pretty amazing pieces of technology).

There’s just no question that digital text is going to have a massive impact on the publishing world’s business planning for the next decade. It seems pretty clear that paper-based books are going to shift in significance for people. By that I mean they’re going to become more valuable and more meaningful — although, it’s likely that sales will be dwarfed by e-books.

I predict that you’re not going to be able to find 1st-Run books in paper form at bookstores and libraries by 2020, but once a book “proves” itself in the marketplace (electronically), you’re going to be able to buy it as a hard copy in real space. 
You’re going to have two options: 
1) a print-on-demand (POD) edition that may or may not be high quality (click here to read an article on a POD system called “The Espresso Book Machine”) 
2) a limited edition, special run of a book. Pricing for these efforts will be easier and more predictable if the book shows it can sell. 
My guess is people will be willing to pay more than the $9.99 standard e-book price for stuff they really love. More importantly, buying a $35 hard copy book as a gift seems to me a very powerful trend opportunity. Yes, I know we already do that, but pretty soon it could be a much stronger statement of friendship and love and esteem. “Oh, my God, you bought me a hardback copy of 50 Shades of Grey? Oh, my God! You are going to get lucky tonight…after I finish reading again.” See what I mean?).
There are also going to be lots of niche paperbound book offerings, without doubt — from poetry to anthologies to classics (like James Frazer’s The Golden Bough). In addition, the shift in value of paper-based books could very likely spawn new and creative offerings from entrepreneurial new publishers who understand that books are art again.

The most interesting enterprise I’ve come across recently is 33 1/3 (originally run by Continuum and recently purchased by Bloomsbury). 33 1/3 is a publishing venture that produces monograph/creative books about great vinyl music albums of the past. One of their latest efforts is penned by Jonathan Lethem about the Talking Heads’ revolutionary album “Fear of Music.” Check out an intriguing review of this book at The Millions here.
33 1/3 is working on their 87th book in the series now.  They cover everything from Pink Floyd’s “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” to “Zaareika” by The Flaming Lips, and U2’s “Achtung Baby.” These books are each printed in lots of a few thousand and possess all the valence of the albums they represent. Typically, they sell for $15. Personally, I think they could jack the price another $10 and more people would buy them. They’re artifacts. Very soon we will see them as works of art again. Won’t that be a wonderful world? 

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