Thursday, 18 September 2008

Print Publishing- alive? dead? Or merely misunderstood?

I started keeping tabs recently on the influx of stories in the international press about print  publishing, the digital revolution, e-books, ebook readers etc. However, despite being in the industry I quickly got fed up reading the whole print publishing is dead - oh, no, it's not debacle. The whole thing is like Christmas Panto come early - and I've never liked Panto.

Now, I've only read about thirty of these yes/no stories over the last week and I'm sure there have been many more, but as yet I haven't found one that really seems to grasp the issue. It's more like a bunch of nuns attempting to explain to each other what sex is actually like.

What I think people are missing is that e-books and e-readers aren't going to do one specific thing. Or in other words neither e-book or e-reader is a single one use product.

Let me explain.

If I'm going on holiday I'd be delighted to take the free e-reader on my Ipod touch and have twenty odd books on it. I don't mind the reader isn't perfect. I'm not looking for a book alternative I'm looking for a way of lugging an unfeasibly large amount of escapist fiction on holiday with me. I'll put up with the odd bit of flickering.

E-publishing can bring a huge amount of new writing to us cheaply and easily. Here, I'm more concerned that my e-publisher has taste and discretion. We're talking about loyalty to a new industry, where I can log on read a review and for a fraction of the cost download a writer I may well be thrilled to discover. I'm still not that fussy about how I read it.  It's the story that's important. Of course, I don't want to get a migraine doing it, but I may even be using my PC to read during my lunch hour and I may well decide to buy the POD if it's offered.

I'm a print publisher who wants to promote my books. I may well give them away free in a belief they encourage sales - and so far I believe, feel free to correct me, mainstream books that are released as e-books do hike sales. In this case I'm probably reaching those people not that into e-books (for whatever reason) who have a quick flick through and decide to buy the paper book.

I'm a print publisher who believes all books should be available as e-books at the same price. Ain't going to work. E-readers are coming on in leaps and bounds but the leisurely comfort of a paper book is still hard to beat. Yes, this may happen in the future, but the future's not here yet.

Huge reference books - not that much different to those DVD reference works, but easier to keep in your pocket. Main market liable to be academics and students - and maybe bird watchers as long as the e-reader is quiet enough.

By now you're hopefully getting the idea. The ebook and the e-reader will be many things to many people.  At the moment we have critics talking as if all e-books and e-book readers do the that same thing which is like saying all time telling devices are the same - when in reality we have church clocks, mantel piece clocks, wrist watches, bedside clocks, precision clocks - they all let us do the same thing, tell the time, but in many different ways and for many subtly different reasons. And you're certainly not going to buy a church clock as a bedside alarm in much the same way as you're not yet going to spend hundreds of pounds or dollars on an e-reader if you're only intending to use e-books to decide what you're going to buy in print.

I like the whole concept of e-books. I predict they will have a future, but it's an organically growing future and it is as much down to the social requirements as it is down to the evolution of tech.


Anonymous said...

RE: use three, I suspect this generates the same "ebooks promote sales/no they don't" duolog as "ebooks - dead or alive?" There are many different ways to present an ebook as a promotion tool, and I suspect the publishers who take the most liberal approach have greater success than those who try to lock it down.

Sherri said...

Thanks for the very insightful article. I've posted it to my Goodreads group where we've been discussing e-books and reading online/with a reader. I think you brought up points we had not considered.