By now, you’ve probably seen the NYT’s story on publishers phasing out the hardcover book in response to ebooks. Paperbacks are coming out earlier, and “many publishers” now “wonder if cost-conscious shoppers are reading e-books right away rather than waiting for the paperback.”
(You can stop wondering, publishers. They definitely, definitely are.)
So. Hardcovers are mortally injured and slowly dying. This is excellent news. I agree with Paul Constant over at the Stranger (and with myself) that the hardcover business model is unsustainable in a digital world. It continues to actively hurt publishing, but at least publishing seems to be growing aware of that hurt.
Since ebooks were first introduced, publishers have bent over backwards to protect the exorbitant retail prices of new-release hardcover books. They struggled to make distributors adopt the agency model, so they could drive up the prices of ebooks (even though they make less money with agency-priced books). They did that only to make hardcover prices seem like less of a rip-off.
This environment is great for established, in-demand authors like George R.R. Martin, who sold 170,000 hardcover copies of Dance with Dragons in just one day. But climbing the hardcover hill makes it harder than ever for new authors and unknowns to get the recognition they deserve. The higher the price of books, the fewer risks readers will take.
By contrast, without hardcovers, there’s no disincentive to buy the newest books and try out lesser known, lesser publicized authors. The death of the hardcover will make for a happier, healthier reading culture, and that will create more book sales, no matter what that crazy Macmillan CEO says (he also bribes people for the right to sell expensive textbooks to poor African kids).
Releasing paperbacks a little bit earlier won’t help either, it’ll only increase people’s incentive to wait for that paperback before buying a new book. That’s not a sound way to cash in on all that first-edition marketing. (Quick, name a book you were thinking about buying six months ago but didn’t.)
Only the death of the hardcover will do now. I can’t wait to rejoice when they finally kick the bucket.
Each month I try and sort out some of the more accessible and interesting entries on the SEPW to share with readers interested in issues such as library digitization, open access, and electronic journals. You can check out my previous entries here.
This month I’ve got just a few quick items to share. First, I’ll draw attention to “Creating the Mark Twain Project Online” by Lisa Schiff. The MTPO is a neat little project I had never before heard of. Its aim is to make free to the public a wealth of the great author’s personal documents and correspondence by “providing access to more than 2,300 complete texts, over 28,000 records of other known items, and almost 100 facsimile images.”
The case study linked to above isn’t about Mark Twain itself, though it will provide an interesting bit of reading for those interested in digital archiving and techie site creation stuff. Readers interested in getting into the Twain papers made available by this ambitious project should check out the Mark Twain Project directly. …
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Copyright law is dastardly business, with more nickel-and-diming and squabbling over percentages than most people probably gather. The music and film industries have gone batshit with copyright law since the rise of the internet, as evidenced by all the tricky take down notices and bogus fair use violation actions taken against YouTubers and bloggers every day.
Imagine if everyone who contributed to the ingredients of a can of soup had a different stake in the overall profit of the can, then on top of that, the percentages paid out to the pea farmers and noodle makers changed depending on what side of the ocean the soup was purchased on. Same farmer; same soup. Once the soup gets old, and the farmers are dead no one can really claim the money anymore (unless they stick a new label on it and add a dash of salt). Books, more so than canned goods, have a tremendous shelf life. …
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The second half of our interview swap (at least part 1 of the second half–we have a lot to say) with online magazine Fringe is now available on the Fringe blog. Thanks a lot to Lizzie Stark and the others at Fringe for doing the interviews and asking some great questions. Check out their questions and our responses here.
I’ve been noticing lately that a lot of people seem to off handedly toss both ebooks and self-published (e)books into the not “real” book category, or at least the not as “real” as those books published by an established publisher category. This is of course completely ridiculous. We do enough harping about ebooks on this site, but self-publishing doesn’t get much mention, so I thought I’d put together some quick ideas about self-publishing, as well as take a look on what the migration to digital text means for self-publishers. Most importantly, self-published books are sadly a largely unnoticed market, and there is a lot of great reading to be found by readers willing to take the plunge, so I’ve included some links to get you searching for your next, independently published read. …
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I get a little annoyed when people confuse the physical book (just a bunch of pressed wood pulp, ink, and glue) with the book itself (a collection of letters, arranged into words, arranged into sentences, in a one-of-a-kind sequence). Sure, it’s okay to have your preference in reading medium, but War and Peace is War and Peace even if you pee it into the snow or yodel it.
So when I read things like this post from techradar (Why Publishers Would Be Mad to Support eBooks), it grinds my gears a bit. Beyond the fact that the author has clearly done little research and likely hasn’t taken the time to actually try an ereader before condemning them (I was an opponent won over quickly and those who naysay without trying one really sounds akin to someone in the 80s calling email a gimmick), he doesn’t seem to read books all that much, and certainly doesn’t love them.
Right now, the publishing industry faces a similar change [to that encountered by the music industry]. If it goes digital, it’s moving into a world where there are bigger, more powerful and more experienced players, and those players will eat the publishers’ lunch; if the book trade thinks supermarket discounting is making its life difficult, it ain’t seen nothing yet.
By sticking to dead trees, however, the book publishers can keep on doing what they’re doing. Sure, some people will be happy with a leaked download of Harry Potter, or a badly scanned how-to manual. But they’ll be the minority.
Recorded music is a relatively new invention, but books have been around for nearly two thousand years and mass-produced books for several hundred. If publishers don’t rush into digital, they could be around for hundreds more.
Besides the basic economic principal that competition drives innovation, the recommendation that the book publishers can safely keep doing what they’re doing is ridiculous. …
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As promised, we’ve done an interview swap with online magazine Fringe. Editor-in-Chief Lizzie Stark was kind enough to answer our questions about digital publishing and some of the challenges of publishing an online magazine as well as their ideas on keeping up with a constantly changing literary and online landscape. You can read the other half of the swap, where we answer questions about ereaders, ebooks, and our plans for a the future on the Fringe blog.
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Lately I’ve been poking around on a great directory called the Scholarly Electronic Publishing Weblog (located here), which compiles articles about ebooks published in scholarly journals. In general, scholarly journals don’t get very much love from non-scholars. The articles can be pretty dry, and the gists sometimes tough to parse without a filter. However there’s always a lot of interesting reading provided from some very smart people in them, and they’re usually the first places to learn of new trends, studies, etc., before they are disseminated through newsprint and the internet.
I’ve filtered out some of the most intriguing and provided brief abstracts for them below, and I’ve only included articles that can be accessed for free in this post.
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According to a Missouri local newspaper, representatives from McGraw-Hill met with faculty from Northwest Missouri State University facutly this week to discuss how things are going with the pilot ebook program and no doubt investigate how they can great more desirable digital textbooks. One suggestion:
Meeting with a group of philosophy professors Thursday afternoon, the publishing representatives learned that students and teachers would prefer to have online access to the books they use, as well as the downloaded versions, on the university laptops.
Let’s hope this means a next iteration of digital textbooks (and perhaps ebooks of the near future) that takes user needs interaction and connectivity seriously. In a previous post, Nico pointed out the school’s plans for using digital texts and their unique position due to their textbook rental policy (a great idea for sparing students the outrages prices of collegiate text books, especially used ones: schools should do better than to fleece their students like they do). You can read the whole article about the publishing reps’ visit here.
It’s a little disheartening that they didn’t seem to find any great shakes with the ereader devices, but it’s easy to understand how the limited functionality of current-gen ereaders doesn’t capture the attention of the multitasking young college student majority. The connectivity and sharing potential of the Vital Source program and note-sharing capabilities mentioned are many, however, and hopefully other publishers like McGraw-Hill are thinking seriously about improving their digital products for “voracious” customers, and building a viable epublishing model, rather than merely dumping text into digital formats for quick profits as too-often seems to be the current trend.
Fortune magazine recently published a pretty interesting article on ereaders and the current state of the publishing industry. The author does a nice job of breaking down the basics in lay terms, explaining the history of electronic ink and ereaders and how the technology differs from computer screens. He also summarizes the business trends that have put the industry in the place it is in now. It’s sort of an ereader 101.
You can read the entire article here. Most interesting is the rather coy discussion of the coming generation of ereaders. A lot of the potential of these gadgets has yet be be approached, let alone reached, so it’s exciting to see that this technology is not as much of an afterthought for the publishers as it sometimes appears to be. It’s encouraging, but while a few more players will help encourage competition and growth, let’s just hope things don’t become quite as fragmented as the fellow from Hearst seems to imply.