I have an e-reader. I love it and my back loves it. Since I use public transportation every day I was quickly becoming the Hunchback of Notre Dame carrying hardcover tomes back and forth to work. I often chose my next read based on weight of the book. No longer do I need to hit the gym before I can read the Autobiography of Mark Twain while standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the New York City subway.
Yet I still read paper books, which surprises me. I assumed that when I made the electronic transition, like with music, there’d be no going back. It turns out there are some books I want on my shelf, some I want to highlight and make notes in the margins. I’m not alone. According to a survey conducted in April 2012 by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 58 percent of people who have e-readers also read print books.
That same survey revealed that 85 percent of respondents who don’t currently own an e-reader said they had no interest in ever owning one. While 28 percent of Americans currently own a device that leaves room for some market-share growth, but not much, unless of course consumers change their mindsets.
So when I read articles written by bloggers and so-called industry insiders (who often have not worked a day inside a big house) with headlines like “An Industry on the Brink” or “The Big Six Is Dead” I know that the sole purpose is fear mongering.
Even though the numbers don’t indicate the death knell for print books anytime soon, traditional publishers are not ostriches, hoping that the “e-craze” is just a fad. At the house where I work we have whole teams of people dedicated to bringing e-books to market, even though the revenue generated for this format may not yet justify the expenditure. This sounds like it should be easy, or at least easier than making print books. I mean, if an eighty-year-old grandmother can click a few buttons through Amazon Direct and have her memoir available in minutes, why can’t a traditional publisher or indie press have all of its books available in an e-book format?
There are plenty of reasons. Here are just three:
Contracts have to be renegotiated. In the olden days (about seven years ago) many contracts did not stipulate electronic rights. It is back to the bargaining table to work out the varied rights per format—display, enhanced, North American, World, and on and on. This can literally take months.
Older books, anything pre-2000, may not exist in electronic format. Before the world went digital, books printed from large film flats. (Remember your first camera?) In order to prepare these titles for e-readers, the book needs to be re-typeset. This is a large expense—think thousands of dollars—for a title that may not warrant it.
People expect e-books to be (nearly) free. The major cost of a print book is not manufacturing. It is author royalties, marketing, overhead (office space, salaries for editors and designers, etc.). Publishing to e-books does not negate these expenses for a house or press. My guess is that people feel digital items should be nearly free because they don’t get anything tangible for their money. They may be willing to pay $24.95 for a hardcover book because there is more perceived value in something that can be put on a shelf.
What does this mean for those of us who are authors? It means we have a lot more ways to get our words into the hands of readers, and that’s a very good thing for sure. Books are books, whether they are read on paper or e-ink.
Just like the introduction of paperback books didn’t end hardcovers, it’s doubtful that e-books will end paper books altogether. All of the pundits are playing Johnny Carson’s role, Carnac the Magnificent, trying to be the first to predict the future. My only prediction? The consumers will have the final say.
Do you own an e-reader? Do you feel publishers are doing all they can to bring e-books to market?
It’s been a pleasure to be part of the summer guest blog series. Thank you for making me feel so welcome here.
Many thanks to Jackie for her informative and enjoyable Editor’s Summer Guest Series posts!
Jacquelin Cangro’s first book, The Subway Chronicles: Scenes from Life in New York (Penguin/Plume), is a collection of essays about the New York City subway system. Her follow-up The Subway Chronicles: More Scenes from Life in New York is now available on Kindle. This fall she will be teaching online classes in creative writing and novel pitches at The Loft Literary Center.