As someone well aware of how expensive it is to print and distribute a book (I’d worked in print and print production for over seven years before moving over to the web), and how little of the overall price goes to the publisher (even less filters through to the author), I fail to understand why mainstream publishers are being so hesitant in embracing the ebook. The majority in the UK—imprints like Harper Collins’ The Friday Project are exceptions—are insisting on listing their ebooks at similar prices to the paper equivalent. The intention may be an effort to stall a drop in print sales, but the effect is more that they’re leaving customers who could potentially save them a good deal of money out of pocket. If this behaviour continues, then long-term traditional publishers are in danger of losing these customers to new publishing models, such as Cursor, the one being developed by Richard Nash, or to Mark Coker’s Smashwords, which I’m using myself and which has struck distribution deals with both Sony and Barnes & Noble, with more in the pipeline.
The book publishers are letting booksellers - who already have a stranglehold over them on the high street - lead the way in the ebook market. Most publishers seem content to let Sony fight their corner for them, and offer little support, against the online retailers like Amazon and Waterstones.
What’s the alternative? The production costs for an ebook are an infinitesimal fraction of those for print, and can probably be soaked up by retraining production staff and ejecting some of the expensive processing software they use for their jobs. Rather than plowing the money saved into an even greater share for the distritbutors, publishers should now be taking the fight to them. A single house selling its own books is never going to be able to take on the might of a giant like Amazon, but a collaboration between the major houses, perhaps partnering with a technology provider like Sony, which has already shown its support for publishers over retailers, may be able to. What book publishing needs is an effective body promoting co-operation between houses and representing the interests of the entire book industry, including the readers.
To me, the model for the future of publishing is simple: retain the hardback for readers who still aren’t ready to surrender the feel and smell of a paper product between their fingers. If anything the publishers will make more money on hardback sales than they do now (as hardbacks are a bigger money-spinner per unit sold than a paperback), and ditch the paperbacks altogether in favour of ereaders.
But for now, the people that will invest in e-readers, or receive them this Christmas - which I feel will be the time that the UK market really wakes up to how important they will be - will be genuine read-a-holics, people passionate about the books they read and also ones who talk about books, recommend them to friends and play an important part in the word-of-mouth success garnered by bestsellers. Surely these are the people publishers should be courting?
Personally I love books. I own probably a couple of hundred, yet most, once read, end up in my loft, given to friends or donated to charity shops. I have a bookcase with maybe twenty or thirty of my favourite books on it, and that’s it. Anything else I could be re-educated to use an ereader to digest.
If you’re one of these lucky types, to already be using an e-reader and looking for something new to get your teeth into, you can download my short story collection, The New Goodbye, for free. It’s available for both the Kindle and Sony Readers, as well as the Stanza app on the iPhone and most other formats, as well as HTML for your computer screen.
I’m likely to release a revised version of my first novel through Smashwords at some point too. So keep an eye on the Veggiebox if you’re interested in that.
Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Alis for having me.
Thanks, Neil, and the very best of luck to The New Goodbye.
PS - I've just finished re-reading The Leaving Present, one of the stories I know Neil is most proud of in the collection and found it both accomplished and touching. I recommend it!View and download the whole collection here - you don't need any kind of e-reader, you can read it from your laptop or PC.