Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Upside to the Ebook Revolution -- c.anne.gardner

I posted a comment the other day over on Joel Friedlander’s The Book in an article discussing the perceived demise of the book.

Ever the optimist that I am, especially when it comes to progress, I don’t see the ebook affecting the industry negatively. I see change, of course, but it’s all good. Epublishers have known this all along.

I don’t really think the concept of “the book” will ever be eliminated. I also don’t think much of the infrastructure involved in the print publishing world will be eliminated either. Everything is just going to change a bit and there will be downsizing in some areas and upsizing in others. There will still be a need for typographers, cover designers, editors etc … and as far as libraries and book stores, I think the inventory model will change. Less books will make it into print, but more authors will be published via straight to ebook contracts, resulting in more art and a more diverse voice. Print runs will get smaller, store inventory will get even more selective, and there will be fewer returns and waste. I see Pod kiosks as well as digital kiosks not only in libraries but in books stores.

Everything about the book is going to change. For the better, I think, as we become more content focused and less object focused. And reducing a book to a virtual byte, as we are seeing in twit-land, is at least as old as Cliff’s Notes. There will always be people who want to “experience” a story, and there will always be people who want to speed read.

Regardless, the three most important and most beneficial aspects of the digital content age, as I see it, are:
  1. The out-of-print model will change. Titles won’t ever have to be taken out of print when they cease to turn a profit. Ebooks are all profit after the conversion, and so authors and publishers will continue to earn on their entire collection for eternity if they want to.
  2. The risk of taking on new talent would be lessened. Straight to ebook contracts would become a viable way for publishing companies to expand their catalogue with more new authors.
  3. Short Fiction and Poetry, as well as other experimental content, will no longer be considered profitably unfit to publish, and the readers of such short fiction will be elated.

The possibilities are endless, and the hardware companies and content retailers already know this. The devices are being customized for a variety of different readers and different reading styles from text only e-ink models to elaborate colour devices with all kinds of bells and whistles. Publishers aren’t taking the long view here. They are running scared and trying to put a strangle hold on emerging developments. It won’t work, and they should be using this time to evaluate and restructure in order to capitalize on the industry’s inevitable evolution.

Cheryl Anne Gardner


JFBookman said...


Thanks for the shout-out. I guess I see many of the same changes you talk about, but from a different perspective. I agree that print runs will shrink, and many books that are printed now will go straight to digital, meaning they will never actually exist except as e-books. At some point, it seems like this will basically eliminate bookstores, with libraries soon to follow.

That's not bad, it's just change, a change that's inevitable.

I also agree that short works and works that have traditionally been difficult to publish due to small markets or high production costs, will prosper.

On the other hand, unless there's some radical change in the way ebooks are created, I don't really see much use for typographers or book designers in this new reality.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I think this is where traditional typographers can step up and be the angents of change here.

It's going to take a typographer in cooperation with a software designer to maybe make a program that is as easy to use as Calibre with all the conversion kinks worked out, of course.

I spent hours playing with Calibre yesterday and seeing the various conversion "issues" between the formats made for quite an interesting day.