Tuesday, November 3, 2009

E-books, iPhones and the great digital unknown

The whole eBook thing is in itself exciting (love my iPhone & would love room on the bookshelf), but it’d be nice to know that it’s being introduced in a way that doesn’t completely disembowel our local industry. Risks & opportunities.... Maybe writers’ remuneration needs to be calculated in a different way, like pay per view/click through, or as an extra licence fee through something akin to APRA for the music industry. That would be collected from the distributors like Barnes & Noble rather than from the consumers direct, if B&N is offering consumers the opportunity to share their books with friends for “free”.

If the electronic revolution does bring down the publishers’ production & distribution costs (although remembering most people will stay on paper), maybe there’s some argument that there could be more in it for those at the bottom of the food chain? I wonder why they haven’t fitted these eBook readers with earplugs & an audiobook option for those who’d prefer to listen than read during a long commute, or for kids, or the vision-impaired. Maybe they have, but they haven’t marketed this. Then I could see that this technology could actually bring in more ‘readers’/consumers than currently purchase hard books. Maybe writers will have to be more business minded & consider Merch opportunities when writing and film/tv spin offs. Just putting words on paper isn’t going to pay the bills if the push for ‘cheaper’ continues.

Whoa ... there's a thesis worth of answers for all of this. I'm not sure I can do your query justice, but I'll try.

1. The cost of things -
The creation of the book involves more than the cost of paper and distribution. A lot of the cost goes into paying the salaries of the publisher, editor, publicist and sales reps, not to mention the higher-ups. Yes, it's a factor, but it's not enough of a factor for a publisher to slash their prices by, say, half. If you want to test this theory, try self-publishing an e-book and then try editing, distributing, promoting and selling it yourself.

2. More moolah to the creator - The idea of profit-sharing between writer and publisher is afloat but, unsurprisingly, is not being taken up by publishers. That's because it's a new idea and changing the publishing industry is like turning around a rusting Soviet tanker when it's heading for Stalingrad. It may catch on in time. But it will mean that the writers concerned have to be willing to be businesspeople, because it will be quite a different relationship to the current co-dependent, mutually fractious creative liaison.

3. E-books into audiobooks: Digital (e-book) rights are different to audio rights. Amazon stepped into a world of woe when they tried to use software to convert their Kindle books to audio, because the publishers (rightly) said that they didn't have the audio rights and thus weren't allowed to do what they planned. No doubt in the near future there will be cases when these rights go together, specifically so the e-book can convert into an audiobook or vice versa, but it's not really happening now. And trying to explain rights would take me a few hours. (It's taken me several years to get my head around it.)

My own nebulous theory about e-books and the digital future is that e-books may well attract a completely new readership - people who didn't read print books, for whatever reason, who are at home in the digital environment and prefer to read their content that way. Cultural artefacts are consumed or not consumed for a variety of reasons: 'I want to look smart'/'I don't want people to think I'm dumb' are high on the list. I think a lot of young - and older - men don't buy books because they're not sure what they want to read and they don't want to walk into a bookshop (or library) and say that, because it's never been made easy for them to do so. The internet makes it easy. The internet does not say, 'Dummy, why can't you spell?' The internet understands that you can be unable to spell perfectly or read for two hours without a break and still want to read books. Someone very dear to me fits into this category. I hope that access to digital copies of books will mean that he doesn't ever feel like he's 'too dumb' to read again.


Anonymous said...

Great points about potential new readership. Parents who spend half their lives waiting for ballet to finish, piano to start, and the peas to steam might also fall into the New Convenience Category. If it's managed well, the potential is huge.

An article in the Weekend Australian was talking about ebooks on the soon to be available Australian edition of Kindle being $4. And whole sets of classics for $8. As long as that's on top of regular paperback income, great. Bring it on.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the posting, Agent Sydney.

bonnynblithe said...

Enjoying your 'train of thought' writing. I have friends and relatives with dyslexia who, on downloading an e-book, could then use readily available 'freeware' to 'read' aloud to them at their leisure. Aside from the robotic voice lacking any intonation, it is at least providing access where before there was none.

Publish away, please!