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The New, New Thing

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E-publishing, e-books, e-commerce. These are the buzz words of this year. And they are the topics of most publishers’ conversations when they meet.Last month I attended a full-day gathering of industry people at the American Booksellers Association in New York. Half the day was spent on discussing mid-list authors and their influence on publishing. The other half of the day was spent on the “e” topic. This group consisted of publishers from the major houses in New York, publishers of independent houses throughout the US, representatives from associations who directly interact with the publishing community, distributors and wholesalers, and independent bookstore owners.What became most clear to me through these discussions is that everyone’s equally as puzzled as to the effect on our industry of Print-on-Demand and electronic books. Everyone, however, is scrambling to make sure that their books are available in every conceivable format “just in case.” It seems as if an inordinate amount of money is being spent on making sure that all books are formatted properly and will be available in whatever type of e-publishing that finally takes off.With these new definitions of what constitutes a “book,” it seems like no book will ever go out of print. In some cases, this is really good; in others, I question the reasoning of this thinking. Books go out of print, many times, because the information they offer is no longer current or valid. Do we really want to keep these books around forever?Promotion’s Still Essential

Because of Print-on-Demand, lots of new voices are getting a chance at being heard. But I wonder what’s really being done to let the public and/or the trade become aware that these new voices are available. Not much at this time, I can assure you.Just as in the past, getting a book into print is the easiest thing for a publisher to do. Allowing the public to know that this new book is available and also interesting them enough in the book so that they’ll purchase it still seem to be the most difficult things to accomplish-no matter if it’s a traditional book and/or a POD or e-book.Yes, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and other electronic ordering services offer the public the ability to search for, and perhaps, order a book online. But the public has to be aware that this title is out there. That’s the piece of the puzzle that’s still missing.Who’s Using the New Technology?

By the end of this full-day meeting, I think we had raised more questions than we actually answered. What was the most interesting to me in the long run was when I asked all 20+ people sitting around the conference table the following question: “How many of you have read a book for entertainment on any of the new downloadable products out there (i.e., SoftBooks, Rocket Books, etc.)?” One person raised his hand and said, “Well, I didn’t really read it for entertainment. I took it along and downloaded some stuff for reference.”Here we were in a roomful of people who are avid readers-dissimilar to the general public-and none of us had embraced this new technology! We’re probably more aware of the technology and would have more access to it as well.What we now know about the general buyers of books is this: they’re primarily female, in various age groups. I think it would be extremely interesting if someone undertook a study of the general consumers and asked the following questions:

  • Have you ever experienced reading a book on an electronic reader?
  • Do you anticipate purchasing an electronic reader next year or in the next 1-5 years?
  • How would you use this electronic reader?
    • For research?
    • For entertainment?
    • For both?

I’m sure that there are some other questions that could be added to the above, but I think a survey definitely should be done with consumers regarding their needs and wants before we spend enormous amounts of dollars and time developing a product. Yes, it’s the new, new thing. But so was the 8-Track and the CB.


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