Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Uncle Glenn’s Book Model

I saw my wife’s uncle recently.  Glenn is an affable fellow despite being a Yankee fan.  He may represent one of the new book purchasing models. In his early 60’s, he recently bought a Kindle but he hasn’t completely crossed over to the digital side. He told me he uses the Kindle to read what would otherwise be very heavy books but he will also buy printed books for a few reasons.  For one, he likes to collect books, including an author’s series.  For other books he likes touching and holding them, especially an intimate sports biography. He said he’d even buy both versions of a book, depending on cost. He may read the digital version when on vacation and wants to avoid carrying several heavy books, but then would have the paper version at home to refer to when there.

However, in contrast to Uncle Glenn is my older sister, a voracious reader who has been known to consume a 300-page novel in a single day.  She went Kindle last holiday season and hasn’t bought a paper book since.  She has gone to the library a lot less often as a result too.  She told me my industry is screwed if high-volume readers like her go digital-only.  She may be right, but I suspect book prices for e-books will begin to rise once the majority of unit sales go that way.

The biggest threats digital poses are:

1.      No point of purchase sales will happen at a store. Digital sales can only happen intentionally, and not accidentally.
2.      No discoverability can take place if there is no bookshelf to browse.
3.      The book sales community instead of existing in bookstores and libraries, will dwindle down to book groups of 5-10 people or online discussions, or disappear forever.

But who knows.  Time will only tell as to what types of sales channels will flourish and they will influence what is read and what is shared with others. But once we decentralize the book industry it will become fractured.  Each fragment will have its own influencers and sales determinants. Perhaps one day some people will go to their hotel rooms and have the option of downloading a book onto their TV, just as they can get other things on demand:  movies, TV, porn, music.  Probably what will dictate reading patterns most is what a child grows up with and how often they are influenced to read a book.  If schools start handing out iPad-like tablets or Kindles or Nooks, with textbooks loaded onto them then we’re likely to see a significant change.

There was an article in today’s USA Today that indicates there will be a balance between e-books and print books.  Random House, the nation’s largest publisher, says more than 20 percent of sales came via digital sales, meaning nearly 80 percent still come via paper. However, Scholastic said it is unveiling an e-reading app for kids this fall. So far, 10 percent of its book sales come from e-books.

My kids are six and three.  Am I doing a disservice by not training them to read on a device, rather than a printed book?  I’m a hopeless paper romantic but I want to best prepare my children for the world of 2030 and beyond. I certainly will allow them to type on a computer and not a typewriter.  My kids will drive cars and not ride horses, too. But I can’t give up on the printed book just yet even if I know the meteorites are coming and there will be a sea of change.

Interview With Simon & Schuster Senior Editor Heather Lazare

  1. Heather, what do you find most challenging about being an editor? I’m most challenged by the amount I have to read. Looking at this job from the outside it seems like a bookworm’s dream—and in many ways it is. Yes, I get paid to read, but I’m also paid to write the flap copy, work closely with the art department to concept the cover, edit manuscripts three, five, sometimes nine times, present the book to a roomful of people who are hearing about it for the first time, review the page layouts, go through the copyedited manuscript, send out early galleys for blurbs from established authors, attend marketing and publicity meetings, and many other daily tasks. So between what I do all day at work and the number of pages awaiting me to read for possible acquisition, I wish I had at least two more sets of eyes. I’m thoroughly in love with my job, but if there were a few more hours in the day, I could come closer to reading all I need to read.

  1. What do you find most rewarding about being in book publishing? I’ll tell you three of my favorite things about my job (in no particular order) and I think those indicate what I find most rewarding. The first is the moment I get to see the final finished book; that’s something that never gets old. When our early copies arrive from our warehouse, I look at each one proudly and remember all the work, heartache, weekends, cover drama, layout revisions, and love that have gone into creating them, and I smile. Second is the reprint meeting. We have many meetings in publishing, but this one is my favorite.  Gems from the backlist are unveiled as actually having real selling legs, and we get to see immediately which books are taking off on the frontlist—and figure out how we can continue to support them. Third are the authors (please remember, authors, my three things are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER). It’s such a gift to get to work with talented people who can spend their days creating worlds and bringing them to life on the page. And what is so rewarding is that these three things come together all the time—working closely with the author, sharing her finished book with her, watching it go back to press (or watching the eBook numbers shock and awe).

  1. Where do you see the industry heading? Like everything, our industry is moving into the electronic medium. I bought the first generation iPad and I like reading and now editing on it. I’m also a Kindle owner and it’s a great device—there’s nothing fussy or fancy, it’s just a place where you can read books, and the size and weight of it make it the perfect accessory. I’ll buy books for my Kindle through the Kindle app on my iPad—I’m living in harmony with both devices and loving it. So I see the industry embracing electronic books or singles, or excerpts, or whatever else is dreamed up in the future. Most importantly, we have to watch the consumer: how does he want to read his books? What does she want to pay? Is there a way for us to bring our books to market faster to fill a demand? What makes me happy is that there’s an actual dialog going on now—big publishing houses are understanding that we can partner with authors as we’d not done in the past. For example, S&S’s new deal with Kindle bestselling author John Locke. And Amazon has now reached beyond their Crossings and Encore imprints and set up shop here in New York, buying Timothy Ferriss’s next book. Publishing is shifting in ways it hasn’t since books came flying of the Gutenberg presses.

  1. How has the process of editing a book changed in the last few years? In some ways, yes the process of editing has changed. I’ve been using track changes on my laptop and desktop for years, especially for my overseas authors—working with someone in Australia it’s so much faster and easier for both parties to work this way. I always find it more straight forward for me to edit fiction on physical printed pages, but that’s just a personal preference.  Electronic copyediting (which is done once the book has been fully edited and is ready to begin its process toward publication) is much more popular now than it was even a year ago.

  1. What do authors need to know about working with an editor? Be patient, considerate, and understanding. We want your book to succeed and we want your career to grow. Know that you are the greatest advocate for your book and your hard work will absolutely pay off. Don’t expect the publishing house to do all the work for you—reach out to book clubs, hand sell your book to everyone you know, create a website/Facebook page where fans can reach you. Gone are the days of the writer as recluse—in order for readers to know about your book, you need to partner with your publishing house and help spread the word-of-mouth from a grassroots level. Editors appreciate a hard working author, it signals to them and the publishing house that you are in the business for the long run and they’ll support you however they can.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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