Monday, August 25, 2008

eBook debate

I was recently asked to share my thoughts with one of Canadas largest print book retailers... here is my response.

*******************************

You raised some very good questions and after considering them, here is my professional opinion as one of the very few eBook publishers in Canada.

The popularity of eBooks is on the rise and will continue to grow, just as it did with the CD and the DVD. There are many reasons why this trend will continue to grow and eventually replace what we call the norm today.

Environmental

They are environmentally sound. It is my personal belief that print books will become collectables in the future in the same way vinyl records have. The call to be more eco-friendly these days is finally beginning to make some positive changes in the way we do things. More and more people are seeking out eBooks on that merit alone. The actual benefits to the environment can be monumental, and it’s not just the trees and cleaner air. A lot goes into manufacturing the paper. Pulp-mills consume massive amounts of energy and create waste. Toxins and chemicals are used to bleach and treat the paper and some toxins are left behind during processing that also damage the environment. The machines consume oil, electricity and some processes are still using coal. What about the dyes, inks and glues used (chemicals)? The books have to be shipped, using more resources and polluting the environment via the transport used, not to mention the customer who drives to the store to purchase the books. Many books pile up in peoples houses and after being passed around from one person to another, the majority of these books end up in our landfills. Sure they are biodegradable, but regardless of that, the inks and glues still leave toxins to leach into the soil.


Economic

There are still a few hurdles to contend with, but in the end it’s the consumer who finds them economical and this is drawing new readers to the eBook industry. The costs are lower to produce the product, and therefore the consumer is able to benefit by paying less. There is a very damaging idea floating around that eBooks have low quality when it comes to the skill of the Authors. That may be true for those who are self-publishing without going through the rigorous editing process with a professional publisher, but this is not so with a reputable eBook publisher. If this myth about sub-standard quality were really true, eBooks would have never gone further than a short fad. All of the eBook publishers I have met and networked with that have a standing in the industry, all have full a staff.

Example: My publishing company, Eternal Press, has in its employ an acquisitions editor, a senior editor, eight editors, four copyeditors, three cover artists and a handful of other people who take care of administrative tasks and marketing. A lot of work goes in to each book. It’s reviewed by acquisitions and is given a yes, no or a request for rewrites. Then it’s sent to the senior editor who schedules it and assigns it to an editor who is suitable considering genre and heat levels. The book will then be sent back and forth between the editor and the author, sometimes up to three or four times, until it is ready to go to the copyeditor. The copyeditor reviews it and the edited manuscript receives one last review between editor and author. When that has been completed, the senior editor reviews the work and the book enters the formatting stage. Each book is formatted to be easy to read and attractive to the eye. The cover art is made months in advance for the authors to use for promotions before its release date and contains amazing artistic talent and effort.

This is a process used by larger print publishers, and just as much effort, skill and professionalism goes into each eBook. The main difference is the fact that an eBook publisher gets to skip a few steps such as manufacturing a hard copy, and distribution with hopes that what was printed will be sold and not returned. I send my eBooks direct to the consumer in an economical and environmentally sound form.

I know there are some companies out there that will publish eBooks without the vigorous editing and processing. My opinion is that these are the kinds of companies that hinder the industry. With a bit of research into each company you deal with, this lack of quality can be avoided.


How to Boost the eBook Industry

At the moment eBooks can be read on your PC or Laptop computer, PDA, cell phone, Blackberry, palm pilot, i-touch, and other small hand held devises. There are also eBook readers for those who want something larger that makes the reading easier.

One of the biggest obstacles that the eBook revolution faces is the cost and quality of these eBook readers. From what I hear from consumers, staff, various blogs and websites who talk about such matters, the customer wants a product that they can hold in their hands much like someone would a book with a screen size that is comfortable to read. That means clear defined fonts, backlighting that can be adjusted for comfort, and size adjustment for those with bad eyesight who need to zoom in. It must be light, durable and rechargeable. But the most important thing: cost. The prices of these devices are still far too expensive to make using them an economical choice for the consumer. They range in prices from $150.00 to $500.00 and up. The quality of such devices are not worth the expense when it’s believed that the product could break when dropped rendering it useless and a waste of their hard earned money. The longevity of the technology itself is often a hindrance. Why spend $300 on something that is uncomfortable to use because it is lacking all of the basic features listed before? It’s still much cheaper to buy the paper copies of books than invest in an e-reader that is not functional to a degree that makes it worth the investment. When the technology is developed to make the e-readers both functional, affordable and durable, then the e-book industry will have no limits to its potential. There is no reason why an eBook reading device needs to be above the cost of an upper end calculator. The technology just plain isn’t that complicated.

In order to create a boom in the eBook industry, someone needs to manufacture an eBook reader that is between $50.00 and $75.00, that will read and store up to 2Gs of information, can plug into a computer or USB port and have a few options allowing change in the text size, lighting and bookmarks. It should be made with a durable shock resistant interior and exterior that will not harm the product if dropped. If someone were to offer such a product, I could guarantee a major boost in the industry; the growth would be phenomenal and eBook sales would expand exponentially.


Retail

At the moment eBooks are available almost exclusively online, with the exception of those authors who have put their eBooks on CDs to sell and sign for readers/fans at book signings. Publishers and authors are beginning to offer downloads at their individual booths at writer’s conventions and book festivals etc.

Online publishers offer their products directly from their websites. They also use other online retailers who specialise in selling eBooks and software. Fictionwise, Books on Board, All Romance eBooks, eReader.com and Content Reserve all market, sell and distribute the eBooks to consumers in many different e-Formats. Fictionwise alone increased my sales at Eternal Press by 5 times. Amazon climbed on the bandwagon and sells over 1,000,000 different eBooks in many e-Formats and have their own reader (Kindle) which, if offered at a better price, would make more consumers permanent eBook readers.

At the moment as long as you have a PayPal account or a credit card, you can purchase eBooks from your cell phone and any other wireless device used to read them. But for those who have no wireless technology, they’ll need to go to a website and download the eBooks they want to their computers, or in some cases directly onto their e-reader device.

Most large book stores have computers available to the consumer to help them search for the titles they want by author, genre etc. Even then, there is no guarantee it will be available, and often items have to be ordered. This inconveniences the consumer, many of which are likely to give up and buy something else that’s more readily available. So why is it that there is no kiosk at the checkout where a consumer can purchase the book they want and plug in their device to download the eBooks they purchased? For those who only use cash (not credit) this route gives them the ability to buy eBooks which otherwise is completely unavailable to them. Why can’t there be eBook kiosks in airport terminals, bus depots and hotel lobbies where a consumer can purchase and download directly? What about hospitals? Instead of renting out TVs and passing around old used books with limited selections, how about renting e-readers and offering millions of selections so a patient can chose anything they want to read, literally bringing the library to them?

How many publishers are kicking their behinds because they turned down J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books because they believed kids don’t read books, that they would rather be playing video games? Why is Canada’s largest book retailer ignoring this growing industry that will one day be the norm? Are you willing to go bankrupt as the industry grows around because you refuse to adapt to change? Also I would like to add something my senior editor said to me. She is a Canadian living in Australia and as my senior editor I asked her to copyedit this letter for me. Lauren said in a comment... Quote “You may also want to add something about availability and cost of books in smaller foreign countries. I’ve mentioned to you before how expensive books are here, and how often times, the books I want are simply not available here. They have to be ordered from Amazon at my personal expense instead of the book store. I’d love to have a functioning, affordable e-reader and download a book from on-line instead of waiting six weeks to have it shipped using surface mail from the US...at a very high cost to me!

I have my eBooks on all of the eBook retailers mentioned above and I’m slowly making them available to more and more web retailers. I am a very proud Canadian and I want to offer Canadians a way to buy Canadian products in Canada. There are not many eBook publishers in Canada and I am very happy to know that I can take advantage of the Canadian market, which at the moment is largely unaware of the growing movement. I hope that Eternal Press will one day be known as one of the Canadian publishers who took an active, positive role in the growing trend and stuck it out to help make a successful shift in how all Canadians read books in the future.

In conclusion, eBooks are here to stay; eBooks are growing steadily in popularity and eBooks will one day oversell print books, changing the industry forever. I’m proud to be a part of that.

You asked me how I became an eBook publisher. Well it’s a long story, but ultimately I bought a drowning company and gave it fresh air and a vision.


Sincerely,
Ally Robertson


20 comments:

Laura Herbertson said...

Nicely written article, Ally. I personally love the idea of airport kiosks, or possibly a recharging station for ebooks. The Kindle has great functionality in that it's wireless. You can buy books without having to synch to a computer. I can't afford it, but would love to have it.

For what it's worth, I think you've done a great job with Eternal Press.

Kim Richards said...

Very nice article and informative. I'm going to share the link here with a few friends.

Robert Appleton said...

Good stuff, Ally. The fuse has been lit, and it's a matter of time before someone mass-markets an eReader that captures the world's imagination. It'll have to hit the zeitgeist. The ones I've seen are still in their infancy, though.

I'm betting eBooks will explode with a children's literary phenomenon (something like Harry Potter). A trendy eReader will come along at exactly the right time and...POW! The two will change the industry forever.

Or something like that.

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