Monday, September 21, 2009

Digital Publishing, once again

This article from Computerworld caught my eye over the weekend. I think most of his six points are valid, and they're worth discussing:

1. Bundled multimedia books. I couldn't agree more! Publishers could charge slightly more for a package that includes the hardcover, the ebook and an audio download. This gives consumers the power to consume their content in whichever way is most convenient. And, we publishing folk need to recognize that convenience is what motivates most buyers.

2. Ebooks that can be revised and corrected. I think this one is coming, and it was presaged by Amazon's unfortunate 1984 incident! With the power to push out changes over the air, books can be easily revised and updated. With the technology available, and with readers expecting this sort of benefit from this new medium, I think we'll see this as soon as publishers start seeing ebooks not as books, but as their own separate product.

3. Audio books that can be borrowed electronically. Why not? Doable, but someone needs to take enough interest to get it done.

4. Social books. Again, the technology is available. And, as we all know, nothing sells books like word of mouth. If readers can begin to share their thoughts quickly and easily, I see a lot of the book club readers migrating to ebooks.

5. eBooks that are published ahead of the print edition. Not going to happen anytime soon, unless Amazon and others relent on the $9.99 price point. Or, if as the author says, this is only available to those who buy multimedia bundles. And, I disagree about it being "bad enough that the editing and production process takes a year." The long gestation period for books improves their quality.

6. Cheaper audio books. I don't really agree here. There are too many parties involved in the production for even the digital download price to come down significantly.

As always, feel free to tell me I'm wrong! And do read the original article, as he goes into each of these a bit. And to publishers, I say this: let's address these issues before they're addressed for us. Only by being aggressive and progressive will we protect our business.



  1. On number 3, this is already being done with groups such as Overdrive, which our library subscribes to. I don't know if individual users can subscribe though. This is quite a popular service at our library, although there's not as many books available yet as people would like.

  2. Sharing eBooks was something I hadn't considered until this, but that'd be a major plus. My buddy and I both have eReader on our iPods and if we could loan those out like we loan any other book, I'd be more likely to buy them more often.

  3. I agree that writers and publishers have to exploit every delivery medium to make it easier for a reader/buyer to acquire their product.

    What do you think about serializing a novel or work of non-fiction? I read of one writer who serializes a page a week of a novel. You can read the first 43 pages for free, then you have to subscribe/buy the book. The catch? The book isn't finished.

    I am considering serializing a finished novel, a chapter a week, read the first section for free, then subscribe to the rest. Either as a .pdf file, or shipped on a CD, or continue to read a chapter a week.

    Haven't made a decision, but would be interested in your thoughts.

  4. I was just going to say that you can borrow audio books electronically from the library here (and in Portland), but someone beat me to it. However, the reason I don't is because they are downloadable to my computer, but not my iPod. You can even burn CDs of some of them, but no dice on putting it on the iPod (at least last time I checked) and that's how I listen to all audio books. Either using speakers in the kitchen, or on my headphone while I move around the house. Not sure if this is an Apple issue or the audio book download people issue.

  5. #2 will require changes in standards of citation for anyone reading other than for enjoyment. Now the poor student or scholar or writing professional will have to identify the "edition" in much more specific terms ... no longer 1st edition, but "as found at site_id, on 2009_09_21, at 14:49:46 GMT" ... and even that may not be sufficient.

    #5 - I thought that the majority of the long gestation period of books had to do with production scheduling, not actual editing and revision.

  6. Thanks for pointing out that the dgitial library audio rental is already happening.

    I think the serialization of novels is making a comeback -- just check out Though they serialize material from traditional publishers, they don't avoid that process.

    To Joelle's gripe about not being able to use the digital audio the way she wants, that speaks to my point. We need to make these things easier for consumers.

    Whit: As to #2, I think we'll get used to it, as we have other things. On #5, the book production process takes a long time for many reasons, often having to do with getting books into the channels, yes. This time will get shorter in the years to come, but there's something to be said for the time the process takes. Slowing down isn't necessarily bad.

    - Michael

  7. I love the idea of bundled multimedia books. Among other things, this would be very useful to families who prefer to read books in different media. For example, I'm a big paper-book reader, while my mom - who enjoys many of the same books - likes audio.

    Of course, publishers would want to charge enough to cover the fact that they would be selling three copies of the book, so potentially providing copies to three people, not just convenient options to one person.

  8. Joelle and Michael --

    It's true that at first you could not download "borrowed" audiobooks to iPods, but you can now, at least at my small-town library in Georgia, which uses Overdrive. There aren't as many books available, but more are promised.


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