Posts Tagged ‘The e-book debate’

The e-book debate

October 19, 2012
The Book of the Future

The Book of the Future

Nothing is as good at being a book as a book is. — Douglas Adams

I was getting tweets virtually every other day. The impression given that this was the event of the Guildford Book Festival.

No. They could not sell the tickets. I double-checked this afternoon, it was still on, as I feared it may have been cancelled for lack of interest.

The Electric Theatre has an extremely childish policy, no photos. Get into the real world. At all events these days people are taking pictures with their mobile phones. All other Book Festivals events, no problem taking pictures. The Book Festival organisers need to tell the Electric Theatre, if you wish to host our Book Festival, then you let those who have paid to attend take photos.

I usually ignore this prohibition, but although I was only in row three (with only one other person in the row), I could not get a clear shot.

The Electric Theatre was almost empty. Which shows the interest in e-books, zilch.

A good introduction by a guy who used to head the digital books division for Harper-Collins in the States and now handles digital marketing for J K Rowling. He at least knew what he was talking about on e-books and digital books, which was more than could be be said at times for the two unknown authors who followed (though it was interesting their views from their differing publishing perspectives).

At Harper-Collins they would make predictions of where e-book sales would be. Each year, their forecasts would be way under.

Digital publishing is a different media, but all we have is e-books, effectively the old media being reproduced in the new.

Possibilities are audio and text, switch between. When test marketed has not gone down too well.

Could have video. Readers do not like films of books, so would not like video. A book is a personal interaction with the author, we fill the gaps with our imagination. Where it may work would be for example a Jamie Oliver cookbook with videos showing how it is done.

Marketing people employed to handle social media, facebook and twitter accounts. If nothing else, explains why they are so bad.

A classic example of how not to use social media is the Guildford Book Festival. An irritating mix of PR drivel and retweets of sycophantic tweets. There is no attempt at interaction. Failure even to notify of cancelled events.

The Guildford Book Festival has though some way to go before they become as dire as the West End Centre in their use of twitter.

Two people who make very good use of social media, Imogen Heap and Paulo Coelho, which may explain why they have a very loyal following on social media. They also interact with their fans.

Imogen Heap also makes extensive use of digital media. Her new album, codenamed Heapsongs, due for release May 2013, will be released as a traditional CD, as a digital download version, but there will also will also be a streamliner version. Imogen gave a brief outline of what she intends to do during a live websteamed broadcast of You Know Where to Find Me.

A couple more good examples of use of twitter are Bianca Jagger and NotoCosta Totnes.

Unless you have something worthwhile to say, do not use social media, and do not use it for marketing as nothing is more guaranteed to turn people off.

The tired old myth about piracy killing off music was regurgitated. No it is the major record labels who are killing music. Musicians are actually doing quite well, from tours, live performances and through websites like bandcamp.

The discussion from the two authors was not about e-books, it was about traditional publishing v self-publishing. One was on Orion, the other self-published. Neither had strong views either way, it was what worked for them. The author who was on Orion, did not feel he had the confidence to go it alone, thought he would sell less books, got on well with his editor and agent. The self-publisher earned a reasonable living and felt he would do less well if a publisher was taking their cut.

No hard figures. What were their books sales?

Is there a platform for wannabe writers. Yes, Wattpad.

Amazon was seen as a monster that now dominated the market, but what they did, they did well.

Some best selling e-books are now as low as 20p a download.

Dead Man’s Grip latest best-seller from Peter James was given as an example of a 20p download from Amazon.

It is though not the norm. The Hydrogen Sonata the latest from Iain M Banks is £20 hardback (£15 Waterstone’s, £10 free postage Amazon), Kindle £9.49.

£9-49 for e-books is an obscenity when there are zero costs involved. The author supplies to the publisher electronically, robots convert to download format, the cost of the download platform has been written off years ago.

Earlier this year Paulo Coelho released his entire back catalogue at 99 cents a book, but this was for a limited period and restricted to the US. It resulted in a 4,000% increase in downloads within a few days.

Questions were raised regarding the books Amazon were promoting. In Waterstone’s, when books are on display, the publishers have paid to have them on display.

How to get noticed? Many authors and publishers are paying for fake reviews.

Publishers act as a filter, or at least that is what they would like you to believe. In reality books have become a commodity. Sell the latest trash me-too copycat book. We saw this with me-too Da Vinci Codes, saw it with Millennium trilogy, now seeing it with 50 Shades of Crap.

Good books spread by word of mouth.

The finger was pointed at Amazon for destroying independent bookshops. No, it is the publishers and Waterstone’s who are destroying independent bookshops. We have lost a quarter within a period of only five years. When publishers offer Waterstone’s substantial discounts on books, they are depriving independent bookshops of their bread and butter on best sellers. If the publishers can offer massive discounts to Waterstone’s, then they should do the same to the independents to create a level playing field.

Bassano del Grappa is a small town in Italy. It has four independent bookshops, one located in a former palace, happily co-existing. It would not happen in England.

Would Waterstone’s be around in a few years time? The answer was no.

There are now more and more devices and companies entering the market: Kindle, Nook, Sony, iPad, Kobo, Samsung.

Propriety formats are a problem, though software can convert between formats. There needs to be an international agreed standard for e-books, as we have FLAC and mp3 for audio files. With standard format, publishers, writers, could offer e-books direct from their own websites, this cuts out the middle man of Amazon and Apple.

There is also a need for a platform like bandcamp for musicians, where writers could upload e-books, read on-line, easily share with friends at a single click, easy to download to own e-reader.

It was claimed e-books were read by a wider audience than books. This was disputed. Cost of reader, cost of internet connection, access to internet. Loss of second hand books, books in libraries, loss of libraries.

A secondary loss is the Third World who get books trickle down from the West.

A book is a book. Nothing beats curling up with a book. You can lend a book, give it away to a charity shop, borrow from a library.

The discussion lasted last than an hour, there was no question and answer session, no attempt to engage in discussion with the audience (which would have been possible as so few people there), the speakers did not hang around to talk to people (though I did notice one of the authors in the foyer as I left).

Rather annoying, there were two other events the same evening that I would have liked to have attended.

Guildford Book Festival is an annual event that runs for ten days, 18-27 October 2012.

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