Hello, Bookish! Goodbye, Amazon!

Here’s a very interesting article from The Quill and Quire. The digital world is having a major impact on how businesses run. Every large retail corporation has their own website where you can order their products online without even bothering to come into the store. With the rise of the internet and its usefulness in consumerism, it’s no surprise that these Hachette, Simon and Schuster, and Penguin would unite and launch the e-commerce website, Bookish. Everything can be found and bought online, so if they’re expected to keep up with the times, it’s only natural for them to jump onto the digital bandwagon.

 I’m pretty certain Amazon has played a big role in this. Each of these publishing juggernauts already have a website where you can buy their books. Why feel the need to unite and create a new website? To combat Amazon and get customers back by introducing new things that Amazon can’t offer, like connecting readers with books and authors. The merge between Penguin and Random House that is taking place this year is a result of feeling threatened by Amazon, so they certainly have proven to be the bane of the publishing world’s existence. Bookish offers something Amazon can’t: connection. Bookish is a place where you can buy books, connect with authors, and be encouraged to write reviews for books. Many websites provide one or other; you either have an Amazon who will sell you books, or a website like Goodreads, which will only allow you to review and discuss books. Bookish offers both, and by doing so it might just heat up the competition!

 Business is all about convenience and efficiency, and I think technology will be a valuable asset to publishers. People have become extremely impatient thanks to the immediacy of the internet. They don’t want to wait for long, if at all. Not for 3 second page refreshers, not for dialup, and certainly not for their products. Having worked in retail I can fully attest to people’s impatience. Customers forget that even large chains like Chapters/Indigo, depending on their size, can only carry a few thousand books. My store, which is considered a medium sized one, retains about 48,000 books. There are millions of books, with many more being released every year. Stores only keep the most recent, and any book that is older than 5-10 years, unless it’s a classic, will probably not be available. I have been screamed at because certain books weren’t available, or were on order and haven’t arrived fast enough. Despite valiant efforts to order the book and get it shipped to the store, or their home as soon as possible, customers aren’t satisfied. They want their books, and they want them now.

 Convenience is also important, and many businesses are aware of it. Publishers are realizing this too and can use technology to generate more sales by making their products more convenient and available online. I can’t count the times I’ve taken a call at the store, and a customer is asking me to order a book over the phone for them, which we can’t do because it violates our policy, which in turn pisses off the customer, and more yelling ensues. People don’t even want to leave their house anymore to go and buy their products! They can’t be bothered with all the hussle and bussle of the store, and the people. I have friends who will order all their products online just so they don’t have to go to the store and deal with other customers. All it takes is one quick click, some credit card info, and they can carry on with the rest of their day. People can order a new TV while brushing their teeth if they want to! It takes practically no effort or thinking at all when it comes to buying online. When I order from Kobo things can get deadly. I’ll see a book and won’t think twice about clicking the purchase button. My credit card info is already saved, so there’s no time for doubt while I’m filling out my information. I see something I want, I click a button, and I get it.  Bookish is designed to be a “one-stop, comprehensive online destination.” People like one-stop destinations, and many are perfectly willing to open their wallets up to the internet for the sake of convenience. It’s a guaranteed money maker for the publishing industry. And it also gives a little something extra back to the people, talking about and reviewing their favourite titles. You can buy a book and connect with others about how awesome it is, on the very same website you purchased the book from, and in turn, that person will probably buy the book too, producing the good old ripple effect. Amazon doesn’t do that (yet), so it looks like Bookish is onto something.

 Publishers can see a great increase in their sales if they adopt online shopping, especially with ebooks. With the exponential rise of technology, ereaders are becoming more common, and many people would like an electronic version of their favourite titles. The process of buying an ebook is simpler, and you immediately get your book, too.  It’s instant gratification, and it’s what people want and have become used to. I don’t have to worry about extra shipping costs or waiting a week or two for my book if I order an ebook, because within seconds of purchasing it online it’s uploaded to my library/device. And the great thing for publishers is they’re non-returnable. Yes it’s true that print books make more money because they’re more expensive, but they also are at risk of being returned because they can be. Once you buy an ebook you own it forever, there’s no one to bring it back to if you don’t like it. Bookish is smart by offering both ebooks and physical books. Variety is important, and people still want physical copies of books, but electronic books can no longer be ignored.

 In the past many publishing houses have gone under because of poor financing or simply not generating enough money. Many publishing houses might be saved now with the emergence technology and the ebook. If you release a physical and electronic copy of a book at the same time as the physical book you’re reaching a wider audience, and have the potential to make more money than you would by offering just one format. Those who aren’t willing to fork out the $30.00 for a hard copy, and in turn wait a year for the cheaper trade paperback version, may be perfectly willing to buy the electronic version for $15.00 instead. And there are even some people, like myself, who will be proud owners of both formats. Electronic books can only mean more money for publishers who are willing to appeal to that kind of market. Technology can provide a very bright future for publishing and even offer extended longevity of a company thanks to the emergence of digital reading. Things are only going to get better.

The End of Publishing! (but not really)

Evan Hughes presents some thought provoking questions about the future of publishers in light of the digital revolution in his article. He posits that in order to survive in this newly evolving world, publishers must adapt to the technological advances that are becoming so prevalent, and if they can, they will not only survive, but thrive. As a person who is excited by the digital future, I too have the same questions regarding traditional publishing modes. However, unlike Evan, I don’t foresee a complete digital take over, at least not for a long time.

While it’s true that ereaders and ebooks are taking up a fair chunk of a publisher’s revenue, it’s still not enough to warrant full on panic. Dean Cooke, a literary agent and owner of The Cooke Agency, came into my class on May 13 to talk about the prevalence of ebooks and ereaders in the publishing industry. He told us that 80% of the revenue still comes from physical books. So I’m sure we will see a gradual rise in the sales of ebooks as the devices we use to read them become better and better, but I doubt that trade publishing will completely die out. I found on The Content Wrangler some statistics regarding ebooks. It shows that while there is a rise in ebooks, only 10% of publishers plan to produce only ebooks, and a whopping 85% of publishers plan to produce both. There will always be the “purists” who will buy only physical books, and as long as there is a demand for them, they will still exist. Variety is important, and publishers can make a lot more money by having more than one format.

Evan points out that with the low cost of an ebook, people will be far less willing to buy the physical copy, which is double, if not more than double the ebook price. Not true. If someone really likes a book, they’ll be more than likely want a nice hardcover edition for their bookshelf, and will be willing to fork out a bit more cash to get it. I am definitely one of those people. Many books I end up loving I will collect many editions of them. Publishers have that creativity to make incredibly beautiful covers and book designs for their backlisted titles that people like myself would be happy to buy. Of the people I talk to who have ereaders, they typically reserve their device for purchasing books they’re interested in reading, but may not want to buy at full price. I do the same thing. My boyfriend, who is heavily involved in the tech industry and is one of the few I know who is so dedicated to its evolution, still prefers the feel of a real book to an ereader. There’s just something magical about the real book that I don’t think technology can ever successfully duplicate. Reading from a screen is not the same as reading from a page. Technology has many advantages, but it cannot perfectly mimic the feel and experience a person gets from reading a physical book, which is why I can’t see what all the fuss about digital technology in publishing.

Evan’s probably right, the digital revolution began with Amazon, and he mentions the decline of the physical bookstore. Really? Maybe I’m stuck in my own personal bubble, but I still see bookstores everywhere, even independent ones! I understand his perspective, but once again I think that physical bookstores, like traditional publishing, cannot be completely wiped out. Ever. Bookies and even non-bookies love going to the bookstore. It’s a wonderful experience: you enter the store and are delighted to see the rows upon rows of books. There’s something fun about searching for a particular title, almost like treasure hunt, or you can just get lost in the aisles browsing happily. I can easily waste a couple hours of my day wandering around a bookstore, slowly going broke. Evan seems to think that finances play a huge impact on success, and while I can’t argue that it doesn’t matter, it’s not the only thing. You can easily find the same book on Amazon, but then there comes the pain of paying for shipping (which can sometimes cancel out the discount you get) and then you have to wait. People are impatient. They want their books, and if they don’t have an ereader, waiting for a book to be shipped can be irritating. I have done this any times, and the impatience never goes away. My customers at Chapters always fretted at the idea of having to order online. Some don’t want to put their credit card on the internet, and most of them just don’t want to bother with shipping costs and the waiting that is involved. As much as Amazon has the upper hand by offering books at ridiculously low prices, bookstores provide instant gratification for those who don’t have an ereader or tablet, a group that is still the majority of book buyers, or the rest of us who just don’t give a damn about waiting and want everything now.

Apparently self publishing is becoming the ruin of publishers, but then Evan flip flops to say that publishers are still needed. I think as long as people continue to write books, publishers will be around to produce and sell them. Sure, as a writer you want as much money as you can get, and the idea of self publishing may work. Evan includes people like E.L James, John Locke, and Hugh Howey, who have made a fortune off self promotion, but as Evan states, they’re just an exception. They’re also commercial books, so they’re easy to sell. Try looking into self publishing literary works and get back to me. Self publishing is an incredibly difficult thing to do, and you need to be very business and marketing savvy to pull it off. Or just insanely lucky. More often than not, you’ll need an already existing fanbase to sell to. Social media helps, but it helps more when you’re recognized, like, say, J.K Rowling or Stephen King. Then there’s the actual production and editing of the book. Sure you can pay freelancers to do that, but why spend more money doing it yourself when a book publisher will provide all that for you? And probably do it better…because they’re professionals. Like Evan points out, they have the expertise needed to become successful, especially if you’re a first time author and you’re new to the business. And at the end of the day, the publisher has your back: the editors are there to make sure your book the best it can be without sabotaging your creative integrity, the book productions department want to make your book look as appealing as possible to people, and the sales reps will make sure your book sells. Publishers still have so much to offer, and when you look at it, they’re your first fans. They shouldn’t be taken for granted.

I suppose Evan has some very valid points, but what I find irritating is he hyperbolizes everything. It’s still too early to see the influence of the digital world on publishing. Right now things are new and exciting, and everyone is thrilled at the new toys and gadgets that are coming out. I think once the hype of ebooks and ereaders dies down, we’ll begin to see the real numbers. Traditional publishing still has the upper hand for the time being, and I don’t think the future of traditional publishing is all doom and gloom. I think at the more likely situation will be that they will continue to integrate technology to help make the traditional publishing procedures easier (which they’re already doing) and ebook and the physical will be sold side by side. Real books are far too valuable to become obsolete. Everyone, especially Evan, needs to just relax and enjoy the ride.

Newsweek Going Completely Digital

Now this is pretty interesting! I’m not a magazine reader; I think the only subscription I’ve ever had to one was National Geographic when I was a kid, so I’m not particularly devastated with Newsweek going digital. Even so, this article caught my eye with just three little words: Digital Publishing Only. One part of me, the part that still likes to crack open a book and smell it- sometimes in public- is horrified at the prospect of more things becoming completely digital. The other part of me that’s got an Ethernet cable for an umbilical cord, and is happily plugged into the interweb, is really excited at the evolution of technology in publishing, and can’t wait to see what happens next.

With the growth of technology, which is evolving at break-neck speed, it’s easy to see why Newsweek’s parent company, Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC is moving the magazine towards complete digitalization; they don’t want to be left behind in the new digital era, and who doesn’t? So many people are tapped into the internet, and even more people are just permanently hunched over from reading their tablets, or playing Angry Birds on their iphones. Even my dad has a Blackberry and refuses to call me now that I taught him how to text, and he’s over 60! I’ll admit I’m completely plugged in, too. I don’t think I’ve spent one day without the internet in a very long time, longer than I care to admit, and the mere thought of it freaks me out…which in turn, freaks me out. How am I so dependent on this one thing? And if that’s a worrying thought for me, how’s the printing and physical book industry feeling?

Personally, the snob in me doesn’t equate magazines with books in the publishing world, but they are a part of it nonetheless. What’s happening to Newsweek is pretty major, and it poses a scary question for all printed material in the future. What’s going to happen to print? Will it eventually become obsolete? To be honest, I don’t foresee the “threat” of the complete digitalization of books happening, at least not for a very long time, if ever. When ereaders emerged a few years ago, everyone was in an uproar about the death of printed books, but it just hasn’t happened yet. What we have seen is a newly formed dichotomy of readers with a bit of overlap. We have those who are dedicated to paper books, which I will lovingly call “purists”, and the “techies” who embrace change and have gone over to the dark side by reading from their tablets or ereaders only. Then there are some, like me, who are hovering in the grey area and still buy physical books, but also enjoy reading from a tablet from time to time. The Newsweek corporation recognizes that their readers have begun reading from their tablets, and like any smart business, doesn’t ignore that fact, but adapts to it. That being said, the percent of people reading strictly from ereaders and tablets is not yet high enough to dictate that dreaded digital shift in the publishing world, but it’s still too early to tell.

What I really think is currently going on is a really bad adaptation to change. Think about it: printed books have been around for hundreds of years, and only within the last century or so, we’ve seen the birth of technology. It’s only natural to be scared about something new when something old has worked for so long. But I think people are getting ahead of themselves and are losing their minds for nothing. With every new technological advance there’s been some sort of uproar, but after everything’s settled, people calm down and soon enough, forget it was even an issue. Remember the TV? How it was supposed to destroy children’s chances of reading or playing? Parks are still around, and when I worked with kids, they loved story time. Remember video games? How they were supposed to snatch parent’s kids away from them, and once again, tear them away from reading? Well, that didn’t happen either. Any time something new comes along, no matter what it is, it’s seen as an immediate threat.

The future is a digital one, whether we like it or not. Some of us will embrace it wholeheartedly and others will be dragged kicking and screaming along. For businesses to flourish in today’s world, they need to incorporate technology into their products and marketing strategies. Publishing, albeit their noble cause, is at the end of the day a business, and they need to make money. They also need to make their consumers happy, and the consumer gets what the consumer wants. If more people are using ereaders, the simple truth is that people may want more ebooks. However, there are still people, many people actually, who just don’t like ereaders and tablets, and prefer the physical book. Publishing has already dipped its toes in the technology pool with some pleasing results, but it’s comforting to us printed romantics to know that physical books are still a higher demand. The digital revolution in publishing is definitely happening, but I think it will work symbiotically with tradition, and the inevitable death of the physical book is just an irrational fear brought on by something that we haven’t seen before. We’re at a crucial crux in our culture, straddling the old material world and the new digital world, and there can’t possibly be a more exciting time to live in than right now.