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It’s been a fair few rough years for bookstores, and under the surface various distribution houses (not having had the luxury of lock-in markets or an easy reach across economic zones) have seen their demise. Publishers have effectively tried to lock themselves and connected point of sales into an attempt at achieving an in house market, while overcompensating with marketing and revised catalogues for the increasingly changing circumstances that made their business models effective.
Publishers are a story in their own right really. While the agile small and dedicated publishing house that bridges niches has a clear and visible potential, the traditional publisher houses are more increasingly (with rare exceptions) giving the impression that at the top they recognise a fundamental shift in conditions and requirements for their business models. And indeed, shifts therein and an inability to maintain operational conditions in light of a slow awakening to what the plans and steps of Amazon really mean for that industry. It’s been said that at the top people think they can sail on for a bit, in light of retirements pending. Perhaps.
I’m not so sure however that they have that much time. Shifts like these have occured in any industry over the course of human history. They tend to culminate in a rapid conclusion. It’s about when the wave breaks, and not when it comes ashore.
Either way, this morning I did my rounds at the bookstores here. Looking for new releases, a few hardcopies of ebooks I had purchased via Smashwords and to indulge a bit in browsing through the new stocks of old second hand books. It’s a beautiful day here, so I decided to walk. Considering the relative succes of my rounds and the cumulative weight of the fruits of my quest, in retrospect that might not have been such a grand idea …
So, there I am at a bookstore. Books all around. Cosy shop, friendly staff. One of them helps me sort through the list of ebooks I wanted to buy hardcopies of at the desk in the back, where they seperately from the sales desk aid customers in whatever venture or idea they might be in pursuit of. Nice touch, definately. It was interesting though, that the friendly staff member gave an expression of relief and an admission of having adopted the same change in buying books. The ebook as the sample, the “real” book as the cherry. To smell, touch, to hold. Something the store does not cater to, unfortunately.
It’s an interesting change though. I remember paperbacks filled that role of the cheap book to take along, if it didn’t hit you it was not a problem. You could easily hand it to someone else, or exchange it for someone else’s paperback, and if it got damaged during travel it was not a big pain. It was after all a paperback. The real book was the hardcover. A book to read definately, but a book to save and hold. Now increasingly I see this same change with people I come across: the ebook is taking over that role of the paperback. The cheap and accessible trial version of the book that you don’t mind that much if it turns out to be a lesser story.
In a way, it has some similarity to the concept of trial products. With a twist though, after all the ebook is the full story. So where lies the difference between that “paperback” “trial” ebook purchase and the acquisition of a solid gorgeous hardcover version of the book? Is that leaving it just up to the mentality and tendencies of the individual buyer? Is that “trial” aspect really dependant on the whims of what might be a generic consumer and not a collector?
As rude as it is to answer questions with further questions, it seems appropriate here to ask the following question: why would you leave that up to chance? Why would you as an author not strive to provide that difference the same way countless other industries have done before us.
An ebook is effectively a consumable. Just like the paperback. While that does mean that some serious thinking is required in regards to price ranges and the differences in market trends & buyer behaviour between different economic zones, it also means that there is a lot of room for building on top of the consumable as a means to a platform. A consumable is not a throwaway, it is a building block. The “real” edition as such should be linked for sales from that consumable. And it should provide something to touch, to hold. Something that gives it a cherry which one cannot really eat in the digital world.
It’s interesting to observe the experiments in special or enhanced editions of ebooks. Some small publishers of graphic novels and comics have started to dabble in that. But I wonder if they are not missing several other opportunities by simply staring only at the digital world.
Consider for a moment the difference between an ebook which gives the story, and the “real” book that gives the reader the cherry. Think of a glimpse at the making of the book, the writing of the story. Think of a gorgeous (and useful) map of the world the story takes place in. Imagery of the characters, sketches perhaps even made by aspiring artists authors find and collaborate with. Consider prose or poetry accompanied by a finely tuned visual setting.
Obviously that approach requires a combination of creative thinking and some common sense in connecting the reader, who is the buyer, from one world to the other. I often wonder why an ebook purchase does not contain an incentive and a connection towards buying the real book. Then again, I also often wonder why bookstores do not connect the digital and the real for their sales and service.
We’ll see, I gather.
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