Category Archives: e-books

4

Revising Literature

In T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, he writes:

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

I always associate these lines with any sort of creative process, none so more than writing. Although not a writer myself, aside from some university dissertations which I dare not revisit, I become intrigued when I read this article about a collection of first edition books that have been annotated by their author and will be sold off at a charity auction. Some of the authors are rather scathing of their own work such as Yann Martel, who concedes he never completely liked the opening line of The Life of Pi. Other annotations include small details like Lynne Truss fixing a hyphen that appears on the title page of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Despite the success that all these authors have continued to have, I did wonder if they slightly gnashed their teeth in frustration as they penned their annotations, being unable to permanently improve or alter their books.

The annotations made by these authors on their own works does speak to Eliot’s words, in that they must have pored over each page of their manuscript, made corrections, scrubbed out words only to later add them back in but at some point had to take their toast and tea and draw the line somewhere. In turn, as books now appear in digital as well as print, is there the possibility that an author could endlessly tinker with their work? This piece in the Christian Science Monitor a number of years ago pondered the very question with its author concluding that this could very well be a ‘doomsday scenario’. In journalism, it is not infrequent to have articles amended, so can the same opportunity be afforded to authors who may wish to use the malleability of an e-book to tinker with their own work as time goes by? Or once published, should they be left untouched? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!

5

Golden Age?

A few days back, NPR did an interesting interview with Little Brown publisher Michael Pietsch, best known for being the editor of authors like David Foster Wallace and James Patterson, who is just about to take over the helm of the Hachette Book group, one of Publishing’s “big six” conglomerates.  His declaration that we are now in “the golden age of publishing” might strike you as Panglossian delusion, or—if you are me—maybe, just possibly, a little bit true.

I suppose, as Zhou en Lai said about the impact of the French Revolution, it’s too early to say.  Pietsch is a persuasive spokesman for what the new indie publishing movement might regard as the ancient regime.   It’s true that he’s not all that likely to rail about the benefits of creative destruction—but he made some good points.

“What has changed in a really exciting way is the ways you can get people’s attention. It used to be one book review at a time, a daily review, maybe you get into Time magazine. Now there’s, with the Internet, this giant echo chamber. Anything good that happens, any genuine excitement that a book elicits can be amplified and repeated and streamed and forwarded and linked in a way that excitement spreads more quickly and universally than ever before. And what I’m seeing is that really wonderful books — the books that people get genuinely excited about because they change their lives, they give them new ideas — those books can travel faster, go further, sell more copies sooner than ever before. It’s just energized the whole business in a thrilling way.”

I do agree with Pietsch. But it’s also true that the internet is so vast, fractured and compartmentalized, that lighting this wildfire word of mouth—getting something to go viral—is harder than a status update and a clever tweet.  Once upon a time, back in the (possibly mythical) days of the “monoculture,” when most Americans had some shared sense of big books, popular musicians, and hit TV, Time magazine had a huge subscription base—a review there, or a spot on a leading morning show could launch a book into best-sellerdom.  This is still true to a certain extent, but I have heard plenty of publicity directors note (and sometimes mourn) the demise of the old certitudes.  It seems to me that publishers see the potential of our new paradigm, where newspaper book reviews are few but book bloggers proliferate and readers can rave about their favorite authors to a potentially unlimited audience, but are still figuring out just how to leverage it. Publicity and marketing plans includes online marketing and social media, but publishing houses are a long way from mastering these new tools.

As you all doubtless have heard, cultivating an on-line presence is regarded as much the author’s duty as the ability to write.  This can feel a bit burdensome, but it’s also true that authors have greater influence over the fates of their books then once they did.  Most authors were never in a position to call up a Today Show producer and pitch their stories, but they can, with diligence and work and a pinch of luck, try to connect their book with its readers.

What do you think?

Golden Age?  France in 1788?

The best of all possible worlds

Last night I walked a couple of blocks down Fifth Avenue to the brownstone home of the Salmagundi Art Club for a panel discussion of “Publishing in the Digital Age” hosted by the Deadline Club.  It was a miserable evening, weather-wise (as soon as I walked out the door of 1 Union Square West, the heavens opened, cabs splashed water as I waited for the lights to change, and my hair took on the proportions of Diana Ross’ favorite wig), but the panel discussion was lively and informative.

The question on everyone’s mind seemed to be “Should we panic about the state of the book business in the wake of the digital revolution or do we dare be optimistic.”  Our job on the panel was to illuminate the big issues preoccupying publishers and authors while attempting not to freak anyone out.  Overall, my fellow panelists and I were quite optimistic about the opportunities digital publishing affords while still admitting to twinges of regret over the passing of the traditional, wood paneled, musty smelling industry we all came of age in.

The optimism on our end came down to “choice.”  Authors have more choices now than they ever did.  They can self-publish easily and relatively economically if they choose or they can go through the traditional channels and, if that doesn’t pan out, go back to the idea of self-publishing.  Before e-books, if an author was rejected by enough agents and publishers, the idea of printing and distributing his or her own work was a daunting one.  Now, it’s a relatively painless process.

So, how is this good news to us inside the industry?  Well, what empowers authors usually empowers agents and, perhaps to a lesser degree, publishers.  Publishers and agents still provide an invaluable service in terms of curating literary material.  We still bring experience, love of craft, and critical acumen to bear on the process of book making and we’re pretty good at it.  And, authors and readers know this.  While self-publishing is now a thriving business, traditional publishing continues to publish more (digital and print) books every year.   And readers continue to buy these curated products.   Despite the perception of the business as the Titanic wildly trying to skirt the iceberg, publishers are making real efforts to keep up with the changing times so that they can bring their traditional talents to bear on the work authors are producing today.

Not to get all Panglossian about it, but isn’t this the best of all possible worlds?

3

Changes in Reading

My last blog entry of 2012 focused on a community who refilled the shelves of their recently shut down local library. This heart-warming story illustrated the importance that underscores the presence of a library or a bookstore in a community. Books can be found in and contribute to creating some of the most elegant stores in the world. These are buildings that house a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion that are to be found in books.

Now let me swing to the opposite side for my first post of 2013 and tell you about a building that houses a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion but does not possess a single printed book. Bexar County, TX is set to open the first book-less library this summer. The library will allow its residents to have access to electronic titles and let them check out e-readers. One of the architects behind the BiblioTech has reasoned that “The ever-changing landscape of technology means that literacy is no longer about picking up a physical book and being able to comprehend the words…Technology is changing the way we read, learn and thrive as citizens of the 21st Century.”

I agree with the sentiments behind this reasoning but I wouldn’t put it so didactically. The development of technology gives us options for how we read. It caters to a whole spectrum of taste, lifestyle, and needs. I don’t think we have to negate one to have the other or have to stand on a particular side of the fence and declare our allegiance. While I am grateful to be able to slip out my slinky e-reader whilst being crushed on the morning subway, I am just as thrilled to be able to ease back in a comfy chair, put my feet up and thumb my way through a hefty print book.

This is why I was intrigued to read this article that highlighted the presence of e-readers in traditional book stores in the UK. Essentially, e-readers sold at the bookstore would see the bookstore take a cut of future e-book sales, giving them an added revenue stream. Not confined to the UK, a number of US indie bookstores are also getting in on the act and through your reading device you are able to purchase e-book titles through independent bookstores.

For me, the development of technology has given us more options in the way we read. I have not been forced to choose one or the other and am excited to see if the conversation about print and electronic versions of books will begin to embrace one another rather than remain diametrically opposed. After all when you mix technology and books together and get this, it’s worth staying optimistic.

Are you embracing the best of both worlds? Or are you set in your reading ways. I’d love to know!

6

The Times it is a-changing

For the first time since 2004, the New York Times has made changes to their children’s bestseller lists. Up to this change, there were picture book, chapter book, paperback and series lists, with ten titles on each list (see here, though you’ll have to scroll down and click on the link for each list individually). There were complaints about the list (there are always complaints about the list), and publishers had been pushing for more space, especially as children’s sales increased dramatically. For comparison, the adult hardcover fiction list has fifteen slots, plus twenty on the extended list, for thirty-five slots total. In addition, many of us in the industry have complained about non-fiction titles dominating the chapter book list, particularly some licensed, toy-based books. The bestseller list is an important sales tool, not just an indicator of sales, and we know that the “New York Times Bestseller” designation for a book and author mean more attention from stores, libraries and consumers. Those of us bothered by the inclusion of those books felt that there were other titles that would benefit more from the attention that making the list brings, whereas these branded books would sell the same number of copies, with or without the designation. It’s not that they don’t deserve to be on a list; the chapter book list just seemed an odd fit.

So, when I heard from a source that the lists would be changing, I was hopeful. Sadly, this is definitely a case of “be careful what you wish for.” In their statement that proceeds the new list, the Times says they’ve made these changes in the list to reflect the changes in the book world, i.e. e-books. So now they have a picture book, middle grade, young adult, and series lists. The lists are format agnostic, so all hardcover, paperback and e-book sales on a title are included in the count. In addition, the MG and YA lists now include a short, five-slot extended list.

This all seems like it should be positive. I’ve been arguing that e-book sales should count towards the list, and there are ten new slots. But looking at the results for the first week, it’s disappointing. In splitting the books onto MG and YA (I can’t wait for when the Times puts a book on the “wrong” list), all of the children’s non-fiction, including those licensed books that drive me nuts, moved to the MG list. As such, eight of the top ten are nonfiction, and only two of those are narrative. The YA list is free of non-fiction, which is great. And it’s nice to see the quality, depth and breadth of the books on the list. But digging into the sales numbers a bit, it’s clear just how disadvantaged MG books are. Without the non-fiction to compete with, the YA list features titles on the main list that aren’t selling as well as some of the titles on the MG extended list. I’m basing this on one list, but from what I can see, it’s going to be much more difficult to have a MG bestseller than a YA one.

Though we know the times is now tracking hardcover, paperback and e-book sales for each title, it’s also unclear how the sales are weighted (and the Times guards their formula closely). The biggest question in this regard are about e-books. Are they tracking self-published books that are categorized as YA or MG? Does the price of the book effect the weighting? Could a publisher put an e-book on sale and watch their book jump onto the list? Making the list has always had an element of gamesmanship (colleagues and I like to joke about which book will magically land in the #10 spot, oftentimes despite dismal sales), but I think we’re in for an intense period of experimentation to see how e-book sales impact recognition.

And, I have one last complaint. With the start of the new MG and YA lists, the Times has reset each title’s “weeks on the list” count to 1. That means that Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF went from 272 weeks on the list back down to 1. It’s going to make it awfully tough for the next few months to easily see which books have been successful in the long run. Over time, this would cease to be an issue, but I hope the Times figures out a way to restore those “weeks on” counts.

End of rant. Any thoughts about the new lists and their impact?

Building Books

As December rolls around, the perpetual question of “What would you like from Santa” is to be found in e-mails from supremely organized family members.  Just as well, then, that a compendium of “Best of 2012” lists abounds, and over the last few days I have been taking a gander at these lists, most obviously the lists for best books.

One of the ubiquitous occupants of these lists is the “book” BUILDING STORIES by Chris Ware. Although, in one review I read, calling Ware’s work a book, would be doing the book a disservice. BUILDING STORIES comes in a box and is compiled of fourteen pamphlets that readers are free to read in whichever order they choose. Readers are then able to re-order the sequence in which they read the materials again and again. In a sense, where is the last page of this book?

Or does there necessarily have to be one? Ware’s book in a box certainly grabs your attention through its inventiveness, but should we be at all surprised? With the expanding array of reading devices, the way we read books is growing ever more diverse, and what we read is becoming ever more multifaceted in the digital world. Books such as HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER have grown to become an interactive nest of audio, pictures, archives and art.

With these new forms of storytelling, where do you stand as an author? Is Ware an author in the traditional sense, or more of a compiler of artifacts? What do you think of multimedia being a part of your reading material? Is the digital reader set to become a digital explorer?

1

Hello!

Thank you so much Jane for the kind introduction. It is fantastic to be here at DGLM, although I confess, these are familiar surroundings. As Jane mentioned, I began interning here in May 2011 while I was studying for my Master’s degree, so I am absolutely delighted to be a full time member of DGLM’s remarkable team. With e-books and e-readers continuing to offer us new ways to access books, it is an exciting time to be heading up DGLM’s digital publishing program. As a long-time lover of books, I feel incredibly privileged to have the chance to work closely with authors, the people who make us fall in love with books.

2

Welcome, Yassine Belkacemi!

Since its inception, our digital publishing program has been happily growing, both in the number of authors participating and in the number of titles published.  Currently we have 40 authors and 133 books in the program.

I am delighted to announce that we have now hired a full time project manager for this program who, in just a few short weeks, has already increased our percentage of growth.

Yassine Belkacemi was born in Scotland where he did his undergraduate studies at University of Edinburgh.  He then received a Master’s Degree at Columbia University here in New York.  He has been interning for us since May of 2011, and I have been eager to find a permanent place for him on our staff.

I hope you will all join me in welcoming Yassine as the newest member of the DGLM family.

8

Infographic to the rescue!

This week (month? year?) has been a whirlwind of much very good news and happy business, but with my brain in nonstop to-do-list-conquering mode, I’ve been struggling to come up with a good blog topic in between phone calls, emails, and contracts.  Happily the good people of Publishers Weekly sent me a blog topic in my email as if to say, “Don’t worry, Lauren!  It’s Friday, and people love infographics.”  (Thanks, PW!)

This visual distillation of some of the key e-book findings of Aptara’s 4th Annual eBook Survey of Publishers has some interesting information to tell us.  It also raises some questions:

Who are these 1 out of 5 publishers who do not produce e-books?

And of the 31% producing enhanced e-books, how many are producing enough that we’d notice?  I’m assuming just one counts as a yes.

Only 44% of publishers report that Amazon is their most lucrative sales channel?  This is surprising to me.  More surprising?  The publishers’ own websites being in second place.  Even distant second, I’d never have guessed that.

And why do publishers prefer the iPad as an e-reading device?

 

What questions does it raise for you?  And have you actually bought e-books directly from a publisher website?