Saturday, August 29, 2009
Guest Blogger Debbi Mack on Print Books
Print Books Will Never Die
by Debbi Mack
That headline makes a pretty bold statement, doesn't it? Especially when you consider that e-book sales have skyrocketed, since Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007. It's a small segment of the market now, but it's growing super-fast. So it looks like e-books are for real and here to stay. What with Kindle and services like Smashwords and Scribd, publishers are finally sitting up and taking notice (rather nervously, I would imagine).
On the one hand, e-books can be seen as an author's boon. Why fuss with a publisher when you can issue an e-book? You have the potential to make more money, and as for marketing and promotion, you can do it all online. No expensive book tours, promo mailings or even conference appearances. The days of worrying about getting books in stores will be over. We can all just sit at our computers, update our blogs and Facebook pages, and Twitter to our heart's content. And even attend virtual conferences, like PP Web Con, [http://www.ppwebcon.com/index.html] touted as "The World's First Virtual Mystery Convention." Pretty cool, right?
Well . . . okay, but doesn't it seem like something's missing from this equation? Like actually meeting people? Friending people on Facebook is fine, but is it really the same as meeting an author or reader in the flesh? And you can't buy a fellow author or agent a drink in a "coffee shop" chat room, can you?
And even if our marketing isn't all online, won't in-person marketing change dramatically? For one thing, what will happen to the book signing? When I first started thinking about this, I thought that e-books couldn't be signed. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Yes, I've heard it's possible even now to sign books on certain e-reader devices and may be possible for Kindle e-books, sometime after they start making and selling the Kindle Pen, [http://ireaderreview.com/2009/06/25/kindle-electronic-pen/] which has many uses including writing annotations (and, presumably, signing autographs) within a Kindle e-book. I even heard of a man who attended a book signing with his Kindle, downloaded an e-book on the spot and and asked the author to autograph his Kindle reader. Not the same thing, buddy. But the advent of a signable e-book changes a bookseller's marketing strategy in dramatic ways. Signings are supposed to be events that promote both author and bookseller. The big chains are developing e-readers of their own [http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/07/book-stores-ereaders/] to compete with Amazon. But e-books don't require brick-and-mortar shelf space. Will all bookstores convert to online operations? Will the independents be able to make the adjustment? Will bookstore signings become a thing of the past?
The real question is: will e-books really usurp print books eventually? They have the benefits of low cost, easy purchase and storage, portability, and you can even get them signed electronically. Gee, what's left for print books to boast about? Oh, there's definitely something. There are differences. There are reasons to think that no matter how big e-books get, there will always be a market for print books.
Now, before you go calling me an old fogy or Luddite, consider this. In an age of digital music, iPods and MP3s, guess what product is selling now? Vinyl records. Yes, vinyl records have made a comeback. According to a June 3, 2009 article, "The Vinyl Revival and the Resurrection of Sound" [http://tinyurl.com/ofcb77], "vinyl sales rose 14% between 2006 and 2007, from 858,000 to 990,000. In comparison, CD sales have nosedived over the past three years, from 553.4 million in 2006 to 360.6 million in 2008. MP3 sales grew from 32.6 million to 65.8 million during the same time period, according to SoundScan. And in 2009, vinyl sales figures continue to rise."
So, let's get this straight--CD sales dropped, online music sales rose and vinyl record sales went up, too? And continue to rise? Hmm . . . methinks there's an analogy to be made here.
One of the reasons for the vinyl revival seems to be that the experience of listening to records differs from digital music. I would argue the same for reading print books as opposed to e-books. I don't care what kind of technical wizardry they devise to reduce screen flicker, improve resolution and so on. Reading a printed page will always be slightly different from reading a screen. Even the experience of holding an e-reader differs from that of a print book.).
Another reason is what the article called "the collectible factor." You might be able to collect thousands upon thousands of MP3s and e-books, but you can't display them or hand them around for others to admire. And what will they be worth as collectibles? (There's no such thing as a rare e-book, is there?)
Finally, there's the occasionally amazing album cover art (substitute the word "book" for "album" and you'll see where I'm going with this). Sure, your e-book could have a digital "cover"--but, again, will it provide the same experience as holding a real book with a real cover in your hand? Think of the difference between seeing an original Van Gogh and a digital replica. Yeah, I'd say there's a difference.
Thus, while print books may eventually become less popular than e-books, I don't think they'll disappear. In fact, I think print books are even more likely to survive than their vinyl record counterparts. They can co-exist with e-books and will continue to be enjoyed as keepsakes, collectibles or simply as tangible things.
Oh, and by the way, what's the warranty on your print books? Exactly.
Debbi Mack's novel IDENTITY CRISIS features lawyer-sleuth Stephanie Ann "Sam" McRae in a hardboiled mystery involving a complex case of murder and identity theft. It's available in print through Lulu.com [http://www.lulu.com/content/3923913], Amazon and other online sellers and as--yes--an e-book through Amazon, [http://www.amazon.com/dp/BOO2BWQ676] the Scribd Store [http://www.scribd.com/doc/16358674/Identity-Crisis] and Smashwords. [http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/2451] Debbi's stort stories have been published in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES and The Back Alley Webzine [http://backalleywebzine.com/]. She'll have a short story published in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES 4 coming from Wildside Press in March 2010. Her Web site is http://www.debbimack.com, and she has two fiction-related blogs: Debbi Mack: My Life on the Mid-List http://midlistlife.wordpress.com/] (a few reflections on the writing life) and The Book Grrl [http://thebookgrrl.blogspot.com] (news, reviews and other stuff about all types of books--especially crime fiction--and the publishing industry).