As a career specialty retail manager mostly within the media and electronics industries, I’ve lived through every media transition so far. Music, movies, and now books. As each one comes, it seems the speculations and arguments are coming straight from some secret script kept for just such occasions. You have your “doomsday” groups which scream of the demise of every business associated with the particular media known to man. You have your “traditionalist” groups which refuse to even try this new type so as to protect the current form. And you have your “throw away the old now” groups which are ready to abandon everything that existed prior. It sometimes gets to be even comical at points.
Am I making this stuff up? No. You only have to read the news, reviews, and listen. When it comes to the eBook explosion recently and the transition, here’s the top 5 myths I see when it comes to eBooks:
- eBooks are destroying the publishing world. The publishing industry is actually far more complex than most people know. Publishers do not typically print or distribute books. Their primary function is signing good authors and promotion. Production and distribution are done by other companies that are essentially “middle men” in it all. It’s the distributors that are actually feeling the pressure and have the need to evolve. Consumers are demonstrating that they want good books and are willing to buy them in digital form. Producing those books in that format and developing new distribution systems is what is really changing. Many of the publishers are actually finding a lot of great benefits because it is opening them up to new readers and abilities to do things with books that they never could have done before.
- Print books will go away. Granted, ebook sales are growing at a very rapid pace year-over-year. BUT they still only contribute about 10% of all book sales which is a multi-billion dollar industry. Print sales have declined, but the ebook format has grown at a much larger percentage than the percentage decline. That says more people are reading which is a good thing. Likewise, the struggles at Borders also has to be taken into account and the impact they contribute to sales. People are still buying books both print and digital form, and the great thing is . . . they appear to be reading more! Books are special and dear to serious readers. But, as I explain to even authors who are concerned for the print book, the most important thing in the book is the words and the story or message they convey through the craft of writing. Whether the reader encounters that on a screen or on a piece of paper is not all that significant because the most important aspect is that the author reaches reaches and connects with readers. eBooks are providing them an additional avenue to do that in ways they never could have before.
- eBooks should all be cheap. I’d agree that pricing in the ebook world is all over the place at this point. This is mostly driven by the extreme consumer volatility in the ebook format. Most think printing is the major cost behind the pricing of books. It’s actually only a fraction behind the pricing of a book. The argument that digital does not come with significant costs to produce and distribute an ebook is actually misplaced. It takes pretty heavy duty servers and engineers to produce and maintain systems that allow consumers to download thousands upon thousands of titles each day. It also takes skilled design personnel to create a book in the ebook format. And it takes money to promote and advertise the books. In essence; although you reduce costs of printing, warehousing, and shipping . . . you replace those costs with others. Where the $9.99 price point came from with Amazon was an agreement early on where they paid publishers more than $9.99 per download. In retail it’s called a “loss leader” to sell other products (i.e the Kindle). As ebook sales exploded, publishers wanted price control back. They got it, and pricing will find more stability over time.
- Bookstores will go out of business. One thing in life and business is true . . . the only constant is change. Any company in any industry that does not evolve with the consumers they serve . . . will suffer. The companies that “go away” often times are not due to the change in the marketplace, but moreso the company’s unwillingness to change. We are seeing book sellers that are fully embracing digital and balancing the two formats very nicely. Whereas others are struggling with that. Book sellers are finding themselves talking new things like tech, but the smart ones are balancing that with the important thing . . . the book itself. It always goes back to that . . . the book.
- Authors won’t need publishers anymore. This debate is nothing new at all. Publishers are important and do a lot more than most realize. Authors have always had the option of self-publishing. There are barriers, and some of those barriers are reduced or eliminated in the ebook world for self-publishing, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Getting the book in readers hands whether it be print or digital is not an easy task. Writers are excellent at the craft of writing but they are not always the best marketers. Most authors will tell you that actually writing the book seems like a lot less work later on compared to actually selling it. Many authors today are still struggling to utilize the new avenues to engage readers while balancing that with promotion.
So what does this have to do with being Catholic? Well, we write and read. Faith is a continuing story that we share. Catholic author and publishers have amazing new opportunities within the book industry today with the innovation and growth of ebooks. We should embrace it and utilize it for evangelization. Religious books are a very popular genre within the ebook world. The door is open, and we simply need to walk through.