Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Response to New Zealand Listener editoral: E-zy reader

E-zy reader editorial

The currentA recent issue of the Listener has an editorial discussing ereaders and ebooks. It's quite negative and pessimistic but this editorial has inspired this blog post.

I love books. It might be also obvious that I love libraries. I come from a family of booksellers, and publishers. Avery bookshop traded for nearly one hundred years before closing and leasing the building to Whitcoulls. This history, however, doesn't mean bookshops hold an irrationally special place in my heart. I do think their is a scale of quality in bookshops, and independent bookshops do have their place, but as a means to an end, namely, to get the books! They are middle men.

Ebooks change everything.

With ebooks there's no need for the book buyer, the people (sorry libraries) who hold up the book industry, to visit a physical store anymore. People can now buy books from the comfort of their home or anywhere with an internet connection. The Listener is worried about the future of bricks and motor bookshops and what ebooks will mean for the publishing and literary industry in New Zealand. I contest their fear is at worst misplaced, at worse scarily missing the point.

The listener says:

"At their best, these are one of the great institutions of reading life in this country, in many cases a social and literary hub for their communities."

Sounds like libraries right? No, they are talking about bookshops. They sadly don't mention libraries at all. This is our (libraries) fault. We should be at least a part of the conversation around ebooks and the opportunities and challenges that they present to our reading lives. If we aren't in the book reading public mind's we aren't doing our jobs.

After the Listener briefly discusses the future of literature, and speculating that it lies with tablets and ereaders, they state that New Zealand is catching up with the availabity of ebooks and ereaders, and local publishers will have to embrace this new medium to survive. These are actually valid points and I totally agree that NZ publishers need to get in the game and get our books digital.

They go on:

"The local arms of international publishing groups could face an additional problem, since their finances owe so much to income generated by distributing and selling their parent companies’ books; if those books are e-books sold online from a central source overseas, why should they continue to be paid, or at least paid as much? In which case, where will the money come from to support the quantity and variety of local books they publish?"

So let me get this straight, because consumers can buy all of say Penguins ebooks from an overseas website, how will Penguin NZ be able to cope?

They don't seem to get the Internet. The fantastic, wonderful thing about the Internet is it doesn't matter where you are in the world you can download stuff straight to your device. For example, a NZ consumer can now download the latest issue of Oprah Magazine, (via Zinio) not having to wait till it hits our distant shores, and they don't have to pay international postage fees. The book industry is similarly affected with ebooks. New Zealand authors, and the previously physical arms of international publishing houses will be able to publish ebooks online, hopefully with international release dates rather then with geographic restrictions as some United States ebooks have, and lo and behold, the market will decide if they like the book and will subsequently purchase if they choose to.

Another brilliant thing about the Internet is the long tail. It costs a fraction of the costs of printing and storing a print book, compared to hosting an ebook on a website for even a handful of people to download. The book will take almost no sales to bring back costs, and authors can actually make money selling far fewer books. Once New Zealand books are actually available as ebooks, and if the ebook market continues it's rapid growth, local literary culture will flourish and infact it will be exposed to a wider audience through international ebook publishers and online ebookshops. There is no need to "release" an ebook internationally. Take Cat Connor (Profile) an Upper Hutt thriller writer who became an international bestseller by publishing ebooks. I love how she has embraced social media, such a great tool for writers to connect with their audiences.

The part of this article that really got to me wasn't even in the text. It's the picture of a smiling Annabel Langbein, chef, on what appears to be an iPad's screen. They mention that the best selling local book in 2010 was Annabel Langbein’s The Free Range Cook.

They fail to mention this free range cook's books are not available as ebooks. There is no reason for Annabel's face to be on an iPad, in relation to this story at least. Her books should be available as ebooks, but that is her publishers failing.

Tom