Getting to Digital

Beastly goings on
There have been a few pretty big moves in the last few days towards what seem (At least to me) sensible models for getting digital and quickly. The first is Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast‘s deal with Perseus Press that the NYT featured yesterday:

Ms. Brown said that Beast Books would select authors from The Daily Beast’s cadre of writers, most of whom are paid freelancers, to write books with quick turnarounds. She said she planned to publish three to five books in the first year.

The beauty of the deal though is that they making digital first publications:

Beast Books, that will focus on publishing timely titles by Daily Beast writers — first as e-books, and then as paperbacks on a much shorter schedule than traditional books.

I rather hope this works, it certainly sounds like a good news story if it does. The model seems sensible, it capitalises on the eyeballs the Daily Beast is dragging and as The Big Money puts it in a sensible and thoughtful paragraph:

The good news is that this is exactly what digital publishing needs to fuel its growth: a product ideally suited to a new technology. Brown’s entry into the field validates the idea of writing specifically for the Kindle and its competitors, a huge vote of confidence in the tools. The less-great news is that for all of Brown’s talent for attention-getting, the Daily Beast may not have the right content to drive sales. Which just might be the point of the whole deal—with Brown using the book deal as a back door to better content.

Disney Digital
Disney Digital

Disney’s gamble
There have been some negative comments about Disney’s newly launched program that provides online access to 500. As the NYT (again) puts it:

In what it bills as an industry-defining moment — though rivals are sure to be skeptical about that — Disney Publishing plans to introduce a new subscription-based Web site. For $79.95 a year, families can access electronic replicas of hundreds of Disney books, from “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” to “Hannah Montana: Crush-tastic!”, which is aimed at children ages 3 to 12, is organized by reading level. In the “look and listen” section for beginning readers, the books will be read aloud by voice actors to accompanying music (with each word highlighted on the screen as it is spoken). Another area is dedicated to children who read on their own. Find an unfamiliar word? Click on it and a voice says it aloud. Chapter books for teenagers and trivia features round out the service.

I like this idea because it is heading more towards the type of product that can win the battle for attention and hold its own against numerous distractions. What is more, a site like this (and being a site is crucial) has a certain seamless quality, it fits into the web rather than standing aside from it in a “connected” device. It will simply be a rich content website that you happen to pay for! That is important! that, I believe, is the future.

Both these moves are taking big publishing digital very rapidly. This is a space to watch!

6 thoughts on “Getting to Digital

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said – that the slice of the market that makes the money is where digital needs to take hold, and then inevitably from there it will take over.

    And I’m still not sure that this isn’t just ideologically driven. When I worked in the bookstore, what made our money really was back list. Okay, every so often there’d be one book that did surprisingly well, but they were few and far between. It was the steady sale of backlist titles that kept us afloat.

    Oh I don’t know. To be totally honest, I don’t want digital. I love reading and the thought of having to do it on yet another screen and not to have an actual book in my hands strikes me as hugely depressing.

    I’m really not convinced at all why this move has to be made.

    1. Litlove,

      I’m with you, why does anything NEED to change?

      Sadly where we are is a place where technology facilitates and enables change, a significant group of actors benefit or have a perceived benefit from the change and so those two factors being present, it would be almost impossible to prevent the change.

      That said, I am firmly of the view that PRINT CULTURE is far from dead. In fact I’d wager BOOKS as a printed entity will thrive. Just not in the model we have right now. I’ve been meaning to write more on this but I suspect print runs will dip dramatically for all but the biggest books and they will individually become objects of greater value (Andrew Simone @ Lone Gunman has a post that touches on this today) or considerably less value depending on whether they are cheap paperbacks (probably Print on Demand or Massive Print Run) or expensive hardbacks, printed in low quantities.

      The web is a reading culture though. Sure video, audio and art illuminate and decorate it, but the medium is a very textually based one. The network is better with a little friction as possible and this is best achieved through a single window (the browser) which is why I see ebooks as a temporary thing, driven by old “iron horse” notions. We will eventually learn to pay for deep deep piles of online content streamed to us or supplied to us via broswer windows just as now we get that largely for free.

      Still, as I say, PRINT CULTURE will be around for some time I suspect!

  2. even after corporate publishers disappear,
    due to the lack of profitability in the sphere,
    there will still be paper books, lots of ’em…

    the espresso machine can make you a book
    at a cost of a penny a page, which is cheap…
    probably much less than you now pay for
    many books from the corporate dinosaurs.

    plus there will be a slew of books appearing,
    from authors who were never deemed to be
    “profitable enough” by corporate publishers,
    so you’ll have much stuff to print-on-demand.

    eventually, however, the cost of paper will rise,
    to the point where printed books will be scarce,
    simply because they will become so expensive…
    when it costs you $100 to print a book, you will
    see just exactly how much print means to you…


    1. Bowerbird,

      You highlight something I do fear slightly, that print costs go so high that printed books become elite objects. This is a worry because those without access to digital products will also lack access to printed products. If they are therefore excluded from both print and digital their information and entertainment poverty will be extreme!


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