Ebooks Are Boring? So What?

Nick Atkinson has an interesting post over on FutureBook this morning. In it he asks three questions he feels people aren’t asking about ebooks. The ones he hits on are:

EBooks  aren’t actually that exciting, so why are people buying them?

Why am I rubbish at selling books online?

Where the heck is my audience? They used to shop at Borders.

he’s got a refreshing perspective on some of those:

So why are we struggling so much to make a digital book look and feel like a book? I remember the overwhelming sense of disappointment, anti-climax and resignation that I felt when I first looked at an eBook, way back when, on the Iliad – a device thankfully confined to myth and legend (it had a STYLUS for god’s sake). Even now, working with a conversion supplier I’m proud to partner with, who does a good job of stretching the ePub and Kindle formats, whenever we get our eBooks back, we still often gaze misty-eyed at the print edition and wonder where the design went and that’s just on text-based product. If you are honest, you’ve felt the same way. We’ve had moments where we’ve tried to shoehorn full-colour books into reflowable epubs to see what would happen, got the files back and laughed out loud at ourselves for even bothering.

via 3 important questions about digital that nobody is asking. | FutureBook.

Not that he’ll be put out, but I disagree with the first half of his post pretty strongly in that I actually like ebooks as they are, simple text files. I don’t want enhancements.

There’s a peculiar, and seemingly pervasive, fear among publishers that the written word just isn’t compelling enough for their readers (one well addressed by James Bridle here) in the digital age. It’s something I just don’t understand. Afterall text is fine in print, why not in digital form?

The rest of it though, I’m mostly on board with and it speaks to the quick presentation on Niches & Communities I gave to publishers during the Pecha Kucha session at TOC Frankfurt in 2009.

Not, I stress, that I think ebooks are the end of all things book related as I myself wrote for Publishing Perspective some time ago:

THE critical concern should be developing an expertise in how to sell content in many different forms and at many different prices to different audiences. Publishers should be platform agnostic, selling wherever readers are willing to buy and not focusing if it is an e-book, an app, online access, segments, chapters, quotes, mash-ups, readings, conferences, or anything else (a point made Friday on Publishing Perspectives by Clive Rich).

Rather than expend their energy focusing on one format that may be fleeting, publishers need to focus on two long-term objectives: audience development and content curation. Neither of these are specific to digital activities, meaning that they will only serve to bolster the print side of the business as well, whether it declines rapidly or gradually.

Still, a good post that will no doubt generate discussion!
Eoin 

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5 comments

  1. I am no expert other than I own a Kindle (newly!) but I must say it is its very simplicity that I like. It’s clean and clear to read, you can make the typeface bigger (a gift to the elderly and vision impaired), and it has a limited range of buttons to push etc.
    Covers are lovely on books (mostly) and I slightly miss that but otherwise, I love the clear text, portability etc etc of the Kindle.
    What I would love is some easy way to get quality short fiction onto it. I do wish publishers would catch up and get all their content digitised.

  2. Nick’s lead in — 3 important questions about digital that nobody is asking — Rubbish. Nick needs to expand his sources and look at the digital publishing community. These questions are constantly being asked and the answers are out there; many of them are just common sense.

    Nick asks: EBooks aren’t actually that exciting, so why are people buying them?

    People are buying ebooks. They’re outselling mass market fiction. We’re not just buying books from Kindle and Nook, we’re also visiting digital book publisher’s websites directly and buying there to load onto our readers.

    Statements like Nick’s tells me he’s only looking at digital books and sales as they apply to legacy publishers and not the whole industry of digital publishing, which started about 15 years ago. It’s not new. What’s new is legacy publishers now getting in on it and trying to rewrite established practices, including pricing, which Nick also mentioned.

    If a reader buys a book and doesn’t like it, it’s not the book’s fault. It’s the author’s fault for not writing a more engaging story. It can happen with any author, print or digital.

    Nick asks: Why am I rubbish at selling books online?

    Possibly because the author lacks marketing skills, doesn’t promote at all or promotes themselves ineffectively, has no web presence (website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc), or thinks the book will sell itself. Again, this can happen with print or digital authors. Publishers generally don’t work with their authors how they used to in order to establish the author’s career. Authors, no matter the format, must do a lot of marketing. If they can’t do that, they won’t see the sales.

    Nick asks: Where the heck is my audience? They used to shop at Borders.

    Refer to the above comment. If an author can’t get their name out there, how are they going to make sales? Readers are out there and they’re buying digital books by the millions.

    It’s also possible the author hasn’t determined their target audience and are focusing their marketing in the wrong direction.

    I read Nick’s full article and he makes a lot of bold statements. I’ve been in the industry for about 20 years now as a reviewer, editor, author researcher, mentor, author, and publisher. Probably a unique position, but I’m able to see from various angles. Reading one-sighted reports like Nick’s are rather disturbing. Each and everyone of his points deserves rebuttal, if only there were enough time in the day.

    *EDITED by EOIN PURCELL (queries by email)

  3. eBooks are the future. Paper is terminal and it’s just a matter of time. That is for sure and anyone who thinks otherwise has a serious case of wishful thinking.

    This article is interesting only in so far as it is another example of the thinking that has been going on inside the industry and that has been contributing to the incredibly slow response time to the transition to digital that they have been warned about for years.

    That Mr Atkinson is still struggling to come to terms with this transition and still doesn’t appear to grasp the essence of the whole thing is unfortunate for publishers.

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