Monday, May 11, 2009

I May Be Cheap, But I'm Not Easy. Who Am I?

From the desk of Ms. Sally Spitfire...

My Dearest Suzy-Q,

How is life down in the gorgeous south? NYC is chugging along splendidly and I'm just tickled pink that the warm weather has finally arrived. Flowers are peeking out all over and Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and all other outdoorsy beautiful city spots are filling up with people soaking up the sun.

Work is, as usual, busy but good. The big news of the week was Amazon holding a conference to announce the KINDLE 3. Although I didn't go, I spoke to a few people who did and it sounds like Amazon is getting closer and closer to taking over the world (which we all know will happen eventually, if Google doesn't beat them to it.)

The announcement of the new Kindle couldn't have come at a more appropriate time. I have ebooks on the brain and how can I not? The topic seems to come up everywhere I look, in one form or another. For the consumer, e-readers are an interesting new electronic toy and ebooks an interesting--for some exciting and for some detestable--new way of reading. But for those of us in publishing, it opens up a whole new range of questions about how we do what we do.

One of the biggest questions--of course--is that of rights. In the past, editors, agents and authors negotiated over contracts that included rights for the different ways and places a book could be published: US rights, international rights, audio rights, first serial rights, and so on and so forth. Now, the standard contract has been altered to include digital rights. All well and good. But what about those more old-fashioned authors who resist the idea of putting their work out in digital form? Should it be optional? Will that ultimately hurt the book or not? (I think that in most cases it will.) And what about books that were published before digital rights were part of those contracts? Can those books--for which there may be an audience that wants to buy it in ebook form--be published digitally without the author's consent? (In most cases, no.) And who is going to track down the authors to all backlist titles and ask them to sign a new contract that includes digital rights?

But those questions don't concern me--in marketing--personally. For me, the questions fall more along the lines of "how can we best use ebooks as a marketing tool?" and "how long will it be before it becomes common to accept ebooks instead of galleys?"

The latter question, as of yet, seems relatively unclear. There are a small number of reviewers who--when offered a galley--will request an electronic one instead but, interestingly enough, most reviewers still insist on a hard copy. Not only is it surprising that reviewers--who surely receive hundreds upon thousands of books they don't end up liking or even reading--wouldn't jump at the opportunity to trade those book piles for a slim little ereader, but the amount of money that could be saved by not producing huge quantities of galleys would be a boon for the marketing departments. Of course, it's also a matter of what each publisher is capable of; so far, it seems that the smaller publishing houses (the independent ones, so to speak) are ahead of the game when it comes to offering ebooks to reviewers. The bigger publishing houses are still trying to figure out the best way to do this without risking "big" books getting leaked early to consumers.

As far as marketing goes, the ebook is a brand new promotional object and one that is, relatively speaking, cheap to offer on a large scale. Although I am still no expert on the technical aspects of ebooks, I've been learning as much as quickly as I can about them. Already, it's becoming common practice to offer ebooks as a prize in online sweepstakes, much the same way in the past we have offered finished books or galleys. But can this be taken further? Some people are offering "original content" such as exclusive "prequels" or "gap stores" (that bridge the plot between two books of a series) in a digital form. What else is on the horizon?
As usual, there are a lot of questions floating around. You know, I've been thinking, even with all of the uncertainty in the industry right now, due to economy and changing attitudes towards "what is a book" and the rise of self-publishing, it's probably one of the most exciting times to BE in the books world...

And aren't you lucky to get to hear about it all from me, Suzy, dear... ;-)

Much love and hope to see you soon for a visit,

(Ms.) Suzy Q


Sarah Laurenson said...

A bigger Kindle with a hefty increase in price and the idea was to draw in newspaper business? I'm very skeptical. Especially with the Japanese selling a color e-reader. Color, people! Now we're talking. I can see newspapers on that. And illustrated books and magazines. I'm holding out for better technology this time, but I like the idea of less paper and more trees. Also like carrying 3500 books around with me wherever I go. :-)

Chris Eldin said...

Hi Sarah,

I hope one of these days to get a Kindle! Perhaps in a year...
:-) But there's a Japanese version in color? That's cool.

Shona Snowden said...

Very interesting. I'm still holding off on the Kindle, but I'm glad to see it progressing. (I bought one of the first micro laptops, and I wish I'd waited a while, until it had the programming I actually wanted on it!)

I wonder if the galley-love comes from the ancient reviewing art of Scribbling In The Margins.

Shona Snowden said...

Word ver: 'apnyhend'

Def: a fear of sleep apnoea

Sarah Laurenson said...

The Japanese color e-reader