13 July 2010

A learning curve for many publishers

How times have changed. I've been having ebook discussions with publishers now for well over seven years. Granted, they are discussions based around the library platform and working with our library customers. Not always a publisher’s favourite type of customer particularly with their requirements. There’s always access issues, pricing models, and various sticking points in any ebook agreement with libraries. What a library wants and what a publisher is willing to offer nearly always varies - and varies dramatically in some instances. As a leading trade publisher said to me, I'm currently selling 30 copies of this book to this library consortium. You think I'm prepared to sell one for the same price but have 30 people access it all at the same time? I don't think so.

But taking libraries out of the equation, ebook discussions with publishers are now very very different to seven years ago. They are listening more. They are engaging more. However if you listen really closely, the verbs they use often sound the same. You get used to listening for the "doing words". When discussing ebooks – whether for direct to consumer, retail or library models – I am still hearing the words like "daunting", "challenging" and phrases like "experimenting with ebooks" or "experimenting with a variety of business models". There’s nothing definite about ebooks. Everyone is looking at this in a slightly different way. The one thing they have in common – is that they are now looking at them. And taking them seriously.

In many ways, Amazon paved the way. Took over the US ebook market and then released The Kindle to the rest of world. There was a surge of interest when the Kindle came to Australia. But I’m putting it down to Apple and the consumer response to the iPad that pushed publishers further. After years and years, ebooks were at the top of their “to do” list. Finally! Everyone’s thinking of them, everyone’s talking about them. The world has gone “e” mad. We’ve got Kindles, Apples, Sonys, Kobo, Blio, Google Books. And no doubt more on the horizon.

We finally have Digital Directors on board with many trade and academic publishers locally. If not, there’s an ebook project manager. When you talk about ebook production, you have people on board who know what you are talking about. If you start talking about DADs, publishers here are aware of their options. There’s only a few names that crop up but I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am that when you mention DADs to a publisher, they now know what the hell you are talking about (Digital Asset Distributor).

The publishing environment is learning. We're moving on – still slowly when you’ve been talking “e” as long as I have. But it’s moving, and I’m grateful. And while content has been predominantly backlist, many publishers are working on simultaneous release. Ebooks are becoming part of the production process. Publishers have concentrated on digitising their core content. It's been a learning curve for many publishers. File format has been a subject of interest and everyone is learning as they go along. Publishers are thinking about hardcover, trade paperback, paper and e. They are getting content management systems in place, contract negotiations are moving along, ebook vendors are part of the supply chain, and publishers are looking at the digital world in a different light.

But there are still concerns. Imported titles are top of the list. Where do they stand in the “e” world and how are local publishers being compensated for sales generated in the ANZ market. There are more discussions to be had and much to learn along the way.

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