I am really worried about the future of my beloved book. Peter Mayer, who was the CEO of Penguin Books from 1978 to 1996 and now directs The Overlook Press, recently predicted that in the future, the demand for paper books will diminish, and that will make them more expensive, driving most book lovers to Kindle and Co.
Why is that a “bad thing” ? As far as I understand, when you download a book in your e-reader, there are a bunch of things that you can’t do. Like printing it, to have a safe copy in the house, or lending it to a friend, or bringing it to a book signing.
(edit: some people are bringing their e-readers to book signings to have the gadget signed by their favorite authors. Which means that in a few years, when their machines will become obsolete, they will be auctioning them on E-bay for absurd prices).
Harper Collins is Taking Measures to make sure that you cannot read a book more than 26 times before it wastes away and disappears from your machine.
Which brings me to my biggest fear: if an editorial house can have remote access to my e-reader, and erase its content, what will prevent them from deleting books that “are no longer in their catalogue” or from “reviewing” the text? Will they be able to know what I read, how I read it and use that on their Market Research department? What if I want to keep my addiction to seinen manga a dark secret? Reading is a very private activity, but with an Internet connexion it will become a recorded public act.
And what will happen to those Limbo authors, who are not old enough to be in Project Gutenberg but were published a long time ago and have not been so commercially succesful? Will they be part of the e-book lucky published? Or will they disappear in the Sales Bin of a Public Library?
And also: how are you going to teach your children the value of reading if you have to pay for their expensive and breakable gadgets? I was a very, very clumsy child and I still destroy an MP3 every year. Books were great because they commit suicide before I clutched them in my fatty hands. That was one of the reasons I loved them. Paper books are better for children, and I bet that they are also cheaper in the long run.
On the other hand, why should someone buy a book that costs €8 when you can have exactly the same text for €0.99 and it doesn’t take up space on your shelves? E-readers are so easy to clean. They are light and can be carried everywhere. Oh, and you can download your book immediately form a convenient online shop.
Not to mention that online self-publishing is sometimes the only outlet that some authors have, and if done right, it has the potential to make them richer faster than traditional publishing, like Amanda Hocking has proved (the keywords here are “if” and “potential”).
Still, when given the alternative, I would buy a paperback over an e-book any day. For now, at least. But what if Mr. Penguin’s predictions become true and my beloved format becomes incredibly expensive?
The hook to keep people in the paper loop would be EXTRAS:
As this post suggests, I would want my comparatively expensive paper volume to come with a free e-book copy.
1) A life-long guarantee that your e-book will never, ever, disappear from your computer and that you will be able to download it again, as long as you have the paper volume.
2) Deluxe editions (aka hardcovers) could also include interviews with the author, extra chapters, a “trailer” or excerpts from future books, reference lists, a “how to write like me…”
3) Easter Eggs, like in DVDs. Imagine searching for a keyword in your Kindle when, bam! that keyword unlocks Secret Content, like an author’s doodle, or an illustration, or any of the ideas on point 2.
4) Signing tickets! When you buy a paper book, it could come with a voucher for a signing, that you can either send to the author, or use during his future appearances in book fairs, conventions, book tours… a VIP list for paper-readers. Because I still think that signing a gadget is ridiculous.
5) FAQ interaction! With the paper-book, you also buy the ability to ask questions to your e-reader. For instance when you type “Who killed Boy Staunton, Mr. Davies?”, a Mr. Davies bot could answer you “Finish the book!”.
6) For text books and public libraries; once you purchase the paper book, you get a link to a page where you can excerpt the references for your footnotes; instead of just writing the author, editor, etc. you could link directly to the actual paragraph or chapter that you used to source your paper without fear of stepping into a copyright. It could be expanded into a scholar mini-site where the diligent student keeps all the extracts and references that he has used and can update them if there are new discoveries on his field.
7) For children books: if you REALLY insist on buying other format than paper to brain-to-hand challenged kids, be cool and include a small app with your paper book that addresses the child by her name, making her feel part of the experience. A book-club discussion from your laptop or e-reader, with little prices if they give the right answer.
What would you like to see in the publishing industry as we move to a future where the e-reader dominates the book market? Will you keep buying paper books? (The correct answer is “Yes” ;-) )