Monday, March 22, 2010

It's a Jungle Out There.

I wrote this piece that appeared on The Rumpus about sort of confronting e-books as a publisher. I say "sort of confronting" because my "confrontation" as well as my interaction with e-books thus far has been entirely passive, and I still don't necessarily know what to think about them.

Still, I find it remarkable that with all the hoopla and the prospect of gobbling up a new gadget, the only people (I'm counting friends and family-members, not publishing industry-friends) I know that own an e-reader are my exceptionally active and travel-prone in-laws.

Generally, I don't think that e-books are a bad thing, nor do I think that they compete with print books. In the grand scheme of things, I find myself subscribing to the school of thought laid out by the new owner of the Harvard Bookstore, Jeff Mayersohn. In a piece on the Huffington Post, after discussing the print-on-demand Espresso book machine his store recently bought, he very incisively and wisely closes by saying:

"If the physical book survives, the model of centralized production and long-haul distribution is obsolete. The corporate book hawkers are doomed and they know it - unless they can convince you that the physical book is the dinosaur and not they."

Which is a much more convincing and honest reaction than any I've heard on the e-book debate. I think it also goes quite a long way toward underlining the prospects for the future of book publishing's "three-hundred pound gorilla," Amazon.

What is the future of Amazon? As the print-on-demand Espresso book machine circulates and becomes more accessible, it seems that if Amazon doesn't offer an option where shoppers can pick up their orders the same day as their order is placed then they will become obsolete. (Which itself is a silly thought, bringing us back to where we started, shopping from our neighbor's store.)
To me, it appears as though by offering e-books Amazon has begun re-branding themselves as a tech company rather than a retailer. By setting the standard cost of e-books at $9.99, they've also devalued their base product considerably.

I'd say Amazon's future is pretty bleak, and they have to know it, which is why they're placing such a bloated emphasis on e-books.


I didn't set out to write all this.

My point was to say that beginning in April, we will begin making a couple of our titles available as e-books: Some Things That Meant the World to Me, by Joshua Mohr; The Drop Edge of Yonder, by Rudolph Wurlitzer; and I Smile Back, by Amy Koppelman.

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