Friday, December 16, 2011

Special Effects in Book Publishing

On December 5, 2011, the “New York Times” published an article on how book publishers are trying to jazz up their books in order to improve sales of hard cover books. Publishers are feeling the pinch of e-books, self-publishers, electronic readers and the increasing use of public libraries (the latter due to harder economic times.) “Convenience" aka electronic reading is moving at warp speed. It is anticipated that there will be many more e-readers and gift certificate for e-books under the Christmas tree including the iPad Santa is bringing me than paper books .

I like having a book in my hands; I’ve been reading that way for decades. That is not to say I am not willing to change when there is a choice between publisher-manipulated print books versus less expensive, easy and fun to use, ever evolving e-books.

Julie Bosman in a “New York Times” article, 12/5/2011, titled “Selling Books by Their Gilded Covers” writes “New releases have design elements” that “…push the boundaries of bookmaking.” These are ordinary books with an attitude. Some books on the market now have embossed covers, higher quality paper, deckle edges, colored end papers and silk page markers.

Books by Stephen King, 11/25/63 (about the assassination of JFK), Haruki Murakame’s anticipated 1Q84 and Jay-Z’s memoir Decoded are examples of gilded books. Robert S. Miller, publisher of Workman Publishing states, “It (a special effect book) is like sending a thank-you note written on nice paper when we’re in an era of e-mail correspondence.” A senior VP of Spiegel and Grau was quoted as saying, “We’re rethinking the value in certain cases of special effects and higher production standards. Now in some cases, creating a more beautiful hardcover or paperback object is warranted.” (NYT 12/5/11)

All this means to me is publishing houses are still in the stone tablet-chisel mode of thinking. They do not understanding that e-publishing is the selling mode of the now and increasingly, the future. They continue to protect their monopolized fiefdom. Their answer besides embellished books is to use wide margins, bigger font, shorter chapters, fewer words and more books per season by popular authors. For a run-of-the-mill paperback book the prices have gone from $3.99 to $8.99 or $11.99. We spend more money for less content, plot, ink, and changing covers for the same books so you think you haven't read it.

Evan Schnittman of Bloomsbury publishers states that they hope readers will say, “…well there’s convenience reading and then there’s book owning and reading.” Special effects books like a gilded copy of The Iliad have always been around. Embellished effects books by a rapper or a movie star are not in the same category as a classic or “coffee table” book. Books we want to keep regardless of quality or looks, we keep. We give away, donate or sell at garage sales a greater percentage than we keep.

Publishing houses remain working at their physical desks seemingly sans computers, blinders in place while refusing to acknowledge technology has changed not only the industry but also the reading public. Libraries of the future will be computer inventoried with librarians specializing in information retrieval for the patrons. E-books will evolve into something we cannot imagine. Will traditional publishing houses continue to think “Customers want a print book in their hands” while most of us will be saying, “Did you see the new XYZ book reader that is out?”

Writing North Idaho will be in hiatus for two weeks. We wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, a joyful Kwanzaa, or plenty of time to enjoy the end of the year. We will be back on-line January 2, 2012.

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