colleague, Terry Burns, recently shared an article with me about a
literary agent specializing in e-books. I find this development
interesting to note and watch. Will Christian agencies soon follow with
agents specializing in e-book acquisitions?
This past month, Best Buy and
Barnes & Noble announced a partnership allowing Best Buy to be
the exclusive distributor of the Nook and to offer customers goodies
such as free downloads. All of this is just in time for Mother’s Day,
Father’s Day, graduations, and the summer reading season. I am excited
about Nook, as well as Kindle, Sony Reader, and iPad. My daughter loves
her Kindle. She lives overseas, so she doesn’t want to ship books
between there and the States. An electronic reader is perfect for her.
I’m less motivated than other
avid readers to hurry to purchase an e-reader. Because I’m a literary
agent, I’m blessed with a large stack of books I keep in my personal
library. I plan to purchase an e-reader soon, after I complete research
on the benefits and drawbacks of each brand and style. My father, an
electronics technician, always buys the introductory version of every
new gadget. This is why he paid $85 for a calculator in 1975 that only
added and subtracted, and too much money later for a big screen
television that had three or four 8-inch monochromatic projectors
beaming at the screen, taking up half the living room.
Though Daddy is really cool to
own the first of everything, I tend to buy second and third versions of
electronics. Readers with habits similar to mine are probably waiting
for a more perfect version, with lots of potential to build an
impressive library at a reasonable cost. Consumers for whom price is
the primary consideration will wait for budget-friendly companies to
introduce versions that may offer fewer features, but will do the job
for much less. With marketers such as Best Buy and Barnes &
Noble actively seeking new customers, this will happen soon, and the
person who doesn’t own an e-reader will be an anomaly.
Lovers of Obscure
Books in print form are
portable, easy to read, and have few drawbacks, so convincing a good
number of readers to switch to electronic format requires aggressive
marketing. I liken the process to creating a market for sweetened
condensed milk. When you think about it, who has a pressing need for
condensed milk with so much sugar added that it’s as thick as molasses?
Yet is there anyone who doesn’t know and love Seven Layer Bars? Chalk
that up to savvy marketing.
E-readers marketers have been aggressive in providing downloadable
books. This week I was looking for books by a minister whose writing
peaked in the 1920s to ’40s. A search of my large public library system
came up empty. Yet when I visited Amazon.com, I found his books
available as Kindle downloads.
Readers of classics will be
delighted with a massive effort to re-issue downloadable vintage books.
This move will broaden readers’ horizons, since a number of classics
are no longer available at public libraries and not everyone has
personal space to devote to a well-rounded library. Considering I
recently spotted a beautiful vintage edition of The Oxbow
Incident for $1,000, the cost of buying a number of rare
books would also break the average household budget.
Just for Published Books
Smart people are finding other
useful applications for e-readers. An editor recently told me she would
be downloading a proposal I sent to read on her Kindle. For reading
large chunks of text, this is more convenient than even the smallest
laptop. And of course, new apps are being introduced to make the
machines more useful. Readers can purchase apps for as little as 99
cents, or $14.99 for others. Users have complained about the steep
prices for higher end apps, so I imagine that, in time, the free market
will address that concern.
Piecing Together the
What does all this mean for
agents and writers? Agents concentrating on
e-book publishing only will be slow to develop as a career option. I
think the most favorable marketing plan is
a book to exist in both
print and e-book form. By offering both formats, publishers will reach
the broadest audience. I believe the market for e-books will prove to
be larger than the audiobook
market, which is healthy and certainly a
huge blessing for many. Not everyone is audio-oriented, so I believe
the audiobook audience will always be more limited than the e-book
audience, because e-readers are closer in format to traditional books.
The question is will e-books
make a draconian cut in the traditional print market? I think there is
potential for that to happen, but it will take time. Print books will
always be a large piece of the publishing model, perhaps remaining the
largest piece. In many instances, books are superior to electronic
format. For example, you can loan a book to a friend, but not a
download—at least not without loaning the entire library stored on a
machine, and who wants to do that?
Authors cannot sign a book
People with no desire to connect
to the Internet will never download a book.
Some readers object to the fuzzy
picture quality on some photo-heavy books, although I think this is one
of the upgrades we will see in the near future.
As for my place in the
publishing industry, I’d rather not limit myself to either print or
e-books. Current publishers’ contracts offer provisions for
e-publishing, and my goal is to see that a writer’s work appears in
print as well as other formats, including e-books, and that the writer
is well compensated regarding all formats.
New Approach to E-Books
E-book publishers, publishers
making original books available to the public, are well positioned to
claim a large stake in this fast-growing market. The job for e-book
publishers now is to maintain and increase the quality of their books.
A few years ago, some e-book houses were considered throwaway or last
resort houses for books writers couldn’t sell to traditional
publishers. Because making books available online is much cheaper than
printing and distributing a book, e-publishers could take greater risks
as to topics and plots. I think change in reality and attitude is on
As e-readers become more
popular, the market for books will expand beyond making print books
available for download. Books no longer in print will find their
audience once again through e-readers. E-publishers will still take
more risks and attract a niche audience but will make enough profit to
pay respectable author royalties. On the same token, e-publishers
taking fewer risks will find a larger audience, which could result in
the book going to print format and becoming popular in that format as
I predict that e-publishers will
find a greater number of superb manuscripts in their slush piles,
thereby increasing their quality and popularity even more, and
garnering them increasing respect. As this process happens, breaking
into some of the larger e-publishing houses may become difficult for
writers as editors become more selective. The hierarchy in e-publishing
houses will become apparent and well-known, and will mirror the
hierarchy existing in the print publishing domain today. I anticipate
seeing changes in how e-publishing contracts are written, making
provisions for printed copies.
A Positive Development
No doubt e-readers are a
positive development for the reading public and the publishing
industry. Whenever a new, up-to-date outlet becomes the norm, it serves
only to increase our audience. This new format will make reading more
appealing to some who otherwise wouldn’t pick up a book. The challenge
for us in the publishing industry is to continue to provide quality
books for our audience, no matter how they are reading the words.