Thursday, January 3, 2013

NPR story: E-Books Destroying Traditional Publishing? The Story's Not That Simple

I was driving to see family this holiday and I heard this great story on "All Things Considered" on NPR about e-books!

Listen to the story here 

I don't often think about the publisher's perspective on e-books, but it was interesting to here that:

"We've had an incredible year," says Sourcebooks President Dominique Raccah. "Last year was the best year in the company's history. This year we beat that, which I didn't think was even possible." Raccah adds that her company is doing well because of digital publishing, not in spite of it. 

The  spent a lot of time talking about discovery of new books.  The traditional way to discover a book is by wandering through Barnes and Noble to find a new title.  Now, the publishers are using price drops to help market a book.  This helps build discovery.  They compared it to listening to streaming music online to discover new artists.  I know that I have discovered many artists this way, and I went on to buy their albums on iTunes.

One interesting thing I heard that I disagreed with was:
"We actually don't have a good gifting tradition yet for e-books," says Sourcebooks' Raccah. Despite all the advances in reading technology, physical books are still the best Christmas presents. 

I might have agreed a month ago.  But I got this email in December.  I had thyroid surgery and a very kind friend sent me this to pass the time during my recovery.

I clicked the link and even had the option to "return" that book and use the money to buy myself a different title.  I liked what she had picked out for me, so I did indeed get the book she sent me.  This was my first interaction with a gifted e-book, but I thought it was great.  I think it will catch on. 

Another interesting continuation of the story came in an interview with Margaret Atwood, the Canadian author of the novel The Handmaid's Tale, talked about using e-publishing to publish a novel serially, a la Charles Dickens. 

She is writing a novel called Positron  about 50 pages at a time and she makes these pieces available online for $2.99.  Readers can then leave comments.  These comments influence her choices for where the story goes next.  She compares it to improv comedy with direct feedback as compared to a play that is scripted in advance.

How cool is that?  As a reader, you can have a say in where the story goes.  You are in the writing process with the writer, rather than reading the book after the editor and publisher have had their way with it.  This is very excitingly alive!  Margaret Atwood is 73 and has a big following on Twitter.  I commend her for her experiment into serial e-publishing.

The next big segment was on the new platform model in e-publishing.  Basically these are subscription sites where you can purchase and monitor a child or student's reading through these platforms.  It is a "power transfer" from the reader to the platform owner.  But, Mike Shatzkin argues that Barnes and Noble and drug stores are already making these selective choices for us in the same way these platforms do, so it is a new form of an old model.  The benefit of the platform is the control of content by parents and teachers and the ability to monitor and mine data about a child or student.  One of the platforms mentioned in the NPR interview is Storia by Scholastic.  This is basically an app that can be used on laptops and tablets (iPad and Android).  You download the app and then you have access to all the features of the app.  These include a dictionary, reading activities and reports for parents and teachers, among other things.

Storia cannot, however, be used with a Nook or Kindle.  As a teacher at a 1:1 laptop school, this isn't prohibitive, but I am a bit wary.  The app is free, but then you are a captive audience to Scholastic books.  Good for Scholastic, but not necessarily as open as it could be.  I am not rushing to jump on this bandwagon, but it deserves more attention.  I think it definitely provides some healthy reading app competition for Kindle.  The Kindle reading app is much overdue for some face lifts and updated features (X-ray, social media sharing, searching notes).  Let's hope this motivates Amazon to make those changes!

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