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April 14, 2008


Gavin Robinson

I think web comics could be a useful comparison here. Comics like Achewood and Scary Go Round are given away free on the web, but people still buy the printed books. Maybe other kinds of publications could go the same way, but one implication might be that authors and publishers will have to try harder to make people who have already read the text think "this is such a good book, I really want to own a copy of it" rather than relying on people who haven't read it thinking "I'll buy this to see what it's like".

Tony Bowerman

Interesting topic, Gary. Thinking it through, perhaps we can draw an analogy between the relationship of an e-book to a conventional printed book, and that between a conventional softback and the hardback version. For particular types of book, some readers still prefer to pay a little more for the hardback - which has exactly the same content as the cheaper softback but is a more aesthetically pleasing product.

And maybe that's one of the keys to the relationship between the various respective formats - quality, feel and an aesthetic 'weight'. A good book is a good product; one that has a flawless sum of high production values, superlative design, a cracking cover, nice quality paper, and so on.

It's an irony, particularly for struggling authors, but what if the actual content matters less in that initial moment - when the customer either picks up and buys the book, or simply puts it back on the shelf - than the look and feel of the book as a 'product'?

Maybe the overall 'product' is more important to a lot of potential buyers than the 'pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap' merchants give it credit for?

Hmm? So what makes for a great 'product' in terms of boosting sales through it sheer attractiveness? Well, two recent sets of books spring to mind. The first are the adult books by Tove Jansson, the Finnish Moomintrolls' author, published by Sort of Books; and the others are a set of six small mountain walks books whose publishers name escapes me at the moment. But in each case it's great design that makes all the difference.

And in the world of e-books, that curious aesthetic is far less obvious.

Perhaps it's all about tangibility ...

Gary Smailes

Gavin - My view is that certain people will buy a print book and only a print book. Others will be happy with a pdf. The point is that it comes down to choice. By not having a pdf option then the publisher is limiting his choice.

Tony - I think the paperback/softback argument is a good one. However, many people will buy the hardback because it is out first and they can't wait. The e-book argument is about the choice the reader has. You are also correct that it changes the dynamics of publishing - but it must be a good thing that content could become king.

Jordan 5

A lot will come out over time but the truth has been out there for a long time as well but that doesn't give you what you want so this dance just goes on and on.

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