Some people get so lost in the minutiae of their jobs they forget the people they’re trying to provide a service for. Doctors and nurses lose sight of the Hippocratic oath in the jungle of NHS bureaucracy, and end up treating patients as “targets to be processed”. Politicians forget electorates and dream up financial plans so demented that their grasp on reality is called into question.
And yes, even publishers are guilty: pursuing the ridiculous split between “frontlist” and “backlist” books as if the terms meant something to their customers.
Well now it looks like we’re making the same mistake with e-books. Electronic readers like Amazon’s Kindle are still finding their feet, but already it seems e-books are being compartmentalised into their own little online ghetto—just as paperbacks, hardbacks, downloadable audiobooks and CDs seem to inhabit scattered and detached pages on book sites. The result for the time-pressed internet shopper, trawling from page to page, is confusion and irritation.
E-books don’t represent a new area of publishing—just as paperbacks and audio didn’t when they began—they are simply a new format that ought to be integrated into book sites to sit cosily alongside more traditional formats. To segregate different media is to make readers work harder to find what they’re after. In short, media neutral is the way forward. It started life as an adland idea, but all it really means is this: give people a simple thought to hang their hat on and they’ll be able to follow your message in whichever medium you use. In the case of publishing, our simple message is: “here’s a fantastic story!” Once customers have bought into the premise of a particular book, we should make it as easy as possible for them to find the media it is available in.
So don’t ask your customers to run confused around your labyrinthine websites: Lovereading firmly believes all formats should be on offer in the same place, preferably on the same web page. This means hardback, paperback, CDs, downloadable audio and all digital formats all together, united by the most important thing: the story—the bit that gets people excited in the first place.
Life would be so much easier if we all stopped thinking like publishers, concerned with managing the individual strands of our business empires, and started thinking like the readers we’re trying to appeal to. All they want is to discover a fantastic story, and to have their media options laid out conveniently for them to compare and choose from. So, a plea to publishers, retailers and data providers—let’s all work together to make it