The joy of real books
03.05.11 | John Blake
Oh wow, something amazing has just happened. We have hit the Amazon Kindle top 10 bestseller list for the very first time. Our author Crissy Rock appeared on ITV1's "This Morning" show and, by the afternoon, her autobiography, This Heart within Me Burns, was at number two on the list.
It feels a bit like someone in the pony and trap business a century ago must have felt when they took their first ride in a car. However, after discussing the whole electronic book scene with countless people from all over the world at the London Book Fair, I can't help feeling that we publishers are going about it the wrong way.
The idea of simultaneously publishing an exciting new title both as a hardback and as an e-book seems totally crazy. If only publishers could publish the book as a hardback initially, then put out the e-book some months later, bookshops would be given a sporting chance to stay in business, and the dizzying decline of book sales could almost certainly be slowed.
I was fascinated to discover that serious readers—people who buy more than 12 books a year—are fast becoming the keenest e-book customers. These, surely, are the very people who would wish to purchase hardbacks rather than waiting months for an e-book edition.
Peter Mayer, the man who created the modern Penguin Books, is already successfully following this model with his company Overlook Press in the US. He says keen readers are happy to buy hardbacks, while the less enthusiastic wait until the e-book becomes available.
It might be even more sensible to publish the e-book simultaneously with the paperback edition.
Interestingly, friends who were passionate advocates of e-books when they first purchased the readers last year—you know the kind of thing: "They are amazing I can carry a whole suitcase worth of books in my pocket, and you can get the entire works of Trollope for a quid . . . blah, blah"—are now sheepishly returning to buying physical books.
After the initial novelty of downloading free books no one wants to read has worn off, customers really do seem to miss the feel and joy of real books.
People also enjoy the simple pleasure of browsing for exciting new titles in bookshops. E-books are fine if you know exactly the book you want, but they are not so good if you are looking for new -writers and inspiration.
Whatever comes down the line, I believe rumours of the death of conventional books have been hugely exaggerated. I was fascinated by an excellent piece about the music business in the Guardian the other week. This revealed that, after 10 years of music downloads, 75% of all music is still bought on CD. Gives us all hope, doesn't it?