Profile: Peter McGarrick of Quicklook Books

Peter McGarrick is a retired lawyer turned publishing entrepreneur, who has launched a new electronic publishing company called Quicklook Books. He speaks here about his experiences so far: A while ago it struck me that many publishers were viewing the ebook simply as a new way to offer traditional books – essentially scanning them into digital format. This, in my view, is a big mistake.  The eBook environment is as different from traditional publishing as TV is from film. On screen reading is best if the books are designed for it, by being short, with plenty of headings to break up the text. 

This thinking led me to set up Quicklook Books, which publishes short non-fiction books, covering a diverse range of subjects, specifically designed to be read in electronic format.

I have always thought that there is an astonishing lack of short non-fiction books on the market today, in any medium, and it occurred to me that the fast developing world of e publishing represents a huge opportunity for a publisher to fill the gap. The idea was so exciting that, after about three years of comfortable retirement at the end of my legal career, it was worth getting out of the hammock to pursue it.

A whole new world

Getting the business to the launch stage has been hard work. The whole market is in many ways still in its infancy, with no fixed standards for creating and selling the books or generally accepted commercial terms for authors or retail sites.

Quicklook was created by building all of necessary components of an e publisher from scratch. The end product is a standalone transactional website, selling a series of very short layman’s guides which has few, if any, competitors.

The books are copyright protected, but without using encryption so that customers are not confined to individual systems or devices. On the contrary Quicklook is an example of an “open source” e publisher.  Our books can be read on an iPad, but are not locked into the Apple environment.

Making best use of the web

Unlike almost all e publishers, I view the internet as an efficient delivery system for printed text, as well as on screen reading.  Many people still prefer to read from paper.  Several things need to be done to accommodate this demand. First, the books themselves must be short.  Second, encryption must be dispensed with. Third, the printing process must be easy. We have gone to a lot of trouble here by preparing the books in different formats and offering guidance about printing options.

The Quicklook website that has emerged delivers books in a range of formats via a dedicated server. With the benefit of skilled work by outside consultants and a fair amount of “R&D”, we have devised a way of offering the books to anyone with full internet access, in Flip book format, as scrolling PDF pages (e.g. one page can be viewed at a time on an iPad, in normal book- sized text) and in a range of sizes for those who wish to print the books. 

Making the most of eBooks

Copyright is protected without the complication of encryption. We use a watermarking system instead. This identifies our purchasers.  We have the option of pursuing them if they infringe our short, very clear, terms of use by making illegal copies.

Also, the nature of the books themselves means that they will attract responsible readers. I am confident that few, if any, people will want to take a risk, rather than pay the very modest prices for the books.

The law, or at least the tax man, does not recognise eBooks as books at all. They are 0’s and 1’s: creatures of the ether. One major downside is that they attract VAT. The digital nature of the books, however, gives them other attributes. They are easy to change, and we give customers the benefit of that.

Once they have purchased the books they can access any updates, without extra cost, via the site. The evolving content of our books and the fact that we do not rely on traditional sales channels means that we do not bother with the ISBN system.

Utilising the marketing mix

Marketing is a major challenge for all businesses. Setting up a transactional site which delivers the books is the start of the process. The books were recently sent for review: a key process for all publishers but still a challenging one in the e publishing world.  However there are important publications covering all of the subjects dealt with by our books. 

A lot of hard work is being done to increase the visibility of the site on the web. Authors themselves have a part to play. The books make up a series, which encourages multiple purchases, not least because of a three for two offer!  Someone interested in the Vets or Dogs book might decide to pick up Quicklook@Wine as well – making the unit cost £1.99.

Looking to the future  

The website is capable of almost limitless expansion, via the addition of further books in the series. It is vital to raise the profile of Quicklook and steadily increase the number of sales outlets and links. External sites will be used provided that they offer acceptable terms and ways of delivering the books. I think that there is much work to be done here by the industry as a whole. Sites that are certainly of interest provide direct links to Quicklook: Google books being one example.

The rise of the ebook industry is, I feel, a real opportunity for publishers to break out of the confines of the physical book. Instead of simply converting traditional texts into electronic format, we should be experimenting with new ways of presenting information, and new means of offering them to the public. Quicklook Books does, I hope, achieve this.

The hammock is likely to remain empty for some time!