It’s not news that advancements in technology have rapidly changed the way we read. Riding Boston’s subway during rush hour on a Monday morning is the only evidence I need. I see a wide variety of media: Kindles, iPads, Nooks, Androids. Oh, and the occasional hardcover and newspaper. Sometimes I feel terribly outdated balancing my coffee in the crook of my arm while I reach to turn the page of my paperback.
But perhaps more important than how we read is the change in how books are acquired, made, marketed, and sold. Publishers are trying to quickly find a way to adapt to this new world we live in. Most publishers have accepted the fact that their beautiful hardcover books just might not sell as quickly or as well as a PDF file or e-book format that can be downloaded instantly to a reader’s living room. But the change doesn’t stop there.
This coming fall, HarperCollins will publish a young adult novel by Leigh Fallon, a first-time author who garnered attention from HC editors on their website Inkpop, a place for aspiring authors to post their writing and rank the writing of others. Amanda Hocking self-published her young adult novels and then sold them online; three of them debuted in the top 50 of USA Today’s Best Selling Books List. Publishers routinely give their authors “internet training,” making sure they are well-versed in the realms of social media. It’s rare to see a marketing campaign that doesn’t include Twitter, Facebook, or a website at the very least. BookExpo America 2011 had an entire day devoted to digital publishing, called the Digital Book 2011 Conference.
The business of publishing itself is also rapidly changing. Publishers have long loathed the returns model, but don’t know how to go about doing business any differently. Bedford Square Books, a new imprint in London, recently opened with a new and possibly more efficient business plan: they are publishing all of their titles as e-books, with a print-on-demand option for physical books. If publishers don’t print books, they can’t be returned, and they save a ton of money on printing and shipping. That money could instead be spent on marketing and publicity campaigns, author advances, and taking chances on lesser-known authors.
All of these things make publishing a quickly changing and exciting world to be in right now. Maybe one day we’ll only see hardcover books in museums, but until then, I’ll continue to struggle to flip the page.