Last May, I spoke at the Ohioana Library Festival on a panel aptly called, “The Future of the Book.” As you might imagine, the discussion volleyed from “print-is-dead” pundits to book romantics (“I just love the smell of a print book” has become the most popular of clichéd phrases in today’s print vs. digital discussion). I found myself caught in the crossfire, a print-and-digital apologetic, a non-confrontational publisher who feels a desperate need to simultaneously put the elderly woman in the back row at ease (“Of course we will always have print books”) and excite the young people sitting front and center (“We are witnessing a new era for the book!”). The print vs. digital discussion has addled my identity, forcing me into difficult, and often emotional and abrasive, discussions.
But perhaps it won’t always be so abrasive. Last week’s PEW report on e-reading and print reading had the interwebs humming again, and for the first time in a long time, my dual identity found a supporting voice: print is not dead, and neither is digital.
According to the report, the percentage of American adults reading e-books is rising (from 23% in 2012 to 28% in 2013, an albeit modest 5% difference, considering the sharp increases we saw in e-reading’s early days). The report also notes, however, that 7 in 10 Americans reported reading a book in print, an increase of 4% from 2012. The report clearly indicates that Americans are reading both print and digital books, and that only 4% of readers are digital-only readers.
But what if this is generational? Most digital reading advocates will argue that the percentage of the population still insisting on print reading is aging, and that with the newest generation (38% of which have used a mobile device before the age of 2), we will see a steep and steady decline in print reading. If this were true, we should already see a trend: younger people reading fewer print materials than older adults.
This doesn’t hold up, though.
In a PEW report on library and print vs. digital reading released last year (reported on by Digital Book World, no less), it was shown that younger Americans (specifically in the 16-29 age bracket, which would straddle the millennial and digital native generations), prefer mixed digital and print services in libraries. They want apps, yes, but they also want real librarians and physical books. And most surprisingly, they are more likely to have read a print book in the last year than any other age bracket: specifically, 75% of 16-29 year-olds have read one or more print books in the last year, compared with 64% of older adults.
So, to the elderly lady in the back row, and the excited young folks sitting front and center, steady yourself, because it is the opinion of this writer that the numbers are stacking up in our favor, and you can expect an innovative mix of print and digital for years to come.
E-books and e-book publishing have certainly taken over the airwaves lately as publishers ramp up digital offerings and consumers invest in top-of-the-line e-readers and tablets. If you are in an author or publisher circle, you’ve certainly heard about disputes over preferred e-book formats (many publishers are now trying to move to EPUB3, a free and open digital publishing standard created by the International Digital Publishing Forum), the struggle between libraries and the Big Six publishers (soon to be the Big Five when that merger-mess is finalized) over e-book rights and distribution, and the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Amazon’s steep e-book discounts (labeling the “agency-model” attempt as publisher-collusion and price-fixing).
No matter your stake in the game, or your knowledge of the legal semantics, we can all agree that e-books have totally revolutionized the ways that publishers, libraries, booksellers, and consumers operate within a reading landscape. Dominique Raccah, founder and CEO of Sourcebooks says that we are now “at the transformation of the book,” and while it may or may not be a “tipping point,” we are “now at that moment in the history of the book.” Never before has the act of reading and the medium of the book been so altered, and never before has an evolving market thrown publishers into full-panic mode.
And yet, it is also true that we have never before seen so many people reading. Research conducted last year by the Pew Internet Research and American Life Project reported that a typical e-book reader read twenty-four books in the past year, whereas a typical non e-book reader read fifteen. Pew also found, however, that the purchase of e-books does not necessarily replace or supersede the purchase of print books. In fact, it is just the opposite: 90 % percent
of e-book readers continue to read physical books. Reporting on this newer phenomenon—the cresting of e-book sales and the resilience of hardcover print sales—the Wall Street Journal writes:
“E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback. That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don’t necessarily stop buying printed ones…The two forms seem to serve different purposes.”
This, then, is the new reading landscape, one in which e-books have come to exist side-by-side with print books, where tablets have overtaken the exclusive e-reader market to affirm that no one can succeed by merely replacing the physical book, they can succeed only by supplementing it, expanding it, engaging it, and accelerating it. In fact, the only print sales that have dramatically suffered have been mass-market paperbacks, the kinds of books that one would prefer to read on an e-reader or tablet simply for the benefit of their dignity (who wants to be seen carrying around a suitcase filled with Harlequin Romance titles when he/she could have them subtly and elegantly disguised in a tablet?).
So, in all of this digital craze, where does Orange Frazer find itself? With a foot in each stream, as always. One of the greatest benefits to being a small and entirely independent publisher is the ability to change quickly, adapt, and remain flexible. When we decided we wanted to offer some of our best-selling books on Amazon’s Kindle, it took a month of the nitty-gritty digital research and legwork, and then it was done. We didn’t have to set company-wide precedent, hold conferences with booksellers, distributors, and librarians across the country, argue over the semantics of this code or that code, this profit or that expense, we could simply act. We use EPUB3, the leading open format for e-books, while the five biggest publishers in the country are still struggling to make the transition to the latest EPUB guidelines. They are busy quibbling over price-fixing accusations with the federal government while we continue to make, sell, and distribute our books via the available digital and traditional sales channels, unimpeded.
And while we’re on the subject, you might be interested in checking out our available e-book titles. This blog author had a significant hand in making Woody’s Boys, one of our all-time bestsellers, available digitally, and must say she is pretty proud of how it turned out—and her resulting Buckeye trivia knowledge.
P.S. For our custom authors, we also offer the ability to simultaneously publish your book as an e-book, so if this is something that interests you, give us a call!
My work with Orange Frazer Press has required me to become a social media junkie. I come into the office and settle down at the Mac adjacent to our head publisher’s office. Sipping my usual 12 ounce cup of Highlander Grogg, I open up my first three tabs unconsciously—Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter greeting me with their usual smorgasbord of information, relevant and irrelevant. If I’m feeling particularly focused that morning I will immediately switch to using Facebook as the Orange Frazer Custom Books page, tune my Twitter stream to my private list of “publishing- types,” my Gmail to my work account, and sip away with satisfaction, knowing that I have trounced my soft addiction to distraction for the morning. If I’m feeling particularly, well, less focused, this switch will take a bit longer, I will linger a bit more, open up additional tabs, browse a few more articles from the Times…
And it isn’t just me. Yes, I am particularly built for distraction: I own my own laptop, carry an Android smartphone, have at least seven different social media profiles, and an unlimited texting plan that allows me to communicate with as many people, in as many characters, as I so choose. But so do most people my age. Just yesterday, while reading a Fast Company article about the now-common effects of “Phantom Vibration Syndrome” I was reminded, once again, that I am not alone. Have you ever felt your phone vibrating, just to check and realize that no one was calling you? Disappointing, right. And worrisome, actually. In fact there have been a number of articles recently about the mental effects of such impulses. If you think about it, we are now hardwired for distraction. We wait for the interruption of a text, a call, an email, a chat, and we have instinctual reactions to their particular sounds—the beeps, buzzes, bings, and bleeps of our technology. Was anyone else rocked off balance a bit when Facebook changed the tone of the chat notification? No longer the resounding “pop” of a Facebook chat, but rather, a very Gmail-esqe bing. It was downright unsettling.
Our reliance on interruption is very unique. Never before have we been so attuned to such shallow external stimulators, reacting immediately like Pavlovian dogs whenever we hear that one precious chime of communication. And it has a lasting effect. In an article by Matt Richtel in the New York Times, these enduring effects are described as “nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought,” damaging our long-term focus in ways that, frighteningly enough, may be partially irreparable.
And so what does any of this have to do with publishing? It has everything to do with publishing. Because, it has everything to do with our ability to read. As a kid I could read for hours, even full days. I distinctly remember shutting myself in my room and sitting in front of my door with a book, so that my mom couldn’t even open it to call me to dinner, or give me new chores. Those days are, sadly, gone. In the past two years, I’ve noticed my reading time steadily decrease. I am still reading great amounts (believe me, an English department will require nothing less) but I read for shorter periods of time, an hour at most without break. I find that I have developed noticeable technology “tics.” Every few pages I check my phone sitting next to me, press the right hand button to light up the display, brush my finger lightly across to unlock it, and flip through a couple of screens—almost unconsciously—returning to the page only moments later without even recognizing that I’ve looked away. Even worse is when I have my laptop next to me and my Facebook open. Every few minutes I wave my cursor over the homescreen, allowing new posts to magically fill themselves into the real-time feed. I don’t care what they are. I don’t even really want to be on Facebook, but it’s habit.
I have trouble focusing long enough to read, and I even have the audacity to call myself a reader. I can only imagine how frustrating this is for those who have no previous inclination to read, no special affinity for books. It would be downright impossible. And publishers are getting it. The recent wave of e-books testifies to nothing less. Books have become compatible with our fragmented concentration. Don’t know which book you want to pack for your plane ride? Pack three hundred on your Kindle and you’re good to go. Convenience trumps tradition and we’re back on track to read.
But that isn’t the end goal of the e-book. With this new medium has come a new responsibility for publishers to cater to it, develop it, optimize it. Just look to Penguin’s newest “amplified” e-book on Jack Kerouac. You can now read On the Road in an entirely new dimension, with recorded audio, period photographs, and interactive maps of his trip West. New York Times’ praise of the book is quoted by Penguin and could not say it more clearly: “Tricked out with more fancy bells and whistles than a BMW M5…pretty much the only thing missing is the chance to hear the novel read aloud by that sexy-voiced woman from your GPS”. This is the age of the walking, talking e-book, and the bells and whistles of the “amplified” e-book know their audience perfectly. It is the audience of tabbed browsers, the readers who need more information, in smaller pieces, delivered to them in real time, all the time. This audience will download this book to their iPad, Kindle, Nook, or smart phone and read, listen, watch, and consume the story in an entirely new way. And frankly, this audience is me—it’s me, and it’s you.
So what do we do about it? Adapt. At this point there is little else we can do. I am still a lover of traditional books, and will always treasure the look and feel of an old hardcover copy, worn in by many page-turns and more-than-a-few previous readers. But I’m also a modern-day consumer, and a reader that is desperate to continue reading, learning, and experiencing books, even if it is in new, unforeseen ways. So don’t be surprised if Orange Frazer enters the “amplified” book world; it will certainly happen when the time is right and the product is pleasing. The medium will never change their attention to perfection, beauty, quality, and storytelling, but it will cater to, perhaps, a broader audience. And we, the nicked, fragmented, distracted readers of the 21st century, will accept these new editions with excitement, but hopefully, also, with a healthy dose of occasional technology detox, and a good ‘ole hardcover book.
And in that vein, some tips for the easily distracted: