Saturday, August 21, 2010

Paper or Plastic?

Jude Johnson here. another new blogger and author with Champagne Books. This is a crazy time in my life. My only child starts college on Monday. As this is posted, I'm helping him get settled into a dorm room hundreds of miles from home. And for the first time in our educational experience, his Biology 101 class materials are on a required reader.
I'll be interested to see what this "University Reader" looks like and what its capabilities are.  The class syllabus was quite specific that the materials are already loaded and not transferable to commercial readers such as Sony or Kindle. We still don't know if it allows additional downloads of ebooks or papers, but the fact this was a required purchase is an indication more institutions are incorporating paperless technology into their curricula. However, I must point out that the $135 list price textbook was still mandatory, as traditional texts were for all his other courses. (Three cheers for and used booksellers - huzzah!)

An analogy (and a good one, actually) has been made that what iPod did for the music, readers will do for books. I certainly hope not - at least, not to the extent that downloadable music destroyed free-standing music retailers. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about ebook publication as a viable and exploding market - but I don't think writers should totally abandon print.

Books have been treasures preserved in some form or another for millennia: clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, hand-illustrated parchment, type-set newsprint, and laser-jet printed paper stand the test of time because they need no gadgets to be viewed. They have been traded and resold, often increasing in value with age and rarity. A book is a sensory experience: the smell of leather or glue, paper, and ink; the weight in your hands and texture of the cover; the vibrant colors of the artwork or the peculiarity of the font; the sound of pages turning, opening doors into other worlds.
Ebooks are but one aspect of an author’s market—a growing and exciting one, to be sure, but we should be willing to consider the larger picture. Not everyone has a reader, just as not every person on the planet has an iPod/iPhone. A large portion of Earth’s population has limited or no accessibility to electricity. But ink on paper can be read anywhere there is some source of light, be it the sun, the moon, the candle, or the fireplace. 

Tombstone, Arizona (I'm on the right)
One of the best selling points of print for fans is getting an autographed/ personalized book. I haven't seen any way to do that for ebooks - yet. I'm sure someone will devise an ingenious method to encrypt a signature in the near future, but until then, book signings are still fun opportunities to connect with people. I guess I'm just a ham, because I always have a grand time, especially when I can dress up. Like every author, I've had signings with few sales (or none) but even a quiet signing beats cleaning house any day!

A paperback passed from hand to hand can transform a life.  I independently published my first historical adventure/romance novel, Dragon & Hawk, in print. I am thrilled and humbled at the number of people who have emailed or come up to me at an event to tell me a "friend of a friend" passed a copy to them and they were buying one for their own collection. I can hardly wait to tell my newer online friends when they can get an ebook version because Champagne Books has graciously chosen to e-publish it. (Thank you again, Ellen.) How exciting to think my story will be now available to an expanded market at the click of a mouse! And ebooks have wondrous features for folks with impaired vision.
Marketing a book is like playing golf: Your ebook release is a Big Bertha driver, launching your work way down the fairway. Print books are the short game: wedge and putter to get you closer to your ultimate objective of sinking the ball into the hole -  aka making a memorable impact on the reader. Each club, each format - each market - helps you navigate the entire course. Don't limit yourself to only the driving range or the putting green.

When a friend or relative balks at purchasing your ebook, they may simply be leery of technology. They still want to read your work. Encourage them to ask their techno-savvy friends to download the ebook so your publisher will be encouraged to publish the print edition. Then promise that if they get their entire book club to place an order, you’re available to speak and autograph as many as they’d like. Once there, you can explain how readers work and plug your next ebook release.

So, is it Paper or Plastic? How about both?

The first novel in my historical adventure/romance series Dragon & Hawk, about Welsh immigrants in nineteenth century Arizona, is set for a Big Bertha tee-time/ebook release by Champagne Books in April 2011.


Ciara Gold said...

Hmm, interesting about the required reader purchase. Both my kids are in college now and they haven't been required this purchase - yet. But it is a mark of the times. Most of our students in the high school rarely use the text books assigned them as teachers are using more technology to present the material.

As for virtual booksignings, the inventor that figures out a way might just make amint.

linda_rettstatt said...

I started printing up 4x6 cards with my covers on the front and the back cover blurb on the back along with my website and publisher info. I leave a space for signing there and I offer these to readers who have purchased my books in ebook formats. That way they get to enjoy the fantastic covers and get a signature.

Allison Knight said...

Oh how I wish I'd had a reader or ipad when I went to school. Not only were the text books expensive, but they weighed a ton. It didn't matter for the first two years, because I lived on campus and close to all my classes, but when I left campus and had to tote all my books with me for the day, it was brutual. You carried the books in your arms. Chemistry books were the worst and that was a major. Oh, the pain.

Jude Johnson said...

Kat from Champagne Books also suggested putting ebooks on CD and signing the CDs as a way to autograph ebooks. Of course, you want to make sure you have a Sharpie marker for those, not just a pen!
I have also done cover-art postcards, and those are well-received.
And I remember toting those fat science books all too well! One of the lovely differences now is at least many of the texts are now trade paperbacks.
I was disappointed to see the the "reader" was merely a prepackaged set of the course handout sheets. Poo.