Friday, March 20, 2015

Pulp or electronics?

Michael W. Davis

There’s a growing divide in today’s book market. No, scratch that. More like a war. See, given technology has leaped into a realm where pulp is no longer necessary to push words to potential readers, the industry is moving toward eliminating paperbacks. Why? Because of cost and profits. Imagine the overhead and sunk cost associated with selling a book in paper form. The material, the postage, even storage (when non POD methods are used) eat up a major share of potential revenues. Now consider pushing electrons around the ether. The editing costs remain the same but there is no more stock or material cost. That’s why royalties are three times as high for E form than paperback.

So what right? If it’s cheaper and faster just do it. Here’s the rub. Many in the reader audience still want to hold the results of an author’s dreams in their hands. I’m not exaggerating to say that when I do festivals and signings readers are ecstatic to be able to still buy in paper format. About one in three announce, “Oh do I love the feel of a book in my hands.” Some even go so far as to comment, “When I can’t touch them, I won’t buy them.” Whether those sediments are true or just disappointment, it reflects the war between where we’re headed and the interest of our main audience, mature readers. Point is, even though I make more on E than paperback, I relate to the holdouts. I too love the feel and look of my mental child when I can touch that dying breed, a paperback. And it will die, question is how long the swansong will take before we’re all relegated to quantum particles skipping across the cosmos to tickle the fancy or our inner muse.

Without paperbacks I can no longer do signings, participant in festivals, sell at talks and readings, and I will miss it so. Many of my hard core readers ask when such and such book will be released in paperback, and when I say, “Never” I’m greeted by silence. The nine novels of mine that are available in paper form are likely the last given the push to electronic. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the reasoning, without that change many publishers would cease to exist. I also understand how metro sprawl is the result of an expanding population consuming more and more of the wilderness, but don’t mean I have to like it.

As a legacy to my granddaughter, I’ve tucked away one copy of each of my paperbacks so some day she can touch the mind’s eye or her papa. Day will come when the rest of the creations from my muse will spark off into the universe and fade from existence. Oh well. Till next time.


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I agree, Mike. That tangible paperback is a reassuring and constant reminder of permanence.

What shocks me is the cost of bestselling E-books compared to the paperbacks of the same book. No wonder they are not cost effective.

As a consumer, I'm concerned with a wipe out. My 5-year-old Kindle will someday not turn on, so I'm waiting to see if the next Kindle, or Nook, will hold my precious 443 books that I’ve accumulated and read over the last five years, plus.

Anonymous said...

The whole point is comfort I think, modern people move a lot, you know commuting, vacations etc. and reading your e-essay made with in e-reader is totally better than paper variant.

KMTolan said...

Shouldn't be a concern for any given choice of media. These days you can have it your way - if you're willing to pay. Print-on-demand won't go away, and those of us Luddites who want that paper can have it if we're willing to shell out double or more the money than for the e-book.

The lack of ownership is a tangible thing - but represented more often than not by sagging shelves or boxes full of moldering paperbacks with failing spines and yellowed paper.

Oh, and if you start handing out download cards, you can at least sign those. Some software touts the ability to sign books electronically as well, but I haven't seen it demonstrated. Then again, actors don't sign the film, either. Maybe we should hand out pictures? (grin)


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