Often, I hear people belittling e-books. These people, of course, prefer “real” books.
Please understand, I too love books. I read to expand my understanding of things, improve Scribe or my relationships with others, gain new insights, be inspired, or enter worlds that are beyond my physical reach. Quite literally, I owe my life to books. And getting lost in a book is one of my favorite activities.
As much as I love to be surrounded by bound volumes in my personal library, I realize that the form of a book has nothing to do with my love for books. I love books for their content. More important, as a professional publisher, it is incumbent on me to create books that function well in every format. I cannot dictate how someone reads or foist my elitist notions of “real” books on him. I can only craft books that are well conceived, expertly edited, and masterfully produced.
If we are going to be good at our craft, we must stop holding idealized notions of books and how people should be reading. True, it is our responsibility to shape opinion—not strictly cater to it—and foster new ideas, but we are no longer in a position to dictate that a person reads in a format of our preference, within our strict control.
In addition to this philosophical position, I recognize the financial reality of staking out a position on books. If we are going to remain successful, we must embrace new technologies and learn to apply our art in new ways. If we are conscientious, we will embrace the challenge of new developments, not resist them. If we are really talented, we’ll find new ways to edit and produce books so that they are effective and generate the same attachment as previous book technologies (e.g., printing presses). If we want to remain relevant, then we must do the following:
- Stop relying on PDF. It’s a poor model, and it obstructs multipurpose publishing. While PDF files offer us the look we want, they offer poor reading experiences and are dead ends for future publishing success.
- Rely on technology, without abdicating our role in the process. There is both confusion and potential in technology. We should embrace technology, learn about it, know how it works, and identify its limitations. In order to be creative publishers, it is imperative that we understand the medium through which we work. This is true for the technology we employ to develop books as well as that used to read them.
- Edit and produce books in a completely electronic environment. We have stated it before: Print is digital. Every book is electronic. Publishers no longer work from paper manuscripts to tin type to the printed page but, rather, work with electronic computer files. If you feel you do a better job with print, that might have something to do with the way you have organized the book. Working electronically is not only more efficient, but it attunes us to the environment in which e-books will be read. By working electronically, we have the opportunity to consider how materials are read in dynamic environments and how to best edit and produce accordingly.
- Read on a tablet. If you want to improve the experience of your audience, then you must embrace e-books. If you are disappointed by your experience, then learn to make it better. Who, other than we, are in the position to improve reading in an electronic environment?
- Stop blaming the technology, and start trying out new ideas. E-book sales have dropped this year. And if you look at the habits of reading on electronic devices, you will find out that people often leave their reading for other electronic activities (social media, movies, games, etc.). The research on electronic reading is mixed. It seems that typical ways of expressing ourselves in print may not transfer to electronic devices. But e-book readers have been shown to be effective mechanisms for conveying information, and they are becoming ubiquitous. So whether we like it or not, they are here, and I would much rather have someone reading a book that I produced than one self-published on Amazon.
- Remember that publishing is an art (despite our attention to the finances). Like every good artist, we must be on the cutting edge of ideas, not in opposition to them. We must embrace the media that are available to us and forge new ways to express ourselves using those forms. Also, we must not trust others to do our craft. Books are, after all, our form of expression.
Consumers have choices, and the distractions are many. We can continue to worship the printed book and abdicate our roles in e-book development to others, or we can become excited by the opportunities that electronic books afford us. With every publication we create, we have the opportunity to foster the same appreciation for books as we have done in the past. We are not, however, going to capitalize on that opportunity unless people are reading what we produce.