Monday, March 19, 2012

[Transcript] The Future of the Book Industry

In an interview that was conducted during at the States of Independence fare which was held at De Montfort University in Leicester on March 17, 2012, David A. Bowman (Bluewood Publishing) talks about the books his company publishes and about where he sees the book publishing industry going:



Hi, I'm David Bowman. I'm one half of Bluewood Publishing. We are an international small press publisher. My business partner is actually in Christchurch, New Zealand. We publish genre fiction in ebook and print. We've been around for about two and a half years. We have about 150 titles currently available as ebooks, 32 of which are now in print.

When you say 'genre fiction', what do you mean?

Genre fiction is popular fiction as opposed to literary fiction. For example, we have alternative history, romance, western romance, fantasy, science fiction, thriller and, dark fantasy... i.e. the vampire type stories.

We also have one non-fiction title but that was because that was just such a brilliantly written manuscript we couldn't turn it down.

You use a combination of print and ebook...

Yes. We actually started in ebook rather than in print. Simply, it was a mechanism that worked for us and then we expanded into print.

Why is that? I get the impression that people are actually moving from print to ebook.

I think that's because when we formed, we had a blank canvas. Most people are coming from a background of print. We were coming from a background more as authors than as print [publishers] and, as a result, it was a manner of working that worked for us. So, we started with an ebook and then moved through into print, from that direction. So, we are going against the tide but we are going with the tide because, obviously, ebook sales continue to grow and grow and grow. In many respects, paperback sales are relatively flat. There is not growth in that market as there has been in the past.

What do you see happening to the industry? Where do you see it going?

I have both sat on panels and seen the panel [on the future of the book and the book industry] here today. I don't think there is a simple answer to that question. Ebooks are taking over and TESCOs, I think, sold 225,000 kindles in the run-up to Christmas, which is an enormous amount for a supermarket to sell. Ebooks are selling and selling and selling.

Essentially, you have two wins with an ebook.

Firstly, your ebook reader is a light device. You can carry around your entire library in your handbag or in your back-pocket.

The second is ecological. You haven't destroyed a tree to print an ebook. There is an element of people that, of course, say the ebook reader itself has taken rather more than just a tree to be produced but ebooks have a better cost profile, obviously. It costs a lot of money to print a book, particularly on a short run. If you print millions of books, you can do it a lot better. But, for a small press like ourselves, it takes a lot of investment to actually produce the printed version of the book.

Which takes us back to the question we discussed earlier... Why switch from ebooks to print?

It's not a switch. We always intended to do both but we started with the ebook because that was, for us, the easier way to do it... and then we moved through to print... but all of the print books are available as ebooks. It's just that there are a lot of ebooks we published that are a lot shorter which makes for not such an economic model for print.

One of the things that I heard today was that ebooks present a problem in the sense that a lot of ebooks that are being published are self-published and the quality is not very good and that, potentially, this has the potential of...

This is a problem. As the technology gets easier, more people get onto that technology and some of them don't understand the importance of the various steps that a publisher takes.

We copy edit and proofread every book before it is published and the author gets corrections twice, at least. We go through a third set of edits before it actually goes into print because changes to a print book after it has been printed are, obviously, both practically and financially, a lot. The consequences are a lot higher.

The ebooks people are self-publishing... it's very, very easy to do these days... all you need is, basically, a copy of Word. You don't need anything else in terms of software to be able to get out to virtually all of the major retailers... people like Amazon, people like Apple, people like Barnes and Noble in America. It's very easy to get the books out there.

What happens is that [some of the people who are self-publishing], they don't follow the methodology of publishers because they don't actually get everything printed... they don't get it all edited... they don't get it all formatted properly... and the whole thing goes. You end up with a sub-standard product and then that brings down the value of those that actually do [follow the methodology of publishers].

Did we talk about the challenges you face as publishers?

Not yet.

[Laughs]. Alright.

[Laughs]. The problem is always, we are small press... That means we are not well-known... That means our authors are not well-known... So, therefore, getting exposure, getting publicity for them is a much fight.

You know, if I had a Stephenie Meyer on my books, I wouldn't be a small press publisher. You are always looking for a book that will come along in those terms. But, in terms of [small press publishing], you have to work that much harder for each copy that you sell.

Where do you see yourself, let's say, in five years' time, as a publisher?

Hopefully with a table about 10 times this size with piles of books. [Laughs]. But, no, seriously... it's very difficult, at the moment, to work out what's going to happen in the industry. And, the advantage that we have by being a small company, is, we are nimble. We can change with the industry. So, as ebooks evolve into more complex things rather than just simply pure text, we can probably keep up with that and be ahead of the less nimble organisations such as the mainstream publishers.

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