E-publishing coming of age at last?

Continuing our examination of how the world of publishing is awakening to the power of the Intertubes (sorry, couldn’t resist), big daddy publishers have now come to terms with the fact that cyberspace is here to stay. Not only that, they are experimenting with ways to market and sell books online to harness the Web’s unbelievable reach, writes UK Guardian’s Nicholas Clee:

Three publishers have announced new web initiatives this week. HarperCollins has uploaded to its website the entire contents of several titles, including The Witch of Portobello by the hugely popular new age novelist Paulo Coelho and Mission: Cook! My Life, My Recipes and Making the Impossible Easy by Robert Irvine, who is described as a star of a US cable food channel. “It’s like taking the shrink wrap off a book,” HC chief executive Jane Friedman enthused. HC will make available a different title each month by Coelho, who has already gone beyond this strategy by offering links to pirated editions on his blog. You will not be able to download or print the HC texts.

Unclear yet is how both the author and the publisher plan to make any money off the initiative. Coupled with the fact that reading a book online is about as appealing as reading one on a t.v. screen, and, well, let’s just say bibliophiles are less than impressed. Clee notes,

Amazon reports that sales of its e-book reader, the Kindle, have exceeded expectations; but the company has conspicuously failed to provide figures. You can be sure that the number of trees spared is modest.

Here on this side of the puddle, Harvard is mulling whether or not to publish their faculty’s scholarly research online (free subscription required to read entire article):

Faculty members are scheduled to vote on a measure that would permit Harvard to distribute their scholarship online, instead of signing exclusive agreements with scholarly journals that often have tiny readerships and high subscription costs.

Although the outcome of Tuesday’s vote would apply only to Harvard’s arts and sciences faculty, the impact, given the university’s prestige, could be significant for the open-access movement, which seeks to make scientific and scholarly research available to as many people as possible at no cost.

The casualty in this trend would be scholarly journals, who engage in a rigorous peer-review process for research. Unfortunately, these journals are often outrageously expensive, which limits readership.

I have no idea which way this trend is going to go, but it’s interesting to note that publishers continue to explore ways to meld print with the increasingly long reach of the ‘net. Where the writers figure into this equation remains to be seen.

Problem is, when people get something for free, they tend to value it less. Wasn’t that what the WGA strike was all about?


About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She writes under a variety of pseudonyms, including Ani Bolton. She has written two novels as Cassidy Calloway: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins, and Tamara Blake, for the novel Slumber.


  1. Raj says

    New Media Publishing

    Times are changing. Readers now behave differently than ever. They read different things and in different new ways. And now, they no longer want simply to read – they want to write too. They want to be publishers of their own thoughts and own ideas. Each one of these wannabe individual Publishers (somewhere deep in their heart) want to be bigger than the New York Times (and probably Wall Street Journal put together).
    There is no debate. Print publishing is under fire. Dramatic changes in reading habits have hit print readership badly. This has pushed print circulation and ad revenues down. Increasing competition from new media channels for eyeballs and the ad budgets have made life difficult for the circulation and ad sales departments in the publisher’s office. Increasing production and distribution costs have further squeezed the margins in print.
    This is no epitaph. It’s a simple idea for print Publishers. Stop thinking in terms of ‘print’. Print is simply a tool. A tool that has worked wonderfully for over past 400 years. It has given us our familiar ‘front-page’ that we have grown up having breakfast with or the ‘page 3’ that we have spent several leisurely moments with. A tool that has taught many things to the online news portals. A tool that will continue to play its role for the next several years. But, this tool WILL eventually phase out as it gives way to new tools that are more interactive, rich and ‘now’. There is no competition between these different tools. And, one must not make the mistake of thinking so. Unfortunately, the inertia with which Newspapers and Magazines have pushed change within their organizations is a proof that this mistake has been made for last several years now.
    Just like an investment portfolio, one should never marry a stock. One’s exposure to a stock should be proportional to the returns one expects from it. If new stocks provide the same or more returns, one should make ‘changes’ in the portfolio. Just because one doesn’t understand a new business is no reason to get territorial about existing business. After all, change is the single-most consistent factor in business and how you adapt to change the single-biggest determiner of success.
    Publishers are in the business of providing information to subscribers and a marketplace to advertisers. Media is all about that.
    In today’s media, mobile is hot. Social networking is booming. And users are addicted to rich media. And, not for no reason. All these are interactive, rich and ‘now’.
    New media channels have changed the rules of the media game forever. What took a newspaper or magazine decades to build is being done by new media companies in a matter of months and years. Adoption of new media by publishers is no longer “whether” but “when” and “how best”.
    A newspaper today can be printed in Paris but delivered in Tokyo – that same very moment. Publishers can sell more copies, without ever printing them. A newspaper can be published in print, web, mobile and iPods – in the same go. Companies like Pressmart help print Publishers in distributing their content on multiple delivery channels including web, mobile, RSS, podcast, social media and search engines over a seamless 360-degree full-service platform.
    Times are changing. Newspapers have a brilliant new court to play in. They need to remember to show up.