In Part I of my interview with Moriah Jovan, she provided overview of the electronic publishing market as it currently stands as well as some of the overall issues the e-books market is facing. Here in Part II, we get in to e-books in the Mormon market as well as a some advice for authors and publishers and some prognostication.
Every Sunday, I see both men and women using smartphones or PDAs to read scriptures and lesson manuals. The Church actually does a decent job of providing electronic versions of some of its materials. Do you think e-books could sell in the Mormon market? Why or why not? What types do you think would do best?
I think e-books can sell in the Mormon market as long as people are conditioned to expect products in E. Thing is, storefronts for LDS materials are so few and far between (especially east of the Rockies) that it’s not even a thought in most people’s heads. If your temple happens to have a bookstore nearby, yay, but the pickings might be slim. I live 4.5 hours away from the Nauvoo temple, and invariably get most of my materials there. (I must admit that we have a new bookstore here in KC [not very far from where I live], but I haven’t been there yet. I’m annoyed that they spam email me and there’s only ONE way they could’ve gotten my email address. It’s been a deliberate choice not to go there for that reason.)
The key is to get members to understand that there are *other things* in E besides scriptures. Every week I see those men and women reading on their PDAs and smartphones and iPhones. They’re FASCINATED by my one-function device, my eBookWise, and they’re astounded when I tell them they can read books on their devices. It had *never occurred* to them. That’s what needs to change.
Deseret Book is in a unique position to be able to accomplish this. I thought they were going to start because about a month ago or so, I saw they had free PDF downloads of some of their books. The whole book. But here’s the thing: PDF is not an e-book. There is almost no device that renders PDF well and certainly not any of the devices I see at church. Nobody wants to read on the computer, even if they go ahead and do it.
So the trick is to make it available and train people to expect it to be available.
What is required to provide a good, enticing experience for consumers — it’s more than just creating a PDF file from a Word document, right?
You need these in combination: 1) a well-proofed and well-formatted e-book available in a format you can use, 2) ease of purchase, 3) lack of DRM [Digital Rights Management], and 4) ease of getting it on your device.
I qualify the well-proofed with the well-formatted because very often (it’s the traditional publishers who are guilty of this), the digital version is taken from the RTF or DOC that was used to then typeset the book, meaning it hasn’t gone through galley proofing yet. They don’t take the galley proofed version of the book and convert it to digital, so mistakes remain in the e-book that aren’t in the print book. Preparing a book for print and formatting it for digital are two entirely different processes and two entirely different skill sets, and only the e-publishers seem to have figured this out.
The key to e-books is IMMEDIACY at an attractive price. It’s an impulse purchase, like the stuff in the checkout lane at Wal-Mart. You don’t need it. You’ll put it on your Amazon wishlist and forget about it. You’ll think about having another book in the house. But with an e-book, it’s just so…easy. The easier you make it, the better the experience. Click buy, type in your Paypal password, pay, get directed to download. Boom, done. It all seems so…imaginary, like playing with Monopoly money in exchange for the promise of a good story.
You yourself are an e-book reader. What titles/publishers in the Mormon market have you passed on because you couldn’t buy them in an e-format?
Not in any particular order:
1. Altared Plans by Rebecca Talley (I must qualify that with the fact that we put our heads together and got that sorted out, but not because of any initiative on the publisher’s part.)
2. Deadly Treasure by Jillayne Clements
3. By Love or By Sea by Rachel Rager
4. Shudder by Jennie Hansen
5 & 6. Farm Girl and Uncut Diamonds by Karen Gowen
7. Heroes of the Fallen by David J. West (Again, this is getting worked out.)
My frustration with Anita Stansfield’s “Dance” series not being in E has a different genesis: I was in Nauvoo (where I end up buying almost all of my Deseret-ish books) and bought Dancing in the Light, not knowing it was part of a series. In fact, it was number 3. The book was not marked. Anyway, I started reading and right away knew I’d missed something, went online to Deseret Book and saw that there was one ahead of it. Okay, ordered it. Started reading. Figured out it wasn’t the beginning of the series. I put it down and never went back to it, and I probably won’t. If they had had any of them in E, I would’ve bought them all immediately. But really, this wasn’t a frustration of the books not being in E. It was a frustration with the publisher for not marking the series.
Also? Books from Deseret Book are awfully expensive, especially after you add in shipping.
What can consumers in the Mormon market do to help support e-books? What about authors — and how can they make it easy for their work to be converted in to e-book formats?
If the Mormon market doesn’t know that e-books exist outside of scriptures and what’s available on lds.org, they can’t support it. As I said, people who use their PDAs, smartphones, and iPhone/iTouch are amazed that they can read other books on their devices. It simply never occurred to them.
Most authors have no control over anything, not even in traditional NY publishing. Many romance reviewers who switch over to requesting e-ARCs have reported that they have a hard time getting them from the publishers to the point where the author will send the last copy of the manuscript they have, in RTF for easy conversion (by the reviewer). In the case of the books I noted above, the authors are also doing something about that because the publisher hasn’t made it available. Chris Bigelow made Angel Falling Softly available to me by DOC, so that was awesome.
I know of one LDS publisher who is making a move to digital to maximize her investment. I know of another who is taking full advantage of today’s political climate to put back into print a very popular (and rare) book that hangs on Ayn Rand’s skirts in an LDS context, and by the time I contacted him, he’d already taken steps toward digitization. So I’m not the only one out there who understands this, but it’ll be a slow process. In the case of number 1, she has to start from scratch. In number 2, he’s sitting on a potential goldmine, so I’m waiting eagerly to find out how he does. In our case (B10 Mediaworx and Peculiar Pages), our problem is that our offerings just aren’t classifiable, but we have time on our side to grow our respective audiences.
The e-book is in its infancy, true, but they’ve been around for the last 10 years at least, with the Peanut and Palm. But now they’re gaining momentum, largely due to the Kindle, but the Kindle has its limitations and what I fear happening is that people will begin to equate Kindle with e-book. Just as people say “May I have a Kleenex?” for a tissue, whether it’s actually a Kleenex brand tissue or not, I hope people don’t say, “Oh, I got a Kindle” in the context of having bought an e-book not of a Kindle variety.
What do you think the future of the e-book as a medium is?
For those who haven’t yet, read: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson.
Otherwise, right now, there is the Vook (I’m not crazy about this.)
In the between time, additions will be made to e-books little by little that will enhance them, like links within the text, pop-up glossary and footnotes, the prettification of the formatting.
Quite frankly, I would like to find some other word than “book” to express an e-book, because it’s a different experience. I imagine going from tablet to scroll, to hand-lettered and illuminated leaves, to printed and bound stacks of paper must have been different experiences. I don’t know, as I’ve never read from a tablet or a scroll, but reading from a hand-lettered and illuminated leaf is an entirely different experience from reading a paper book. Even reading a hardback is a different experience from reading a paperback.
E-books won’t supplant paper ever and I don’t want it to. There are some things E can’t and SHOULDN’T do, but there are some things that E is perfectly suited for, and one of those is fiction.