Not only is it not a unicorn, it’s not even a Pegasus.
The Pareto Principle.
Also known as the 80/20 rule, wherein 80% of sales are generated by 20% of the customers. When applied to the way publishing gambles on blockbusters to subsidize its titles that lose money, it might be more or less 20% of the authors make 80% of the sales.
Publishers look for and sign new authors in a neverending search for the next blockbuster book that will sustain the 20%. Very often a new author will be taken on in favor of renewing a current author’s second or third book if the sales don’t meet expectations (which could mean that it did, in fact, make money, but not enough to satisfy the bean counters).
Last month, I was involved in a rigorous discussion on Dear Author, wherein author Courtney Milan likened publishing’s ability to support this model to pooling risk or, more precisely, flood insurance. I found the flood insurance specificity to be flawed and said why, but really I found the whole “risk pooling” argument flawed, but couldn’t articulate it, so I remained agnostic on the subject for the moment.
Now, after having stewed on it for a while, the better (read: more polite) analogy would be research and development—except without so much the development part.
Recently, president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Jonathan Galassi, wrote an extraordinarily unorganized, incohesive rant op ed piece in the New York Times concerning whose rights are whose once the publishing house has put its resources into a manuscript to make it a salable product. Quite frankly, other than the amusing fact that he (an editor) wrote an essay not worthy of a high school freshman learning the basics of English composition, I don’t give a shit about what he thinks the publishers’ value-added rights are.
It was his exemplar of an author long dead, into whom marketing resources were invested to make him that success, that struck me as disingenuous. And a non sequitur. Or ignernt. Dude. You do realize that very few new authors are given these kinds of resources, right? Publishers throw new authors at the wall to see who sticks. There is no “development” counterpart to “research.”
Given that, I’ve moved on from a publisher’s resource allocation to be “risk pooling,” to “research and development,” to “shotgun approach.”
Hang with me—I know I’m only about the 1,537th person to say this, but I do have a point.
So yesterday on Teleread, Rich Adin from An American Editor opined that the way to save publishing is to kill the paperback. When the usual suspects (me) broke out with the usual reaction (Are you out of your fucking mind?), he shot back with, “Well, do you have any better ideas?”
Never mind I have no interest one way or another whether publishing remains profitable, and it’s not my job to put little slips in the suggestion box that will be ignored, and people (readers) have been screaming their fool heads off about what they want which would keep publishing profitable and publishing’s just not paying attention, I will tell you how to keep publishing profitable:
Do less research.
Put a little more development into your research.
Quit getting caught up in auction fever.
Embrace the e-book and treat it as deferentially as you do your other formats and respect those people willing to pay for it. Court them. Cultivate them. They have money to spend on books. Really.
The point is to make every title profitable, or as close to it as you can get.
But I don’t really think you care.
Want an ebook reader but can’t stomach the prices either for the devices, the data plans, or the ebooks?
See, we all know the biggest objection to all the other devices on the market: Too expensive for a one-trick pony that you’re not even sure you like the trick anyway.
There are the lesser-known problems (until you encounter them): Kindle (could get your library taken away from you, and what if you really don’t like reading on an eInk device?). Nook (apparently shittastic all the way around—if the device can’t read EPUB, it’s an epic fail, trust me). Sony (I’ve heard various and sundry objections to this, so I’ll let you do the googling).
Then there are the people who are waiting on technology to work itself out before they pop for any device, and some of these people are waiting on the iTablet or MSCourier. They still might like to have an ebook reader, but can’t stomach the cost:limitation ratio of any current devices, so they’ll wait until technology catches up to their needs.
Now, it is true that LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of people read ebooks on their BlackBerry et al and iPhone/iTouch. It’s my opinion most people don’t want a one-trick pony device. They want a multifunction device. Why? Because *I* want a multifunction device and EVERYBODY is like me, right?
no images were foundBut…since I’m a cheap bitch and don’t want to fork over for the dataplan for a smartphone, I have a one-trick pony device, and you know what? I love my one-trick pony device. Mike Cane mocks me for it, but the more devices I see rumored, debuted, trashed, complained about, the more I fall in love with my little workhorse. Worse! He sees ebooks (currently) as little more than tarted-up text files (which is true).
So you know what’s so lovely about my little workhorse? It’s $90. That’s right. Know what you give up for that $90? You have to spend a little time learning A) which formats to buy for it and B) perform a few software gymnastics to get it on the device. I mean, for little more than a tarted-up text file, it’s absolutely the most perfect device ever, especially for the price.
Want a starter ebook reader that is ergonomically divine? Backlit so you can snuggle under the covers in the dark and read while staying all warm and toasty? That you can eat and read at the same time? That has a bunch of the same bells and whistles all the expensive devices do, like highlighting, notetaking, mp3 capability (audiobooks), search, long battery life, and the ability to put your own documents on it.
Get the eBookWise.
I don’t care how sophisticated it’s not. It’s a dream.
I have no connection to this company other than I love its product. I very rarely get so excited about a product and if I do, I very rarely maintain that excitement because eventually its flaws will make me pissy. I’ve had my eBookWise going on 2 years now and I love it more now than I ever did.
I swear, until such a time as A) the iTablet/MSCourier actually appears and B) ebooks cease to be little more than tarted-up text files, I see absolutely no reason to pop for anything else. I’m not anti early adopter. I’m anti early adopter of very expensive but ultimately deficient products in the very thing they are created to do.
UPDATE: Mike Cane’s mockery continues.
He sent me to this picture:
The eBookWise is the one on the far right. It is a blimp, isn’t it? That is exactly why my hands love me for using it instead of anything else (including print). It’s also why it can stand up on the table, propped against a drinking glass, to enable me to read while I’m eating.
Can we find a word other than “book” as a descriptive for the digital version of glue-and-paper? The word “book” is way too loaded for those who profess a love of “that new book smell” and their reactionary hatred of digital delivery.
Print books and digital book are two completely different species. They don’t have to compete. They shouldn’t try to compete. Yes, the content is the same. Yes, the delivery system makes all the difference in the reading experience.
Consider the reading evolution:
Handhewn tablet → papyrus scroll → parchment leaves → illuminated manuscripts → Gutenberg Bible → mass market paperback → computer.
None of those are the same epistemologically or anatomically, so why is the progression to reading digitized text on a handheld device difficult to accept?
Just as a tablet is not a scroll, and a scroll is not an illuminated bundle of leaves, and an illuminated bundle of leaves is not a ream of paper saddlestitched and bound in leather. It is an electronic method of getting to text.
An ebook is not supposed to be like a printed book. Expecting it to be invites frustration on everybody’s part, and completely misses the point
I haven’t read any more on the Asus since my last post about it. However, it recently paid for itself when I had a computer emergency. For three days that little thing was an absolute workhorse. It was a little slow and klunky, but it did the job and it kept me earning money. I NEVER expected to need it for that.
So for around $250, I have an emergency work computer, an e-book reader on which I can read ANY DAMN FORMAT I WANT, listen to music, surf the net, keep my data, and write.
And I should buy a Kindle/Sony/Nook/JetBook . . . why?