9 April 09 | Chad W. Post

I have to visit a graduate seminar later today to talk about e-books and the future of the publishing industry, so the impact e-books will have (or rather, are having) on publishing structures (like indie bookstores) has been very much on my mind the past few days, so finding Jessica Stockton Bagnulo’s post about recent discussions among smart indie booksellers about e-readers was absolutely perfect.

Jessica’s main focus in her post is on replacing traditonal print advanced reading copies with e-version—something that makes a lot of logistical sense to me. The unit cost for printing galleys is more than the unit cost for the finished book, and (for small presses at least) it’s quite an expense to print and mail even just 250 ARCs of a book. Not to mention that these 250 copies have a pretty weak reach. A huge proportion go to reviewers who never review the book anyway, with only a handful ending up with enthusiastic booksellers.

And from a bookseller’s perspective, not having to receive and carry around tons of heavy books makes a lot of sense:

Here’s the next most important issue: E-readers make sense for people who read in massive quantities. Many of our sales reps are already reading on Sony readers, and it makes sense for booksellers too. We’ll all most likely still be reading plenty of pbooks (that’s print, or “real” books), but since it’s in our job description to read widely and quickly, carrying around many on one device makes sense.

This sentiment is echoed in Jenn Northington’s modest proposal, in which she presents this idea:

my initial idea was pretty basic: publishers provide a small group of booksellers, who they already send loads of arcs to, with an e-reader. then, they make those ARCs available as, say, pdfs to download. the bookseller, in exchange for the e-reader, agrees to read x number of ARCs from those publishers per season.

Which also sounds reasonable, especially if the upfront costs were split by a number of groups: a consortium of publishers (big and small), the American Bookselling Association, Sony (I doubt Amazon would be a welcome partner in this, and Apple is too full of itself to see any gain from engaging with booksellers in this way), and possibly the bookstores themselves (like $10/reader to demonstrate a commitment to the project).

Jenn lists a ton of the pros and cons to this idea, with “increased access to ARCs for booksellers” being the pro that’s most appealing to me.

There are a number of other indie booksellers writing about this same idea, including Stephanie Anderson from WORD, Rich Rennicks of Malaprop’s, Arsen Kashkashian of Boulder Bookstore, and Patrick from Vroman’s.

And just for the record, NetGalley was designed as an interface for publishers to distribute e-galleys to reviewers and booksellers and other “professional readers.” From what I’ve heard (I have yet to use the service), it’s pretty solid, the only problem being that there’s a per galley charge to publishers, something that indie e-ARC idea wouldn’t necessarily include. And NetGalley (at least for now) only allows you to read the books on your personal computer, which works against the inherent transportability of a physical book or an e-reader.

Anyway, I think the eARC idea is a complete winner, and I really hope this moves beyond the conceptual stage . . . I’d be happy to send 1,000 eARCs of Open Letter books to booksellers across the country.

I think the bigger problem for a press like ours is to try and get booksellers to pick up our books when a Corporate Rep is visiting these same booksellers every few weeks, telling them about THE NEXT BIG THING from Conglomerate X that will be EVERYWHERE next week and that ALL the customers will be talking about. (Sorry—maybe I should start a unnecessary CAPS blog.) But that’s the case now, and by distributing way more e-versions of a book, there’s a much better chance that some bookseller will “pick up” one of our eARCs and get excited about it. (I think that’s a necessary quote.) Although this is one of my big concerns for our e-book future—whether or not e-books in general will make it easier for small presses like ours to directly reach readers/reviewers/booksellers, or if the old systems will dominate even more than they do now thanks to their money and their extensive infrastructures, making it even more difficult than ever to break through the marketplace noise than it is now. More on that in Part II . . .

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