I know Amazon isn’t real popular right about now (if it was ever popular with the literary crowd) and the story I am about to comment on is old.Â But I wanted to comment on it at the time and never managed to do so.Â I think it is worth noting in case you missed it.
In his commentary on the Tournament of Books championship, John Warner echoed my sentiments toward publishing and eBooks perfectly in saying “Let a thousand flowers bloomâ€”only free market, rather than commie-style.”
The digital/print divide was reinforced for me this weekend after reading the New York Times Sunday Book Review online. The lead review was of Wells Towerâ€™s new short story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Itâ€™s a rave and reinforced many of the great things Iâ€™ve been reading elsewhere, as well as my own impressions of Mr. Towerâ€™s writing, having read his fiction in McSweeneyâ€™s and his nonfiction in Harperâ€™s. It has become, officially, a â€œbook I want.â€
In the same edition there is a review of another new collection of stories, Caitlin Macyâ€™s Spoiled. Another positive review, though the description doesnâ€™t make the book sound as immediately appealing to me specifically as Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Still, it became, officially, a â€œbook Iâ€™d like to check out.â€
This was Saturday, early, maybe eight oâ€™clock. It was raining, unseasonably cool. Iâ€™d finished digesting the paper and was working on my oatmeal and I figured Iâ€™d see whatâ€™s what with these two new story collections. With the weather and the early hour, I wasnâ€™t going to go anywhere, so I turned to the wifeâ€™s Kindle and found that only Macyâ€™s book has a Kindle edition. Iâ€™d downloaded the first story in seconds, finished it in 15 minutes, and ordered the rest of the book right then and there. Meanwhile, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned remains in my unbought, â€œbooks I wantâ€ category, potentially forever since Iâ€™m constantly coming across books I want. Wells Tower and his publisher Farrar, Straus, and Giroux wouldâ€™ve had a sale. Now, who knows? It may just get buried under the avalanche of new books.
That story illustrates one critical aspect of what makes the Kindle so useful and attractive (and dangerous quite frankly).Â If you have a sudden desire to read a book, as John Madden might say: “Boom!” you can be reading it is seconds.
I found another example of smart marketing myself last month.Â I found out that Ballantine Books was offering the first book in a series (His Majesty’s Dragon) free for Kindle users.Â I quickly downloaded it and in fact started reading it rather quickly.
Now why was this so smart giving away books?Â Well, as I am sure you have guessed, I went ahead and bought the next book in the series.Â Risk one free book to hook readers into a series.Â Gain loyal readers and customers.Â As I said, smart.
And these scenarios can be played out anywhere.Â You don’t have to be at home or near a computer.Â You don’t have to have money with you or worry about carrying another heavy book. You just push a few buttons and start reading.
And this sort of convenience can’t be put back in the bottle.Â Once you start to appreciate this capability you want to have more of it.Â Those publishers who don’t find a way to offer it will miss out.
I will confess that I don’t know a great deal about the business end of publishing so I can’t comment on the concerns of publishers and authors.Â But I know as a reader I love this instant on feature when it comes to books.Â It doesn’t mean I will stop buying hard copy books by any means.Â But in certain situations the publisher who finds a way to make their books available digitally, and at a competitive price, is going to have a distinct advantage when book buying choices are made.
Technology and business innovation is going to change the face of digital publishing and e-books.Â I am sure the landscape will be much different in five years.Â But I don’t think this kind of convenience and portability is going away.Â Publishers will have to adjust; and soon.