“The ebook is a stupid product”, says Arnaud Nourry of Hachette. I agree.
Of course he is right. And our dear colleagues of the French publishing trade news site of Actualitté are plain wrong by interpreting the statement as a “missile” against e-books.
As we have already emphasized earlier, no great ideas have been added over the past 10 years, since the introduction of the first Kindle. It is also fairly shortsighted to argue that books are not supposed to have any features aside from profiding a clean page layout and typography, and eventually a nice cover. Oddly, only these simple books, offering a quick read of suspence, or romance, or fantasy, have been turned successfully into electronic reading stuff. For everything else, again in the words of Nourry, “we as publishers, have not done a great job going digital.”
Indeed. Take the example of travel literature for a growing global tourism industry, as was noted by Philip Jones in The Bookseller. The sector is expanding. But it was not the publishers who brought in the harvest from the extended demand for information, from sightseeing guide, to hotel and restaurant suggestions, and all the many related services. Instead the extra revenue was gobbled up by platforms like TripAdvisor or Google.
The same is true for learning. Several hundreds of million people across many countries on all continents have risen to an at least modest middle class life, which includes higher aspirations for their children’s education. Yet, educational publishing has not re-invented itself to be fit for the new opportunities.
Theoretically, e-books would offer amazing opportunities for any kind of niche publishing, as an e-book can be effectively created on any laptop computer, then distributed over the Internet, and promoted to specialized target audiences via social media all over the planet.
The same applies for small markets, like small linguistic communities or countries. Or the big populations in regions with little purchasing power. E-books can be cheap, as is demonstrated by astounding organizations such as Worldreader.
But honestly, outside of romance fiction, how many such innovative approaches from publishers would you be able to name? Aside from the Canadian author and reading community Wattpad – which, incidentally partners with Hachette.
Countless innovative opportunities are lost by publishers in these, and many similar cases.
I realize that I may be a little unfair to those publishers. Because the technical format, the platforms for creation and distribution, and the technical offerings to read anytime, anywhere, conveniently, on a screen, have not been created by publishers, but by tech companies, from Amazon all the way down to programmers doing a little open source application for organizing e-books, like Calibre. How poor do their improvements over one decade compare to, say, smartphones! And hardly anyone, aside from readers, has cared.
Perhaps this is the core challenge to the publishers today: How can this slide be reversed, so that, once again, book people and innovative minds care again about each other! A big challenge it is.