Monday, January 14, 2013

Preview: 360 Sound: the digital advantage

While catching up with my industry reading I decided to concentrate on book publishing. I just don't write enough about eBooks, especially now that it seems that both newspaper and magazine publishers have a huge opportunity to begin book lines thanks to the rise of both Kindle Editions and the Apple iBookstore.

But, like the magazine and newspaper trade industry journals, the book publishing journals seem to get a kick out of dissing all things digital, proclaiming that the eBook industry has peaked, or is limited in some way. Two articles, one one a U.S. site, the other a U.K. site, said basically the same thing: the decline on eBook sales at some retailers shows that the eBook craze is over. (No links, they don't deserve the traffic.)

Well, it was good for a chuckle. But it was also sad to know that is the way some think.

I see no reason to try and refute such an argument. The authors simply did not seem to really be familiar with the format. To them, an eBook is simply a digital reproduction of a work of fiction, something read on a Kindle, for instance. It is certainly that – but boy is it also much more.

And that is why eBooks are here to stay. Take, for instance, 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story. The enhanced eBooks was created using iBooks Author and was released into the Apple iBookstore on October 1, 2012. The eBooks costs $14.99 and weighs in at 857 MB - quite a load.

The author is Sean Wilentz, and the publisher of the hardcover book is Chronicle Books. Interestingly, Amazon lists the publication date of six weeks after the eBook appeared in Apple's iBookstore. The hardcover price is listed at $45, but Amazon is selling it for $29.70 – but there is one problem, it is out of stock. The eBook, of course, is very much available inside Apple's iTunes store.
There is no Kindle Edition of the book, and if you think about it, that makes sense – an eBook edition of this subject should obviously contain audio files, and hopefully some video, as well. Until Amazon creates its own version of iBooks Author publishers are stuck with ePub, PDF or other formats that really don't quite match what iBooks Author promises – though book apps are another thing altogether.

The iBooks Author version of 360 Sound was published by Trailer Park Publishing out of Hollywood, California. It lists Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Hachette among its clients. It also lists Apple.

I haven't opened up 360 Sound yet, but I assume it will be a good read, and a good example of an enhanced eBook – and I really wish the publisher would have sent me a promo code! But one thing I am absolutely sure of is this: no print edition about the music business will ever really be superior to what a digital edition, created by a good publisher, can offer. I still love print books, as do consumers, but don't tell me digital is going away. It just is silly.

When I took the position of publisher of two b2B titles at Reed Business Information, one of the things that came with the job was management of a book line for one of the brands.

The magazine had published a few titles over the years but while the book line contributed a few dollars to the revenue line it contributed even more the to expense line. One of these expenses was storage.

When I investigated the business as it had been conducted I found that the publisher would order up the printing of a minimum number of books and would then store them at the printer until orders came in. Since the printer required that a certain number of books needed to be printed it was inevitable that the books would begin to pile up.

A trip to the printer found pallets of books, rotting in storage. The publication dates seemed ancient to me, which meant that recycling the titles appeared to be the best solution.

We may have published a couple new titles that first year, but otherwise the business went away. I researched whether we should resurrect the book line, and even started to get enthusiastic about the possibilities.

But if I were in charge of that B2B title today I know I would be certainly thinking about digital books. All the things that seemed to be an argument against book publishing – minimum press runs, storage, packaging, shipping – would not be a factor today.