Last week HarperCollins announced that they were making over 5,000 of their backlist books available only as print on demand. According to the corporate press release from Brian Murray, the President and CEO:
As a publisher, it is our vision to make every HarperCollins book available to consumers in stores for immediate purchase – either from stock or through the Espresso Book Machine. We are initiating this program with nearly 5,000 black and white trade paperback books that comprise our active backlist. Hardcovers, mass-markets and illustrated books will not be available in this initial phase.
We see this as an opportunity to eliminate situations where our backlist titles are “temporarily out of stock.” The Espresso Book Machine, combined with high quality HarperCollins backlist titles, allows independent bookstore to sell HarperCollins books that they were previously unable to carry in their store due to space limitations. Now, it just takes the push of a button. The price and royalty paid on sales of books manufactured on the Espresso Book Machine are the same as books that are printed traditionally.
Now don't get me wrong, I love the idea of constant availability of books. Many times I've heard about a certain book or author and tried tracking down one of their books with little success because most times the book is out of print and only available at eBay and I'm not one to buy a lot of stuff from eBay.
So there's that.
But let's be honest here: what HarperCollins is really trying to do is keep these books "in print" so they can retain the rights to the ebooks, which will sell probably one hundred times more than the print on demand books.
Because these books will only be available through these Espresso Book Machines which are rare right now, and even if and when every bookstore gets one, so what? Authors rely on visibility in bookstores; readers like to browse shelves and page through books to find new authors. Readers can’t quite do this with a kiosk. If anything, the reader will have to have prior knowledge of a certain author or book first before even going to the bookstore, and if that’s the case, why not just order the book online?
2013 – EBook sales surpass all other book sales, even used books. EMagazines begin cutting into paper magazine sales. 2014 – Publishers begin “subsidized” e-reader trials. Newspapers, magazines, and book publishers will attempt to create hardware lockins for their wares. They will fail. 2015 – The death of the Mom and Pops. Smaller book stores will use the real estate to sell coffee and Wi-Fi. Collectable bookstores will still exist in the margins. 2016 – Lifestyle magazines as well as most popular Conde Nast titles will go tablet-only. 2018 – The last Barnes & Noble store converts to a cafe and digital access point. 2019 – B&N and Amazon’s publishing arms – including self-pub – will dwarf all other publishing. 2019 – The great culling of the publishers. Smaller houses may survive but not many of them. The giants like Random House and Penguin will calve their smaller houses into e-only ventures. The last of the “publisher subsidized” tablet devices will falter. 2020 – Nearly every middle school to college student will have an e-reader. Textbooks will slowly disappear. 2023 – Epaper will make ereaders as thin as a few sheets of paper. 2025 – The transition is complete even in most of the developing world. The book is, at best, an artifact and at worst a nuisance. Book collections won’t disappear – hold-outs will exist and a subset of readers will still print books – but generally all publishing will exist digitally.
Of course, that's just one guy's prediction, but if the last few years are any indication, the changes in publishing are just beginning. After all, many literary agents are beginning to get into the e-book publishing game, such as my own agency. I had heard talk about this happening awhile ago but they just officially announced it earlier this week:
Trident Media Group, one of the world's leading literary agencies, today announced that it is launching a new e-book initiative, Trident E-Book Operations. This division will create, manage and implement innovative e-book strategies for its authors, including the distribution of a variety of e-books directly to a large number of e-tailers in North America and internationally. Authors will have more flexibility than ever before, as well as new potential domestic and foreign revenue streams.
Robert Gottlieb, Chairman of Trident, said "Trident has been a leader in innovative approaches in the representation of its authors, including in the international markets with its "hot list", at the international book fairs and in new audio licensing. We will continue to manage all facets of our clients' businesses by the extension of our services into the ever-changing e-book publishing business around the world. Trident Media Group will devise strategies to maximize value for its authors in the new and complex e-book publishing field. Trident will not become a publisher, but will instead continue in its new e-book operations to have itself aligned with its clients whose interests we serve as an agent and manager."
I find it interesting that Gottlieb says Trident won't become a publisher, because that's what they're doing. They're not the only ones, though. My old agency is now doing the same thing, and Richard Curtis, a very well known literary agent, runs E-Reads, which has been around since 1999.
But this is 2011.
And Amazon just announced three new Kindles, two of which are priced until $100, and a very reasonably priced tablet that will be released later this year.
Which means even more people will have e-readers.
Which means this is a better time than any to have reasonably priced e-books available.
Again, just like this post's heading, some recent events worth noting.