Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Future is Now, and it's Digital

It was back in 1985 I first ventured into publishing, releasing a small book of poetry by Vaughan G. Harris, The Cabinetmaker's Art, under my then wee imprint, Keystone Press. I published a few other chapbooks of poetry and short fiction. And quietly drifted away.

In those days publishing for a microscopic press was cumbersome, ridiculously expensive, heart-breaking hard work that often meant slogging books out of the trunk of your car. It was a labourious labour you pursued because of love of literature and a need to champion the little man.

Fast forward to the new millennium with all it's new technologies and Internet capabilities, and a revolution in publishing that allowed insane entrepreneurs to to create books in Canada, upload that data to an international powerhouse of a printer in America, and then realize sales across the globe. Cheques arrived in the mail. We were amazed and encouraged.

And quickly on the heels of the print-on-demand miracle came the dark horse of digital books. It would never catch on, the pundits proclaimed. It was a passing fancy, like 8-track tapes.

In two short years we've watched eBooks transform from cumbersome PDF files read on a computer, to reflowable text in EPUBs on digital readers that are lighter than your average paperback, and books at a fraction of the cost to the consumer. Still, the pundits predicted the digital book would never replace print.

The February 2011 sales figures accumulated through the AAP reveal a staggering 202.3% increase in digital sales. As a counterpoint to that, hard cover sales declined 43%, and paperback sales declined 41.5%.

Here at Five Rivers we've watched similar sales shifts since November 2010, with the February figures coming in at 96% of sales in digital format.

The way the numbers are shaping up for March, it's looking as though 100% of our sales are going to be in digital.

That's cause for some serious rethinking of sales and marketing strategies. As a result, Five Rivers has decided there's no point pursuing what now seems outdated book fairs and festivals, slogging print copies of books for a public largely uninterested in physical books when they can save space and funds by downloading that same book to a reader capable of holding up to 1000 eBooks.

And given technologies that are now emerging that allow book signings to occur for digital books, from remote locations, so that an author never needs to leave the comfort of their home, the expense and stress of slogging your sorry self across a continent becomes moot. Certainly in the coming year this is just one of the new wave of author/reader interactions Five Rivers will pursue.

We've successfully had two very public, very international Twitterviews (interview conducted through a hashtag on Twitter) for our authors, allowing the public to visit and converse. We've conducted an Espresso remote reading. And in the future we're looking to other avenues to allow readers opportunities to meet and converse with our authors.

In combination with that, Five Rivers will continue to offer print books; however, our concentrated efforts will be toward digital. Our books are currently available through Kindle, Apple, Kobo (there has been a glitch these past two weeks, but the people at Kobo assure me Five Rivers' books will be back online by the close of the week), and within the next three weeks our entire catalogue will be available for Nook and Sony.

Our print versions of titles are going to drift toward a more artistic interpretation, a return, if you will, to the art of book-making, with a respect for white space, typography and layout. After all, if one of our books is going to exist in the physical world, let it be a thing of beauty.

These are exciting, rapidly changing times in publishing. We welcome any comments and feedback.

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