Digital book publishers are looking to embrace the online sales format, saying they will not go the way of the music industry.
As part of the ongoing International Festival of Authors at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto this week, Ursala Mackenzie, CEO of the Little, Brown Book Group gave a keynote speech on the importance of book publishers in the digital age. Her speech addressed the role publishers will play as the industry faces similar problems the music industry did when downloading threatened record companies and musicians in the early 2000s.
“I would argue that our industry, often derided as old fashioned, has embraced the transition to digital with notable success,” said Macknzie in her speech, “I continue to read that foolish publishers imagine they won’t go the way of the music industry, and perhaps I really am foolish, but I don’t think we will.”
The global e-book market made roughly $3 billion dollars in revenue last year. Mackenzie attributed this, in part, to the fact that publishers worldwide had more time to react to the change that online sales brings than the music industry did.
“We were undoubtedly fortunate that digitization came later to books than to music, so we had more time to see where the pitfalls lay,” said Mackenzie, “But we have other inherent advantages too.”
The way consumers interact with e-books is much different than the way they do with music. One or two tracks can be easily downloaded off of the Internet, without the experience of hearing the whole album lost on the user. Books are not the same, and are not affected by piracy the way music is said Mackenzie.
“Record companies and artists sold albums, but with the notable exception of Pink Floyd-esque concept albums, they were made up generally of unconnected tracks, and we had our favourites,” said Mackenzie, “So we wanted to be able to download them individually for much less money. But with books, you generally want to read the whole thing. Cherry-picking chapters three, seven and twelve of a novel will never work.”
Books are more of an investment of time than money, said Mackenzie. An emotional investment, that in order to be successful, must be engaging from start to end. Going forward, this will require a strong field of authors for publishers to choose from.
To that end, the IFOA partnered with the Humber College Creative Writing program to offer post-grad students the opportunity to submit the first chapter of their manuscript to be anonymously critiqued onstage.
Nick Garrison of Penguin Publishing and Craig Pyette at Random House Canada read over the student submissions in a series of “flash assessments” where they offered editorial advice on structure, format, and style to try and help students before they submit their work to publishers early next year.
“They’re tough critiques,” said Natalie St. Pierre, administrator for the School of Creative and Performing Arts, “but I think they’re fair and I think for those who are open to learning they will get a lot out of it”.
The International Festival of Authors is on until November 3 at the Harbourfront Centre, with interviews and speeches happening all week, as well as a number of literary award ceremonies recognizing Canadian and international talent.