Digital Evangelism and the Death of Print

23213679419_21eab85c0a_bThere is a good article on ebooks by Molly Flatt in today’s edition of The Memo. Titled “The ebook is dead, long live the ebook.” the article uses an interview with Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn to solidly make the point that ebooks are alive and well. It is a fascinating read.

As I sat down to do a write-up on the article, I was distracted by the following paragraph:

What’s more, he refuses to toe the digital evangelist’s line about the death of print. What we’re seeing, he believes, is the healthy recalibration of a truly hybrid industry.

I have to admit, I was a little taken aback. The death of print? Who asked for that?

As someone who passionately advocates for ebooks and digital access, I certainly consider myself a digital evangelist, but advocating for the death of print is another thing altogether. That sounds like more of a digital militant thing, IMHO. If that’s what it means, I evidently missed an important memo.

Most early adopters are pretty passionate (and evangelical to a degree) about e-reading. In the early days of the Kindle, most people that many early adopters encountered had never seen an e-reader. Yes, they existed, but they certainly were not widespread or mainstream. Most of us got very good at explaining both the mechanics of e-readers and the benefits of reading ebooks. For many of us, the introduction of ebooks was a life-altering experience and the analogy to a religious experience is probably not far off. I have  written here about how getting a Kindle changed my life.

But many of us also found that there was a dark side to having an e-reader. You didn’t own the books you purchased. You only had a license to use them and that license could be taken away (Google Amazon and 1984 to see what I mean). You can’t convert them to other formats or use them on other devices. You can’t sell your ebooks, many of them can not even be loaned.

Many titles were not available as ebooks at all. The ebook for a new release might not be released for months after the print version (a practice called windowing). And good luck trying to get all the titles in a series or the complete backlist from an author – it probably wouldn’t happen. And the quality?  Many of the first ebooks were horribly formated and filled with OCR scanning errors.  Publishers threw an OCR file together, called it an ebook and told customers that we were stealing them at the $9.99 price tag that they thought was too cheap.

Now, I could go on and on about agency pricing, price fixing, terms like “paperback ebook pricing” and “hardcover ebook pricing” and so on…. But I think you get my drift. If you read this blog, you’ve heard me say it all before. It all boils down to availability, accessibility, quality and a price that in commensurate with the rights included with the ebooks we purchase.

Are digital evangelists vocal about what they want? Sure they are, in the same way that any other group of passionate hobbyists are vocal about what they are trying to change. It is pretty galling to be asked to pay more for an ebook than a physical copy would cost and not even have the same usage rights.

But do notice that the death of print is not even on the list. Please don’t confuse publishers’ fears with what customers want.

First and foremost, at least as people who read ebooks are concerned, we are readers. Really dedicated readers. That means we love books. I still have a houseful, even though I haven’t read a paper one in years. No body wants to kill off print, even if we don’t want to read it. And some people do read both.

But, ultimately, we just want the option to read what we want, in the format of our choice, when we want it,and at a fair price. We don’t want to be told that we are miserly or cheap because we don’t think that the convenience of the ebook format is worth the premium price that publishers want to charge.

But a truly hybrid industry that offers fair, healthy pricing for both ebooks and print? Yeah, I could get on board with that.

reposted with permission from eBook Evangelist

image by Olgierd Pstrykotwórca

9 Comments on Digital Evangelism and the Death of Print

  1. The death of print isn’t actively *advocated* by any of the enthusiasts or advocates I’m familiar with.
    What is generally discussed is the projected withering of the print trade book *over time* to a pricey niche, much as vynil is in the music business. The meaning of “over time” varies from person to person. MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte predicted print would dissapear in five years…
    …back in 2010.

    About par for his predictive record, as it turns out.

    Most other people, me included, forsee a (decades?) long decline for print until it hits a tipping point where the fixed costs of the current economic model become unsustainable. But even that does not equal the death of print as there are plenty of scenarios where print would endure. Just not as the primary vehicle for consumer narrative text.

    Sounds more of a strawman floated up by Tamblyn who has his own history of hyperventilation and hyperbole when discussing the industry in tradpub circles anyway.

  2. I don’t think anyone is seriously predicting or hoping for the death of print. However, I do think there are a lot of people in the indy scene that are, a minimum, envisioning an end to the big five publishers use of their print distribution monopoly. And some on that side of the argument, publishing execs, writers with big publishing deals, and industry pundits, conflate that with a desire to see the death of print. For them, the end of their monopoly is the death of prints.

    On the other hand, most indies are excited about not only digital books, but print on demand. And most indy writers would love to have more access to print distribution channels. Hugh Howey does a lot of interesting things with print version of his books (I love the flip books where there is one story on one side, and you flip the book for the other).

    I think anyone with any sense of technology and history will release that more and more content is going to be read digitally, and less and less on print. However, just as vinyl records have made a comeback, print will continue to be a beloved form of communication.

  3. Sorry for all the typos above. Hey Nate, any change you will add an editing feature to the comments. I love it on the Passive Voice.

  4. That would be wonderful. I made myself a promise I would stop commenting on sites that don’t allow editing, but I grandfathered in the Digital Reader.

  5. Great comments!

    When I wrote this, I was really unclear whether the concept of “the death of print” came from Tamblyn or from the author of the piece. It wasn’t in quotes. But given the fact that this was in the context of a keynote at a publishing conference, it is pretty clear that the death of print is certainly among traditional publishing’s greatest fears. They are so busy trying to prevent that from happening, that they are totally out of touch with what their customers want-.

  6. *Typo at the end brought to you by office cat trying climb on the keyboard*

  7. I honestly think it’s less about evangelism or wanting the death of big publishers or print and more about advocacy for treating all books fairly. Too often, digital is conflated with “self-publishing,” mainly because digital in general and Amazon specifically enabled millions of authors to publish without being part of the corporate system. Pundits like this and Shatzkin are quick to use words like “evangelism” and “indie author militia,” because that’s way it’s easy to lump completely together a group of very disparate authors and entrepreneurs — and then dismiss them without much further thought. Just like most of the media does. Just like news outlets and award bodies do.

  8. What Will said.

    It’s a strawman I see over and over again. People like me don’t like print books (I was actually told I was “no bibliophile” – which amused me greatly), are actively cheering their demise, and have falsely predicted the death of print. Sometimes it’s served with a side of: self-publishers are bitter because they couldn’t get a publishing deal.

    Yawn.

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