Editor’s Note: this is the second part of Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti’s article. The first part can be found here.
I tell you, I like libraries. Those old stone buildings with lion statues in front and aisles of rare editions. I think it’s sad that they are becoming more and more obsolete. I like the fact that my house looks like a library with thousands of books when you walk in the door. That is “home” to me. Maybe that is because of what I do for a living. Probably so. But my books breathe a secret history that is all my own. For every stage of my life, every season, every everything, I can point to a book that reminded me of the then of the then. A book that either spoke to the moment or, not only spoke to the moment but made a profound impression on me. I like to see those books.
The e-books that I read are simply print books that have been turned into electronic books and I likely own both in most cases – both electronic and print. And yes, the e-book can be just as effecting, just like my online writing is just as affecting as my print writing (which is why I think it’s absolute nonsense that publishers do not “care” about Web writing because writing is writing is writing and that if I gather my writings from online and present them to a publisher, they will sell. But again, I’m told I’m wrong). That said, I do not expect the New York Times to review my online collection of poetry, which is much like an e-book essentially, until I gather those poems in a print book as a selected edition (that said, getting poetry reviewed anywhere is a hard sell).
As I said, gather that work, online work, together and perfect bind it or stitch it up and sure, then I can see it. But for right now, no. It’s not going to happen. Don’t expect any big reviews in the major publications. You may see some, sure. But mostly, the London Review of Books is going to focus on print books. I don’t recall seeing an electronic book in there.
Things change, and things don’t. They change and they stay the same or they come in cycles. It’s the nature of life. E-books are taken seriously enough by some publications and some publishers because they are bankable productions – it’s an economic principle. It’s not because suddenly publishers caught on and thought, Wow, how revolutionary, let’s do this. It was a financial decision, just as selecting any book for publication in print form is a bottom-line financial/economical decision. Manuscripts and proposals are now run through a cost/benefit program by most publishers to see if they will break-even. Editorial decisions are being made not by editors so much, but by marketing people and sales people. Say what you want, but I say that’s sad. Genius Maxwell Perkins must be turning in his grave.
An e-book is less expensive, easier in many ways for the publisher and so forth, but given it’s very virtual nature at it’s essence, it has a certain ethereal quality that will never make it seem as solid or serious as a print book if for no other reason than the fact that the publisher has not put their big guns behind it or given it the financial backing that they do for print books. Money talks.
Until publishers put the money behind e-books and give them the marketing push and the publicity attention they do for print books, not to mention the art direction, design and so forth, they will never be taken seriously by anybody else. It is akin to asking another person to care about something that you yourself do not really care about. Justify it all you want, but at the end of the day, you either put your money where your mouth is or you do not.
Yes, some publishers will do an e-book as well as a p-book, but rarely will they release them at the same time. A dual release may at first blush seem a good thing – it may seem that the publisher takes the book seriously enough to make it available in both formats, but unless they are charging the actual print cover price for the book for the e-book version (which generally, is cheaper than the p-book edition), the question becomes why should bookstores stock a book that sells at a deeper discount in e-book format? What is their incentive? In short, if a book is available more cheaply in e-book format, some customers will opt for the e-book if only to save money. Kiss your bookstore sales goodbye.
It’s a basic non-compete clause that bookstores want and frankly, who can blame them. It is akin to two publishers releasing the same title at different prices (even if it’s the same publisher), the end result is the same. Bookstores will lose money and thus, confidence and trust/faith in the publisher, and reviewers, as I’ve noted above, tend to take the book less seriously. In this business, trust and faith are everything. I should add that as a reviewer myself, it is frankly easier to read a print book for review purposes and more, one wants to see the cover, the type, and to hold the physical object in order to truly judge it, not simply as literature, but as an object of art unto itself, for what is book publishing if not an art?
Thanks for listening,