sadi14oct2007Editor’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,

Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti


  1. First off, Sadi with the hyphenated last name needs to get out of New York once in a while. All libraries do not look like the New York Public Library on 5th Ave. (which is the one she describes)and please get over reviews in the New York Times. Second, unlike a well heeled editor that can afford a whole house lined with books, most of us working in NY live in tiny apartments or condos where space is a premium comodity, so e-books fill a need for the space challenged commuter. Third, she first says publishing is a business, where more and more decisions are made by sales and marketing rather than editors (so maybe editors are becoming less relevant? good maybe we can hear from the marketing and sales folks who really matter and can understand what they are doing wrong in losing e-book sales with DRM and uncompetative pricing) but she concludes that book publishing is an art. Well, which is it? I think a book is only as important as the content of its pages, not the binding or the cover art – which often has little to do with the actual book. I appreciate the walk down memory lane and a look at how things used to be in publishing, but I think it’s time somebody got a reality check. Get out of your elitist neighborhood now and then and try to understand your market, the 15% or so of the population that actually reads books and understands a technological watershed innovation and a need for publishing to get it – even if you don’t. Oh, and I’m not mad, just frustraited by the publishing industry, who is as out of touch with their constituency as the Music Industry was/still is.

  2. @Bill

    Music industry + mp3 players = huge change

    Book-publishing + e-book displays = huge change

    The huge change in music has resulted in the mass closure of record stores and the tanking of record companies’ profits. Will book-publishers learn anything from that? Can’t they hear the rumble of the avalanche coming down the mountain towards them?

  3. I suppose some publishers hear the rumble of the avalanche and are afraid, which is why some elements of the industry poo poo on ebooks.

    I found puzzling Ms. Ranson-Polizzotti’s sympathy for bookstores not wanting more affordable ebooks out there because of the competition element. Bookstores already demand the right to return unsold books (which is just horrible business for the publishers) and publishers have to pay for premium display space in bookstores. You’d think the publishing industry would love to kill that model of distribution. I think publishers would love to reduce manufacturer costs by printing less paper books, which would be for the library market and the soon-to-be diminishing reader market for paper books, and then they could make bank with ebooks, which have a steadily growing market and many advantages for readers as consumers.

    I also found her statement about libraries becoming obsolete strange. Has anyone ever visited a library that was empty? My local library is ALWAYS busy and is supported by many active volunteers, fundraising organizations, and even the county government gives a good effort to fund the system in difficult times. The importance of libraries is elemental to civilization. I almost always stand in line to check out books.

  4. Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti says “Yes, some publishers will do an e-book as well as a p-book, but rarely will they release them at the same time.”

    I think this has been changing. Amazon says the following about Kindle edition e-books:

    More than 180,000 books available, including more than 107 of 112 current New York Times Best Sellers.

    Many of these e-books are released about the same time as p-books, e.g., many of the best sellers. Also the price is “$9.99, unless marked otherwise”. This means publishers are reconciled to the possibility of cannibalization of sales.

    The Cory Doctorow book mentioned in the comments of the previous part of this article was released simultaneously in e-book and p-book formats. The e-book costs less than $9.99. It is free. The book, “Little Brother”, was reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review and the p-book is selling.

  5. As a book designer, I was pleased to see someone finally mention art direction and design as some of the elements that e-books need before e-books are taken seriously by the masses. Most e-book advocates at this stage simply dismiss it without realizing the level of importance that good typography and layout plays in books (and even Web sites). There are some serious challenges in designing books for small portable reading devices that shouldn’t be ignored.

    I think we will see e-books become even more popular in the next decade as e-ink takes on the ability to produce color and as displays get larger. There will always be a variety of reading devices, some people will always just stick with the smallest, most portable.

    But once the world has a thin, A4-sized device using e-ink in full color then will boom like crazy since that will allow almost any printed book to be replicated on a portable reading device with the same “high fidelity” of print. Only then will the analogy with mp3 players become true.

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