eoinpurcell On Publishing Perspectives today, Irish publisher (and TeleRead “Things Publishers Fear” contributor) Eoin Purcell opines that e-books are a “cul-de-sac.” But on reading further, his point of view is the exact opposite of most e-book skeptics. Rather than seeing a future primarily in print, Purcell thinks that e-books do not go far enough.

Purcell sees a danger in getting so wrapped up in e-books as e-books that publishers and writers forget to concentrate on other new media formats.

Rather than expend their energy focusing on one format that may be fleeting, publishers need to focus on two long-term objectives: audience development and content curation. Neither of these are specific to digital activities, meaning that they will only serve to bolster the print side of the business as well, whether it declines rapidly or gradually.

Purcell mentions Richard Nash’s Cursor project, but also talks about pre-existing efforts as from companies like Osprey, a military history publisher which has built a community around its books. Though Purcell does not mention them, Baen would be another good example of a publisher who has done community building right.

Curation, which Purcell describes as “developing a body of quality titles that an imprint or house (or a niche driven community) can be proud of, written by authors that the publisher and readers are happy to claim as their own,” is another thing Baen does well.

Purcell points out that a lot of larger publishers already have such an extensive catalog that curation of non-fiction genres simply requires identifying a particular segment of their reserves. For fiction, it has already been done in some subgenres such as science-fiction but there is no reason it could not work in others as well.

In the related editorial/discussion seed, Edward Nawotka wonders what are some alternative formats to the traditional e-book that Purcell’s essay might suggest. He mentions the ideas of multimedia “vooks” or elaborate websites, among others.

I think the answer is probably “whatever format customers are willing to read.” I’m not so sure that a “vook” would be the best thing for reading fiction, but it might work for certain forms of nonfiction that could be enhanced by video.

But there’s no reason to get wrapped up in formats that don’t exist yet when there exist perfectly usable alternative formats already. For instance, Baen offers “webscriptions” in which it breaks web books up over three months. But what about a true “web subscription” in which readers would subscribe to receive a chapter a week via RSS feed, much like the serialized novels of centuries past?

I suspect that the next few years will see a proliferation of experimental formats and publishing methods that we might not even be able to imagine now. (We even covered one such format earlier today, in the form of DailyLit bringing books to Tumblr.) After all, who could have predicted the explosion of social networking before it happened?

Maybe some of those formats will even stick around.


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