Creative Connections: Why do we still publish books on paper?

By DAVID CRUMM

ReadTheSpirit bookstore online

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In addition to our long-standing magazine, ReadTheSpirit, our staff runs a prolific publishing house, known by many readers as “ReadTheSpirit Books” but actually doing a wide range of business now as Front Edge Publishing.

We’re a cutting-edge team of software and publishing professionals transforming what it means to produce a “book.” In contrast to the standard, time-consuming processes that still dominate in Big Five publishing houses, we have automated major portions of the editing and page-design process that leads to publication in e-editions and paper books.

That’s why many of the authors and indie publishers who meet with our publishing house staff begin by asking: “Paper books!?!”

Then, we hear: “You’re creating the next wave of publishing systems through Front Edge, but you’re still producing ink-on-paper books? Why not just skip ahead to e-editions? Isn’t that the future?”

The simple answer is: No.

We explain—with lots of industry evidence—why paper books are rebounding as the most important segment of American publishing. Yes, e-editions are a vital segment, as well, and no effective publishing campaign is complete without both paper and e-editions. That’s our specialty at Front Edge, we produce all formats of a book from a single “source file,” making our books highly flexible and adaptable for various audiences, updates and even for special events. We’ve got a wide range of data lined up to make the case for continuing to focus on paper—backed up with all e-editions.

Then, we opened the latest issue of the magazine of the Independent Book Publishers Association and found an eloquent summary of this trend. So, in this latest Creative Connections column, we share this brief passage from the www.IBPA-online.org magazine. IBPA contributing writer David Wexler writes in part:

FIVE YEARS AGO, if you asked what percentage of publishers’ sales would come from digital books compared to print books in 2016, what would you have said? Fifty to 80 percent would have seemed a reasonable answer. In 2011, the great recession was still roaring and Borders declared bankruptcy. Kindle sales were skyrocketing and the industry was abuzz with the specter of major disruption. Apps were the shiny new object, and we seemed to be moving toward an increasingly digital world of books.

That anticipated digital dominance has yet to materialize.

The Nook never took off as the Kindle alternative—neither has the Kobo eReader, Google Books, or the iPad, although they all have their relatively small audiences. The industry average for digital sales is roughly 25 percent of all US book purchases. In the past year, many publishers reported declining digital sales while overall print sales are increasing. Publishers Weekly in its Jan. 1, 2016, edition quotes a Nielsen BookScan report showing a 2.9 percent increase in 2015 print sales over 2014 on top of a 2.4 percent increase in 2013. Also according to PW, this is the first decline in e-book sales since the introduction of the Kindle in 2007. The technology infatuation may be ending, and younger readers are trending away from “e” and back to print.

Then this next conclusion by David Wexler is something that our Front Edge team wholeheartedly endorses. Again and again, meeting with authors and organizations that hope to produce books with us, we find that “writing The Book” on a subject is still highly revered in our culture. Wexler writes:

Similar to e-books, print books are portable and accessible, but they are also more tangible and have managed to maintain a higher perceived value.

Thank you, IBPA! Thank you, David Wexler! We have just added your conclusions to our growing body of industry data that we share with new individuals and groups approaching Front Edge for publishing solutions.

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Categories: Creative Connections

Creative Connections: Publishing an e-book is easy, right?

By DAVID CRUMM

Barnes and Noble salesman demonstrating a Nook in 2012 (1)

REMEMBER WHEN? Back in 2012, Barnes & Noble sales associate Mike Blum happily demonstrated a Nook at a store in New Jersey. In the spring of 2016, Nooks still are on the market but customers are a bit more wary after news of a dramatic retrenchment in the UK.

Once upon a time, Amazon introduced a handy little device called Kindle. And ebooks lived happily ever after …

No, that’s not how the story ends. But this tale lies at the heart of the question: So, how easy is it to publish an ebook—and then keep it on sale?

The Kindle era dawned in the autumn of 2007 and, coming on the heels of Apple’s introduction of the iPhone that summer, publishing tidal waves seemed to rise and crash toward the shores of an all-digital future. Kindle owners were given handy email addresses to upload their own texts to their devices.

In the future world, everybody could be an ebook publisher, right? For a while, the horizon seemed rosy. Soon, Kindle apps popped up on smartphones and nearly every other digital device flooding the market. Playing catchup in this global trend, Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook two years later. By 2010, the Kobo had arrived, which became closely associated with the Borders Group bookstores. And, those were just a few of the digital-reading options flooding American shores!

Some industry analysts were heralding the end of print books as the primary means of publishing manuscripts. The giant Borders chain flailed around with various marketing ideas. But Borders crashed and closed its last stores in the fall of 2011—still in an era when it looked like these digital books just might turn print books into an endangered species.

But then—something surprising happened.

The ebook craze leveled off and actually began to decline. Today, industry analysts refer to that roughly five or six year period after 2007 as “the digital scare.” Today, ebook readers still account for a very large minority of the total books sold in the U.S. Most books sold are ink on paper.

Today, authors can’t hope to reach their entire audience without publishing both in print and e-editions.

The dream of an easy pathway to e-publishing for anyone dipping a toe into publishing for the first time has become more of a nightmare of constantly changing standards and the rising and falling fortunes of various digital devices. These are turbulent seas, even for publishing professionals. A first-time author may successfully create and upload an ebook for a device such as the Kindle—but there’s no guarantee that a glitch in the author’s files, or a looming shift in standards, won’t knock that book out of the market—leaving the author clueless about what went wrong.

Sure, most astute writers still can load an ebook into a Kindle—assuming the book doesn’t include multimedia elements that don’t fit the Kindle’s operating system.

But navigating the waters of ebook publishing in a professional way takes experts who closely follow the industry and the ongoing shifts in standards.

RECENT HEADLINE NEWS

CARE TO READ MORE?

TOUGH TIMES FOR NOOKBarnes & Noble sent a shockwave through its customer base in early March, 2106, by announcing the shut down of services in the UK. The Great Britain version of Nook’s website suddenly announced: “Effective from March 15, 2016, NOOK will no longer sell digital content in the United Kingdom. The NOOK Store on NOOK devices sold in the UK, on the UK NOOK Reading App for Android, and at nook.com/gb will cease operation.”

A column in Digital Trends reports: “The U.K. site’s closure comes a little over six months after B&N shuttered its European branches, leaving only the U.S. site and apps in operation. The Nook site and associated apps will close for business in the U.K. on March 15, and details on how to migrate away from the Nook apps will be sent at the beginning of April.

If you don’t own a Nook, reading that news is likely to sound—well, flat out ominous about the device’s overall future. This kind of dramatic retrenchment leaves customers around the world wary of investing in a device that seems to be crumbling, or at least on shaky ground.

PRINT BOOKS RISE; EBOOKS DECLINE—You’ll find this conclusion reported across publishing-industry news outlets in spring 2016. None of the experts are predicting that ebooks will vanish. These devices remain a widespread and popular reading choice for millions of readers. But, it’s clear that print books will continue to be the dominant format for delivering books in the foreseeable future—and, to reach the entire spectrum of readers, both print and e-editions are required.

Here is one snapshot from Publishers Weekly (PW) in a column published for subscribers to the magazine in early 2016:

What is going on with e-books? As 2016 dawns, what’s driving a decline in trade e-book sales is one of the big questions hanging over the publishing industry. In December, the Association of Annual Publishers (AAP) reported that sales this past August dropped 3.7% compared to August 2014, and trade e-book sales are on pace to post a yearly decline. According to AAP Statshot figures, adult e-book sales from publishers that report to AAP were down 4.5% through the first eight months of 2015 compared to the same period last year. Total trade e-book sales (which include children’s and YA titles) were down 11.1% in the eight-month period.

That PW market analysis goes on to argue that the overall American experience in digital reading is moving from the trendy excitement of its introduction in 2007, through the flood of additional reading devices and dramatic changes in ebook pricing—into a mature new phase in the ebook market. That means ebooks are here to stay as a major method book buyers like to enjoy reading—but ebooks won’t swallow the whole publishing industry.

PUBLISHERS AND BOOKSELLERS WARY—Millions of ebooks continue to sell and many companies are working on the next wave of digital delivery systems and changes in standards that affect anyone trying to publish ebooks. But corporate leaders in the publishing industry are nervously juggling their digital strategies. That’s what is happening at Barnes & Noble in spring 2016, sparking anxiety about that company’s future.

Here is another snapshot of the industry that PW sent to subscribers. This news report opens with “weak financial performance” at HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster in late 2015 due to lower-than-expected ebook sales. Then, PW turned to Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books & Music who pointed out that the publishing industry overall is strong and sales of print books continue to grow in a number of genres. Then, Reisman continued in the PW report:

“We believe people are recognizing that books are a part of our lives that we will keep a part of our lives.” She also noted that e-book sales have leveled off. “I think what people are saying is e-reading is not going away—we continue to participate in that market—but increasingly, people are using it for certain things, like when they’re flying, or when they can’t carry books around. Other than that, people seem to be happy reading their print books.”

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Categories: Creative Connections

Creative Connections: Glimpse the whole world via IARJ

International Association of Religion Journalists Twitter feed

Here’s the dilemma each of us faces since the introduction of the iPhone and other super-powerful smart phones a decade ago:

I think I hold the whole world in the palm of my hand! Look! There’s my Google-Earth icon! But the truth is—the Google gods are geniuses at learning your local preferences and shrinking your world to the size of your neighborhood. Want pizza tonight? Type “pizza” into Google—and you’ll never hear about the wonderful pizza at a cafe overlooking the world-famous Piazza Navona in Rome. Google knows you want pizza now and lists pizza places near your home.

The same thing is true with global news. Even if you use the powerful Google News search screen—Google knows you want journalism in your native language and you probably want stories “close to home.” You have to intentionally switch over to advance search options to force Google to show you the work of journalists around the world.

Is your vision global? Lots of long-time ReadTheSpirit readers would say: Yes. You certainly do want to glimpse the whole world when you’re looking for news about religion, holidays, the role of faith in food and film—and other kinds of cross-cultural issues.

Now, a solution is emerging, thanks to two veteran journalists who work with the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ). They are Elisa DiBenedetto and Larbi Megari. Elisa is based in northeastern Italy and has reported over the years from Afghanistan, Lebanon and Kosovo. Her specialties include religion, cross-cultural issues, immigration and gender issues. Larbi Megari is based in Algeria and has reported for newspapers and television. His specialties include religion, cross-cultural issues, economics and politics.

Both Elisa and Larbi speak multiple languages and are sought-after teachers and experts in their fields. They also are core staff members at the IARJ. Their newest project is a special IARJ Twitter feed that is becoming a must-follow source for tips on great news stories around the world.

How you can help …

th International Association of Religion Journalists Twitter feedElisa and Larbi just began this Twitter feed—so ReadTheSpirit is reporting on it as the project gets off the ground. In fact, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm is actively consulting with Elisa and Larbi to help this particular Twitter feed become the kind of must-follow resources that will serve growing numbers of readers around the world.

Please, take a moment to visit this Twitter feed and simply click “Follow.”

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Categories: Creative Connections

Creative Connections: Why we don’t do Apps

An array of popular apps

WHERE DO YOU SPEND YOUR TIME?

By DAVID CRUMM

For nearly a decade, the team at our publishing house has closely followed the rise and fall of new media. That includes pursuing own original research, developing unique new publishing software and analyzing trends both in the U.S. and around the world.

With the introduction of the iPhone and Kindle in 2007, we immediately saw the need for publishing solutions to quickly and flexibly produce books in all formats—print and all digital formats. We closely tracked what is now called “the digital scare” or “the digital tsunami”—the period from roughly 2008 to 2012 when publishing experts thought print books might be extinguished by e-books. And we celebrated the industry-wide declaration in the wake of that “scare” that the future of publishing is producing books in both print and e-editions. More than half of all books sold in the U.S. today are in print—but there’s no way to reach an entire audience of readers if all formats aren’t available.

Want to reach readers? You need all formats.

So why don’t we do Apps?

By 2008, we were hearing everywhere we turned in this industry that Apps were The Future. In fact, Apps might replace all other forms of media delivery, we heard from some national experts. This focus on Apps was part of the “digital scare” that hasn’t received a lot of attention until now.

Our Publisher John Hile sensed the danger in leaping into Apps as early as it began. At a major publishing-industry conference in New York City in 2008, organized by O’Reilly Media, media movers and shakers appeared in session after session lauding the boom in Apps as a delivery system for literary, educational and other content-based material.

After a lifetime in software development, John’s verdict as the conference closed was: “We need to follow this closely, but building Apps isn’t our specialty. We have to be careful about mission creep. I think the heart of this transformation in publishing is understanding XML-first systems so we can deliver books in all formats—and quickly change and revise those books from a single-source file. That’s where we need to spend our time.”

Flash forward eight years. Bottom line: John Hile was right.

A very important overview report about the plight of Apps was just released by Publishing Perspectives, an international magazine that covers trends in the industry. If you read the entire report, you’ll find several reasons Apps are an endangered species as a delivery system for the kind of content that really belongs in a “book.”

Among the problems:

The Big Squeeze—Apps that provide red-hot games, easy photo sharing, video streaming and daily services like weather forecasts and driving tips now dominate the available space and time for most users. Think about how you use your own smart phone or iPad: You check email, maybe do a little Facebook or Twitter, play a level or two of your favorite game and glance at tomorrow’s forecast. Along the way, you might text a friend. When is the last time you fired up a content-based App like the countless Apps launched to explore everything from the world of Charles Dickens to the history of dinosaurs or a course on the culture of tea?

A Never-Ending Fixer Upper—Hate home repairs? Well you get the idea. Apps keep changing along with the operating systems for digital devices. This means someone has to ensure that the App’s roof isn’t leaking, the furnace hasn’t blown out and the interface isn’t flat-out busted. The whole idea turns out to be a nightmare for developers and users.

Flexible Books Are Better—Now that books can include everything from multimedia extensions to cost-effective color interiors—and it’s possible to flexibly change books in all formats—books are back as the central delivery system in the worldwide publishing industry.

Do you enjoy reading on your smart phone or other hand-held digital device? Millions do. But the solution for millions of readers is simple—either use a Kindle or a Kindle-like App. So, some Apps truly do dominate the global market. Our publishing house routinely delivers all new books via the Kindle format—and Nook and iBooks and Google’s bookstore. But the dream of home-grown content-based Apps springing up from every author and publisher? It’s fleeting. Next time you’re in the App store, just try to find the cool Charles Dickens Apps that were produced for his 2012 bicentennial.

Want to hear about the decline of content-based Apps from an expert? Here’s an example of one industry veteran quoted in the Publishing Perspectives overview:

“When the iPad launched,” Dean Johnson of Bandwidth says, “the first thing we all did was purchase quality Apps delivering a visually impressive interactive experience. Why? Not because we felt a sudden urge to expand our horizons and demonstrate our literary prowess, but to fill up an empty vessel. A $600+ tablet was hard to justify if you had nothing compelling on it and in the early days most consumers didn’t really know why they needed one, just that Steve Jobs had said so. …

“Fast-forward a couple of years and familiarity hadn’t bred contempt, but it had defined the platform. Most consumers were using tablets to watch films, catch-up TV and YouTube, play games, browse social Apps and search the web. Most publishers never invested enough in design, storytelling, App development and even marketing, and you just can’t do this if you’re not fully committed.

“The days of the big paid-for App are numbered. I salute the perseverance of publishers but we stopped flogging the dead horse a few years ago—it’s the main reason we work with big brands, including automotive, fashion, film, TV and music labels.”

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Categories: Creative Connections