A Brand, A Plan, A Channel: eBooks and Mass Market

From my guest post at Digital Book World‘s blog:

A lot of the discussion about eBooks tends to frame the format in absolutist and misleading terms.

“It will destroy print.”

“It will devalue the book.”

We shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming a growing new format will upend the entire industry (remember the fear concerning audiobooks?). The format will dictate the content and this makes for one of the most exciting shifts in the industry since the rise of mass-market paperbacks.

I bring up mass-markets as an analogy and a precedent. Could you imagine pitching the concept to publishers? “It’s a smaller trim size, printed on cheap paper, and we’ll charge a third of the hardcover price. Yes, hardcovers are beautiful objects, but we think there’s a big opportunity here in treating our books as disposable commodities.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if industry pessimists back then expressed the same fears of cannibalized sales and devalued content that they do now regarding eBooks.

Mass-markets defined their own readership (at airports and supermarkets) and genres (commercial and genre fiction); you don’t see biographies or political nonfiction in this format. Of the current top 20 bestsellers on the New York Times’ Paperback Mass-Market Fiction list, 8 have never been published in hardcover (disregarding the large-print hardcovers for Snow Angels and Hot on Her Heels).

The eBook format is no different. After the digital transition, we’ll find that certain books fit an eBook audience, while others are meant for print. Personally, this year I purchased hardcovers that I would never buy as an eBook (Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice), and vice versa (Steve Knopper’s Appetite for Self-Destruction).

Read the rest here.

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