E-Book Publishers Go Delusional

Jul 29, 2010

Book publishers seem lately like a group of prep-school kids who’ve gotten into an altercation with a bunch of gang-bangers on their way home. Pepper spray versus automatic weapons. Yeesh.

An article today in the NYTimes, E-Books Fly Beyond Mere Text, tells of publishers once again revisiting the fantasy land of “multimedia”. This latest phase, as publishers move along the Five Stages Of Grief, is bargaining:

“Maybe if we provide books with a web-like experience, we can save our jobs!”

Instead of concentrating on real problems and opportunities publishers pour resources into desperate attempts to stay relevant with a bad imitation of the web.

Newsflash: Saving your job may be a great motivator but it is not a source of opportunity. (Personally, all this reminds me of the Fashion Industry circa 1988 as the last dominoes in the migration of apparel manufacturing to low wage nations began to fall with startling speed.
Google “auto workers, Detroit” for more perspective.)

Dream On

So now publishers are coming up with “enhanced” books, “amplified” books, and “enriched” books.
No, don’t get involved. Just keep walking and call 911, it’s all you can do.

In providing this web-like experience, the operative word is “like”, as in pale imitation. No book editor on earth can “clear” enough copyrighted material to remotely come close to the depth of information I can get on the web, for free, on any facet of any book.
Look, I know they’re desperate. And as a refugee from a dead industry myself, I understand. But what world are they living in?

Aren’t any of these people aware of what happened to Microsoft Encarta?

I had heard about the plans for an “amplified” book from Penguin’s Molly Barton at the Future Of Reading Conference at RIT. The crowd at the conference was largely academic, with some librarians and publishing insiders sprinkled in. Yet even an older, relatively staid audience like that knew immediately the idea was lame.

Font designer Gary Munch deadpanned, “Uh, didn’t they try that before in the nineties?”. Such was the general reaction. To top it off, Barton made a snide comment – with pride, too – about Penguin NOT hiring web savvy “kids” to work on their e-book efforts. This raised eyebrows all around, too. Looks deceive. Beware the librarians.

We publishing professionals know best, was the message. Big mistake.

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