Thursday, June 24, 2010

eBook Wars (Has Print Been Vanquished?): Guest-post by Ben Summit


The significant digital giants have donned their armor and are preparing for battle with their favorite eBook readers. Amazon boasts Kindle, Barnes and Noble claims Nook, and Apple unveiled iPad with a flourish. Now Google is wielding Editions and Borders is beginning its campaign with Kobo. The eBook wars are upon us and given the stance of the competitors involved, this could be an epic time in history. The publishing industry is changing and when the war is over, traditional publishing will never be the same. It is a very exciting time to be an author because with change comes opportunity.

I recently completed my first book, Western Chugach Alpine Guide. Last fall, as I was within striking distance of the finish, I began to research publishing options. As the leaves turned golden and quivered with anticipation of the coming frost, my discontent grew with the choices available to me as an author. My indignation rose as the first flurries of snow dusted the brilliant yellow, broad leaves of devil’s club.

After countless hours of research in the library, late nights of composition, and endless editing of my opus, it was difficult for me to believe that that the marketplace would dictate that I would receive only a tiny fraction of sales and have very little control over the appearance of my final work. I reached the apex of my disillusionment one afternoon in December at dusk, kneeling on the ice with numb fingers fumbling to attach chains to the tires of my old plow truck. It is then that I had what I call my publishing epiphany. I decided that I would take control of my destiny as an author and publish my book myself. But not in print as others had ventured before me. The pitfalls, expense, and hassles of publishing and distributing “on demand” books or negotiating cheap copies delivered on a barge from China were unappealing.

As the weak spring sun began to finally melt the snow from the trees, I took the steps to make my vision a reality and take advantage of the digital publishing revolution. I formed a publishing company, created a website, www.AlaskaeBooks.com, and transformed my manuscript into an eBook. Instead of the book wilting, as traditional print publisher propaganda prophesied, it began to blossom and flourish.

I took advantage of my complete autonomy. I kept all of the photography in color. In fact, I added more photography. And maps. And Photoshopped diagrams that overlay photos of mountain peaks. I converted my writings to PDF format and added bookmarks so that readers could instantly navigate to any section or chapter. In short, I was able to accomplish more than I had every expected. Because my book is a guidebook, adventurers have the ability to print only those pages needed for a particular hike or climb without worrying about their only copy of the book getting wet or damaged. Readers can download the entire guide or just a part of it onto a smart phone and take it with them. Hikers can compare their intended climbing route to a diagram superimposed in full color onto a photograph instead of trying to decipher vague ink blots in a fuzzy black and white photo in an old-school print guidebook.

If I happen to spot an error or desire to re-write a section, I can update my book anytime and instantly post a new version. I can take advantage of niche marketing and post a video “trailer” of my eBook. And, although I have not yet chosen to do so, I can “lock” my eBook with Digital Rights Management. Before I get carried away and digress into digital publishing minutia, I’ll wrap up by noting that digital publishing comes with a myriad of advantages. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the potential monetary return. While sales of eBooks can often run lower than traditional print sales, the rate of return is higher. Most authors consider themselves fortunate to receive 10% of the cover price of a book. As a digital publisher, I have often been able to offer authors about half of the listed cover price as a royalty rate.

As a lifelong, third-generation Alaskan, I have always been interested in promoting Alaska and my vision is to create an Alaskan digital superstore. Expanding into other Alaskan products seems natural. We are in the process of making arrangements to promote and sell an Alaskan-made film about a unique Alaskan adventure and spectacular mountain photography from experienced climbers in the Alaska Range. Other areas of expansion include interactive digital maps, trail reports, and further guidebooks. Buyers will be able to browse, shop and order online. Digital media is downloaded instantly; DVDs or high quality giclee prints are mailed to their doorsteps.

Although I am offering my book exclusively as an eBook at this time, I haven’t completely discounted expanding to Print on Demand publishing so that enthusiastic readers can still embrace that corporeal copy in their hands. I don’t want to ignore the fact that books published in physical format still dominate book sales. However, like many Alaskans I prefer the view of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” This is especially true in the ongoing crusades of the publishing industry.

Ben Summit is the author and publisher of Western Chugach Alpine Guide.

3 comments:

ARNE said...

Very nice website, Ben. An ebook person myself, http://home.gci.net/~bue/index, I liked everything you had to say about this revolution. Do you mind if I link to your site from my site, so others might find you? Please have a good day.
ARNE

Ben Summit said...

Thanks, Arne. Sure, feel free to link.

Michelle said...

Great Post. Very well thought out and I loved all the imagery!