Articles tagged with: ebooks
Posted by Kate on Sep 24, 2012
At the weekend, I read this blog post by a reader who finds books on her Kindle less compelling than printed books… so she finds she has a lot of unread stuff on her Kindle as she’s distracted by the print titles she has to hand.
I rather hesitate to admit it, but I think that perhaps I feel the same. Regular readers of this blog may vaguely remember a blog post I wrote in summer 2011. It was really about Frances Spufford’s engaging and clever book, The Child That Books Built, but the post was illustrated with a photograph of the 33 print books (and we had two Kindles and an iPad too) that we had, as a family of four, taken on holiday. That holiday, I read a lot.
But this year when we went on holiday, while the children did bring print books, Adrian and I brought a single paperback each and a Kindle each. The result? We read for pleasure much, much less (and we worked much more) than we had the previous year. Somehow, not having the shelf of books catching your eye in the holiday cottage made reading for pleasure less of a temptation. And we hadn’t gone through that process of selecting and buying books especially for the holiday: we’d chosen the cottage in part because it had Wi-Fi so we knew that we could download anything to the Kindle whenever we wanted to. But somehow, we never did want to: there was always an email to answer or a blog-post to write or an article or manuscript to read (of course, reading manuscripts is reading too, but it’s not reading for pleasure). I hadn’t sort of committed to any books before I left for the holiday, and that meant I read less.
In the course of the holiday, I started a couple of ebooks, but I have to admit that the only book I finished was the print one, which was Thinking Fast and Slow as it happens. It’s actually a good example of the kind of book I’d only buy in print form. I have had bad experiences of buying the kind of books that require tables and diagrams or pictures or columns (as Thinking Fast and Slow does) in ebook form, and now I never take the risk: it annoys and baffles me that publishers make available ebook versions of books as varied as Guy Deutcher’s The Unfolding of Language or Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s Down With Skool that are, in parts at least, unreadable. Sorry – tangential grouch over.
I don’t dislike reading ebooks, and there are places – public transport, for example – when I really only read books now on my phone or my Kindle. And of course I understand – and speak publicly about – all the advantages of ereading, But I don’t seem to find ebooks as tempting as print books. Is it just because I can’t see them? But I am “tempted” equally by chocolate “hidden” in the fridge and chocolate on my desk, so I don’t think it can be that simple.
You may, rightly, think that I am knocking on a bit, so I might be struggling to adjust to reading ebooks. I don’t think that’s the issue. But, in any event, I asked my elder child, who’s 13 and who has a Kindle (she got one for Christmas 2011: she really wanted one), why she preferred to read print books rather than ebooks (and she manifestly does). She said, “I don’t feel that ebooks are ‘mine’ in the same way that print books are: reading ebooks is like having a library card with Amazon. I read before I go to sleep and I put the (print) book under my pillow, but I’d be worried about crushing the Kindle if I did that to the Kindle. I like seeing how books are presented – what the jackets are like – particularly through time. For example, I like comparing my Folio edition of Bleak House with the paperback I have. Then there are books that you can’t get in ebook form at all, like The Gruffalo. And you can’t browse in Amazon like you can browse in a bookshop.” I asked if she ever thought that she might see a book in print form in a book shop and then order it on Amazon. She wasn’t aware that she could do this, but she didn’t seem gripped by the idea.
I’m aware that it’s odd that a strong advocate for reading digitally (particularly enabling children to have compelling reading experiences on tablet devices), should be a bit draggy-feet-y when it comes to ereading myself, but the Fluttering Butterflies blog post about the draw of print books relative to the draw of ebooks did chime with me, so I thought I would be honest.
This is my experience. What’s yours?
Posted by Kate on Jul 31, 2012
Social media: does it work?
Does it mean we can all be publishers now?
Or does it mean the complete opposite?
What are we to make of the vertiginous new environment of publishing? It’s difficult enough to analyse the impact of change when it happens one factor at a time. When you’ve got change on almost every possible level – technology, platform, market, producers, suppliers – it begins to resemble a biological system. And as a former biochemist I can tell you: natural systems are hideously difficult to understand or predict.
Let’s take a relatively simple hypothesis: the increased importance of social media will mean that publishers need no longer spend any time or money on offline or print marketing.
Ewan Morrison’s recent article in The Guardian rather calls time on the importance of offline promotion for publishing via this quotation:
“At the Hay festival last month, I heard Scott Pack – self-described ‘blogger, publisher and author of moderately successful toilet books’ – declare that mainstream media, papers and TV ‘no longer function in selling books’; that the net is now the only way for authors to – you’ve heard it before – ‘build a platform’.”
It’s not quite the message you hear elsewhere, which is that online promotion is at least an order of magnitude less effective than offline.
But ultimately these are comparisons between apples and oranges. Both methodologies can be effective. A poorly executed offline campaign may appear to result in fewer sales than a brilliantly executed online campaign. And anyway, who is tracking the sales? And how?
As LouieStowell tweeted me: “My issue is how to get stats about buying behaviour…”
Earlier this year I had a go at self-publishing. My series of thrillers for teens, The Joshua Files (originally commissioned for Scholastic Children’s Books UK when Kate Wilson was Group M.D. there), had come to a conclusion. But one story remained untold: the unpublished manuscript which gave me the idea for the entire series. It was a hard-sciencey technothriller for a different market – not one my publisher sells into. So I asked a former Joshua Files editor to work on it with me, hired a young designer (Gareth Stranks) and published The Descendant. As much as anything, I wanted the chance to have some actual sales and marketing data, even if it was from just one project. On my blog, I described our entire publishing process and have started sharing the results.
With that experience behind me, I found Morrison’s article struck many familiar chords.
At first reading, I’d agree that social media doesn’t work for self-epublishers anymore. In fact most of the online initiatives we tried for The Descendant didn’t do much. The book only began to move once we did an Amazon free promotion. Since then it is usually in the top 20,000, often in the top 10,000, and perhaps tellingly, has been my best-selling book on Amazon since then (about 6 weeks ago).
You could draw the simplistic conclusion that NOTHING worked expect the giveaway.
However, the answer is more complex. The giveaway was definitely successful because of the widespread retweeting of my (annoyingly?) frequent tweets about the promotion. For which, heartfelt thanks to about a dozen fellow authors and readers.
So giving ebooks away can work – but you’ll probably rely on social media to make it happen.
In addition, before we did the giveaway we prepared the landscape. There was a website, a video trailer, an Alternate Reality Game (it pre-existed publication, having been used to promote The Joshua Files), a handful of five-star reviews on Amazon. Individually, none of these factors led to any kind of spike in sales. Collectively however, it would be tough to deny that they had a positive influence.
From my sample of one project, the evidence suggests that social media DID help. But as a final layer on top of a LOT of basic marketing groundwork.
However, so far I’ve sold only about 600 books – almost all in the week following the giveaway. It’s going to take a lot more to cover the cost of publication. Compared to the majority of self-published “unknown” authors, I have a strong platform. If sales continue at the current rate I’ll break even in about six months. And it ain’t a living.
So… does that mean that Ewan Morrison is right?
Sam Missingham (samatlounge) tweeted: “Quite irritated by MrEwanMorrison piece … don’t get why crap social media results = end of self pub bubble.”
My own impression is that his conclusions drawn are understandable. For any individual author entering into the arena, having a less-than-stellar experience. self-publishing looks like a bubble. You try it once, it doesn’t work, you leave well alone and return to your day job or go back to a traditional publisher.
No. If business worked that way then here are a bunch of business activities that would have dried up long ago.
1. Multi-level marketing. Hello AMWAY! Hands up if you have a friend who forked out a grand or so on a bunch of garbage to sell to neighbours… Granted, it isn’t as profitable as it used to be but somewhere, even now, there will be a seminar on how to make a million selling household cleaning devices and persuading your friends to do the same.
2. Business coaching. If these seminars by people like Tony Robbins etc were as transformative as they purport to be, all their alumni would now be rich/happy/fit. Mainly, they aren’t. Yet the word hasn’t got out. The ‘coaching bubble’ has yet to burst.
3. Crime. A fair proportion of criminals end up in jail. Many of them re-offend. Why doesn’t the ‘crime bubble’ burst?
4. Publishing! Guess how many new authors are as successful as JK Rowling? (none) Guess how much this puts them off writing? (hardly at all) Why doesn’t the ‘publishing bubble’ burst?
The world is full of optimists, people willing to try something new, hoping for the best. When ‘the best’ isn’t the outcome, what do they do? Well they generally don’t boast about it. They go away, or quietly adjust to whatever level of success they’ve achieved.
But when someone hits the jackpot, everybody hears about it.
New technology platforms have made it technically possible for self-publishers to get their words out. But marketing still takes money and connections. Publishers have them and most self-publishers don’t. In fact, far from competing with traditional publishers, self-publishers are helping them! Would E.L. James have made so many millions without the muscle of trade publishing, distribution and a forceful publicity machine? No. Yet neither would the publisher have been in anything like such a strong position to pump up the platform had one not already existed.
The self-publishing bubble won’t burst, because it is founded on three strong pillars: money (for Amazon et al); opportunity for money (traditional publishers just found a terrific new way to spot talent); and hope.
The most important of these is hope. Hope is what drives people. Things have to get very bad before you kill hope. The consequences of failure need to be terrifying before people won’t risk a punt. And one punt is all that Amazon et al need.
One punt, per person. You know, the new ‘sucker’ that PT Barnum claims ‘is born every minute’.
I might even try twice; I’m that much of an optimist.
Posted by Tom on Jun 08, 2012
The excellent Joan Ganz Cooney Center has published an interesting paper titled Print Books vs. E-books: Comparing parent-child co-reading on print, basic, and enhanced e-book platforms. It’s well worth reading – it’s thoughtful, focused and balanced – and the only thing I even remotely object to in the entire paper is the first half of the title, “Print Books vs. E-Books” (on which more in a moment).
As is the way with such things, though, the coverage that it has received has been – to me, at least – disappointing. Fans of Ben Goldacre will know to be wary of mainstream press coverage given to academic papers: it has a tendency to over-simplify and over-state the case being made. Let us turn, then, to The Guardian’s piece on the paper in question, headlined “Enhanced ebooks are bad for children finds American study”. The first sentence of the story is as follows: “All-singing, all-dancing ebook versions of children’s stories might encourage kids to pick up a book, but they don’t help with literacy, according to a new study.”
There are several problems with this headline and opening paragraph. I won’t talk for long about the main problem with the headline – which is that such a claim (specifically, that ebooks are “bad” for children) is not to be found anywhere in the paper itself – because it was probably written by a subeditor, rather than the author of the story, though this not an auspicious start.
I have larger objections to that first sentence, which contains so many false impressions I don’t really know where to begin. Let’s do it one clause at a time.
“All-singing, all-dancing ebook versions” is certainly an eye-catching way to begin a story, but what it doesn’t say – and what The Guardian neglect to mention elsewhere in their coverage – is that the study only looked at two e-book titles, which, in the words of its own authors, Cynthia Chiong, Jinny Ree, Lori Takeuchi, and Ingrid Erickson, “limits the generalizability of its findings”.
Moving on to the second half of that clause, we find “might encourage kids to pick up a book”. Again, what this doesn’t say (though this caveat is eventually partially acknowledged) is that the study only involved the children of 32 sets of parents, recruited from the same location (the New York Hall of Science) and broadly belonging to the same demographic (“a majority of participants were white and of middle or high socio-economic status”), and so could hardly be said to be representative of children in general (a fact which is also pointed to by the paper’s authors, in the “Limitations” section).
And finally, we have “they don’t help with literacy, according to a new study”. Again, this assertion is not to be found anywhere in the paper itself.
Chiong, Ree, Takeuchi and Erickson lay out three very straightforward research questions at the start of their paper:
1) What is the nature of parent-child and child-book interactions when reading each of the three formats?
2) How does child engagement with the story vary across the three formats?
3) How does child comprehension of the story vary across the three formats?
The three formats are print, basic e-book, and enhanced e-book, and you will notice that none of these questions are, “Do all-singing, all-dancing ebooks help with literacy?” or “Are enhanced e-books bad for America?” The study does note that “children who read enhanced e-books recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story”, but one cannot reasonably conclude from this that enhanced e-books have no value at all, or – even more absurdly – that they are actively bad for children.
In its summary of key findings, the study makes two recommendations, and I agree with both whole-heartedly.
Firstly, it advises that designers of enhanced e-books ought to “exercise caution when adding features to enhanced e-books, especially when those features do not directly relate to the story.” We at Nosy Crow don’t make enhanced e-books, but we follow the same principle devoutly in the creation of our apps. We don’t believe in interactive features which have been tacked-on thoughtlessly or for no purpose other because they can be: we think that interactivity should always be advancing the story or drawing a child further into the narrative. Our Cinderella app is a story about hard work, so you can help Cinderella do the chores. It’s about appearance, so we invited children in by using the front-facing camera as a mirror. And it’s about magic, so we enabled the child to make the transformations happen.
Secondly, the study makes the suggestion to parents that “enhanced ebooks may be valued for their ability to prompt less motivated young readers toward engagement when they might otherwise avoid text altogether”. This is a really important point, and one that chimes with our thinking in several ways. We enthusiastically believe in finding ways of encouraging reading for pleasure, however that might take place – whether it’s on an iPad screen or with a print book. And we don’t believe that enhanced ebooks – or apps, for that matter – are in any way a “substitute” for the experience of reading by traditional means. This is where my own thinking diverges very slightly from that of the authors of this paper: I don’t agree with the notion that print books and enhanced ebooks are in competition with one another. When a child picks up an iPad to read Cinderella or The Three Little Pigs, our app isn’t competing with a print book for that child’s attention, it’s competing with every other source of media available on the iPad: browsing the web, watching a movie, listening to music, playing games. Reading a physical picture book and using an app are fundamentally different experiences.
Of course, I can’t defend every enhanced e-book (or book app) that’s available as having the same literacy value, because some aren’t as good as others – but that’s really no different to some books being less well-written or illustrated than others.
The full paper (which is only five pages) makes excellent reading over a cup of tea. What are your thoughts?
Posted by Kate on Nov 23, 2011
I had a bit of a dust-up in Brazil with a well-known Argentinian writer, Alberto Manguel, who is the strongest possible advocate of print over digital reading.
My views have also been contrasted with those of Julia Donaldson, another strong defender of the primacy of print.
These are just two of many, many instances when I, or others of us at Nosy Crow, have defended digital, as opposed to print, reading for children.
So we were interested to see this article in the New York Times last weekend which suggests that adults who have discarded print in favour of their Kindles or Nooks still prefer traditional print books for their children.
We don’t see the choice between digital and print reading as an either/or scenario. Instead, we think that some reading experiences suit the page, while others are right for digital devices.
We aren’t very interested in creating digital reading experiences that are simply squashing an existing illustrated book onto a phone or a tablet.
Like some of the parents in the article, we agree that there is something special about paper – the touch and feel of it, the heft and three-dimensionality of it, and the size of the page – that means that reading a picture book, or a pop-up book, a lift-the-flap or a touch-and-feel book is a great experience. And there are many print picture books, pop-up books, lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel books in our existing and forthcoming book publishing plans
But we are also very aware that children spend increasing amounts of time using screens. We would like some of the time that they spend using those screens to be reading time. But that means, I think, that the reading experience we offer on screen needs to be as multimedia and interactive as the gaming experiences they will encounter in the same space.
What we want to avoid is creating disappointing screen-based reading experiences for children whose expectations of the interactivity of a screen-based device are formed very early, as the maker of this video showing a French baby who seems to think that a magazine is a broken iPad suggests. (The guy who posted the video was a Skype guest at Dust or Magic and he said that his child does not mistake children’s books for broken iPads.)
I take our responsibility as people with decades – in my case 25 years – of experience of telling stories on paper very seriously. I think that we should be bringing that experience – and adapting it and building on it too, of course, as we learn new skills and bring new skills, such as games devising and programming skills into publishing – to screen-based story-telling. If we don’t create really engaging reading experiences for children who will spend increasing amounts of their leisure time on screen, I think we are failing them.
And it’s that wish to create really engaging, multimedia, interactive iPad experiences that are also, crucially, reading experiences, that is behind apps such as The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella.
But what do you think?
Posted by Kate on Jun 10, 2011
On Tuesday it was announced that Julia Donaldson is the UK’s new Children’s Laureate.
Julia writes fiction for older children (The Princess Mirror-belle books, The Giants and the Joneses and Dinosaur Diary) and has written a dark and challenging novel for teenagers (Running on the Cracks), but she is best known for her rhyming (though not always rhyming: The Smartest Giant doesn’t rhyme except at the end) picture book texts, of which the best known is The Gruffalo, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, who has been the illustrator of her most successful picture books.
I felt, vicariously, very proud: I’ve been responsible for publishing over twenty of Julia’s books over the years. I first got to know Julia’s work in the early 1990s. She sent the lyrics of a song to Methuen (which has been absorbed into Egmont) where I was working as a rights director. An editor there, Elke Lacey, liked it. I suggested that a friend, who I’d met when he was illustrating a couple of fiction titles for Faber and Faber when I was selling rights there, might be the man to do the pictures. He was Axel Scheffler. The book was A Squash and a Squeeze. Elke was a fiction editor, and hadn’t worked on picture books and she and I worked on A Squash and a Squeeze together. But then she got ill and died, ridiculously young, just before the book was published.
A little later, I moved to Macmillan as a publisher, and Alison Green came with me as editorial director of picture books. One day soon after we’d started, Julia sent Axel the text of The Gruffalo, and, we decided to publish it. It was the resumption of what became a truly astonishingly successful partnership, though Julia’s texts were also wonderfully illustrated by other illustrators including Nick Sharratt, Julia Monks and David Roberts. After ten years, Alison and I moved to Scholastic, and Axel and Julia’s new books were published under the Alison Green Books imprint there, though Julia continued to publish other picture books with Macmillan and has had some books published by other publishers too. The first of several Scholastic Julia-and-Axel books was Tiddler, and the most recent one, The Highway Rat, comes out this autumn.
Julia is many things. She has a command of the combination of rhyme and story that is unparalleled, and that she produces excellent book after excellent book is breathtaking. She’s passionate about her work and a true perfectionist. She’s an absolutely brilliant and indefatigable performer with as much of an affinity with music (she introduced me to this, which is one of the many reasons I am eternally grateful to her) and drama as she has with words. She’s honest, outspoken (even if it’s sometimes about subjects on which we don’t entirely agree!) and approachable. She is, quite properly, famous.
I think Julia will be a highly-visible and committed advocate for reading, for printed books and – at this time of real need – for libraries, and, I am sure, for other things too, as her Laureateship evolves. She’ll be great.
Posted by Kate on Jun 07, 2011
Last week (ahem – apologies, but life has got in the way of this post) we published two great new novels in print and ebook formats.
The first is Olivia’s First Term by Lyn Gardner, theatre critic for The Guardian newspaper. This is Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers meets Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes with a bit of Pamela Brown’s The Swish of the Curtain thrown in for deliciously good measure. It’s about friendship, family and performing, and its target audience is girls of 9+.
The Stage says it is “hugely enjoyable”.
Parents in Touch says it’s “the first in a very promising new series from Nosy Crow – a relatively new publisher. I can see the series being an instant hit with girls, who will love the thought of the glamour of stage school – or is it glamorous?”
The School Run says “Girls will love this book, it is a great story, with many messages within the story about friendship… I am sure this series could become as popular as Enid Blytons Malory towers and St Clare’s series! I for one am looking forward to the next in the series to be released.”
The second is Perfectly Reflected by S C Ransom, and is the sequel to Small Blue Thing. A paranormal romance for young teens and pre-teens with an iconic London setting – the focus of the action is the River Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral, it’s about teenage schoolgirl Alex, and her battle with the evil Catherine, who has managed to cross over to our world from the world of the ghostly Dirges, who are doomed to steal the happiness of others in order to survive. Catherine has a grudge, and is determined to make Alex’s life misterable, and what better way to do that than to keep Alex apart from Callum, who is trapped in the world of the Dirges? You can find out more about the books on the series website.
Networked Blogs says, “If Small Blue Thing was a paranormal romance, Perfectly Reflected is a paranormal thriller … There’s always a worry that the second of a series may not live up to the expectations created by the first – happily this is not the case here and the twists and turns will keep you hooked to the last page.”
Congratulations to Lyn Gardner and S C Ransom on publication!
These books bring our total number of print/ebook publications to (drumroll) 12.