Last month, the head of one of the world’s biggest publishers, spoke to the media about e-books. Whilst I would usually celebrate anything from the book world making the media, I remember being quite flabbergasted by what I had read in said article. I am sure a lot of people read the article in question – it had quite a lot of shares on social media at the time! The comment which left a lot of people, including myself, reeling, was the quote ‘e-books are stupid’. Pardon? I am fully aware that people prefer one format over another, after all, we cannot all like the same things. Some readers may prefer to read hardbacks or paperbacks instead of reading e-books, or visa versa. Personally, I don’t see the problem with that, I am just thankful that we actually have a choice. Think about it – many years ago, the only type of book which could be purchased was a tree book. Digital books weren’t around then, nor were a lot of authors many people have come to love. Fast forward to now, there are a lot of authors being published by digital only publishers, giving readers a lot more choice when it comes to choosing their next book. There are also a lot of books being published in multiple formats, sometimes all three (hardback, paperback and e-book)!
So, what is the problem? That’s a good question. In the article published by the Guardian, the head of a publishing company stated that he wasn’t against e-books, but believes that publishers and editors aren’t making the most of 3D and digitalisation, despite claiming that ‘ebooks are stupid’. The article rubbed several people up the wrong way, including Publishing Director of BloodHound Books, Betsy Reavley. I sat down with Betsy to find out why the article left a horrible taste in her mouth;
TWG – Hi Betsy! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. I understand you’re exceptionally busy! Before we get to the nitty gritty reason as to why you’re joining me today, could you please introduce yourself, what it is you do, as well as how long you’ve been involved in the sector for?
I started my journey as a writer. Twelve years ago I began writing my first novel. Six years later, when I finally completed it, I was lucky enough to have picked up by an Independent publisher. At the time I had an eighteen-month- old daughter. I knew then that I wanted to be involved with the industry. In 2013 eBooks were still quite a new phenomenon and my husband and I saw an opportunity to start a business we both felt passionate about.
TWG – If I said the word, ‘e-book’ to you, what does that word mean for you on a personal level, not on a professional level?
EBook to me means career. Without eBooks, and the independent publisher who signed my first novel, I would never have ended up on this path. I love my job and the people I work with. I am grateful for this every single day.
TWG – It has been very well documented that a chief executive from one of the world’s largest publishing companies, has stated; ’e-books are stupid’. In his discussion that has recently been published on The Guardian website, the chief executive also states that ‘e-books have no creativity’ and ‘no real digital experience’. As the head of a publishing company, which focuses on e-book sales, could you tell me what you thought of those comments? What would you respond to the claims which he has made?
Having read the article you are referring to, I can just about see the point he was trying to make. Yes, eBooks could be more interactive but I personally don’t see the benefit or need for this. An eBook is just the same as a print book but in digital form. My feeling is that there is room in this world for both and it is no bad thing that they are similar.
The ease of access and pricing of eBooks has made reading much more accessible for many readers who, otherwise, might not be reading at all. This is something that should be celebrated. I get sick and tired of the ‘us and them’ attitude that exists between traditional and indie publishers. As far as I am concerned, neither of these formats undermines the other, so I cannot see where the issue lies. Not only that, but Independent publishers, such as Bloodhound, have sprung up as a result of this revolution, which means more authors are getting published and writers have the opportunity to publish themselves if they wish.
TWG – Further down the discussion with The Guardian, said chief executive goes on to explain how publishing companies don’t have the skills to create 3D, digital content regarding manuscripts. On a professional level, how important is ‘3D’ content when it comes to the e-books you publish?
At the moment, 3D content is not a priority for us but as a young company that has benefited from new technology, we will certainly try and keep up with the trends as and when they change.
TWG – If books became more enhanced and digital on e-readers, do you think the format may end up suffering overall?
It is difficult to say. As a business, if Bloodhound Books wants to survive, we will need to keep up with the latest in technology. There is no point fighting progress. It makes far more sense to embrace it. In my opinion, this is something some traditional publishers are failing to do.
TWG – More often than none, I see a lot of discussions on social media regarding e-books versus paperback, with some readers feeling as though ‘e-books are not real books’. Even though everyone is entitled to their opinion, what is your response to those beliefs? Are e-books any less real compared to a ‘tree book’?
I am going to answer this question as a writer, rather than a publisher, if that’s ok! As a writer I wanted nothing more than to hold a copy of my book in my hands. However, I also wanted to make a living and put food on the table. EBooks have allowed me to do this. The money that goes into my bank account is the same currency whether I sell a paperback or an eBook and I make far more from eBook sales than paper books. If someone gave you ten pounds cash or transferred ten pounds into your bank account, what is the difference? I apply this logic to the argument that eBooks are not real. They are as real as the money that shows up in your bank account. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with people having a preference of one over the other. Each to their own.
TWG – Could you give us a bit more information regarding e-books and how they’re published, in comparison to tree books? For example, the costs involved in producing both, the time frame, how it is done, and so on.
With print on demand it is as easy to produce paperbacks, as it is eBooks, especially for Indie publishers. Not having to pay out for large print runs means that as a company we are taking less risk with our spending and have extra cash to inject into marketing, which is vital to our growth and survival.
TWG – Another big issue regarding e-books and paperbacks is the price. Whilst I personally appreciate that cost is a big issue for a lot of readers, do you feel that e-books and paperbacks are vastly overpriced?
This is a tricky one. Big name authors, who have publishing deals with one of the big five
publishers, will always be able to sell their books at a higher price because they know the fans will pay. Having said that I do think most eBook readers have an issue with expensive eBooks, no matter who the author is. At the same time, unknown authors stand a chance of being read because they charge less for their books, which means readers are more likely to give them a shot. Readers feel less cheated if
they have tried a new author and paid only 99p. It is common sense.
TWG – As an executive of a publishing company yourself, how does the pricing affect your company? I know that sounds like an extremely simple question, but do you find that 99p books sell easier than say, an e-book, which is priced at 1.99? Which do you sell more of?
The vast majority of our books are launched at 99p, whether the author is a debut or has had previous titles published. In our experience, this allows the book to climb the charts and gain exposure as a result. The majority of our profit is made when the price of the book goes up to £1.99, even though the novel may sell fewer copies at this price.
TWG – Do you believe, on a personal AND a professional level, that the book industry is moving with the times, accommodating all different types of readers and their needs? Or do you feel, just like said chief executive on The Guardian, that e-books are limited and lacking?
If eBooks are lacking in some way then so are their predecessors, paper books. Since eBooks are digital copies of paper books it seems ludicrous to suggest one is a lesser version. I think the introduction of eBooks has proved that the industry is able to change and move with the times, even though some may disagree. The Internet has revolutionized how we do so much, from watching films to looking at maps. No doubt the industry will change again at some stage and we will all need to adapt when that happens. I believe the key is to go with the tide and not against it if you have the best intentions for your authors and want to sustain a successful business.
I would like to thank owner of BloodHound Books, Betsy Reavley, for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions from a digital publisher point of view. The e-book VS paperback debate will no doubt continue, with a lot of readers being adamant that e-books are not ‘real books’. Yes, people have a preference over the format of books they read, but should we be insulting other people over the format which they choose to read? No, we shouldn’t. In my eyes, as long as people are reading, I couldn’t give a monkeys which format it is in. Would I say that one format is stupid? No, no I wouldn’t.
We would love to hear your thoughts on the above, so please do get in touch.