“The Center of the Universe”

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: News, On Publishing

Whatever your view of e-books, they seem to be gaining more traction with each passing day. Among the latest: according to former HarperCollins president and chief executive Jane Friedman, electronic books are “going to be the center of the universe,” as she told the NY Times. She has recently formed a new company, with Jeffrey Sharp, that will “republish old titles by big-name authors including William Styron, Iris Murdoch and Pat Conroy in electronic form.”

The Times notes that the company, Open Road Integrated Media, “plans to push a torrent of online marketing on new readers in the hopes of reigniting the backlists of well-known authors in the digital world.” In addition to the authors above, Friedman also has the rights to publish Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and is working on obtaining rights to several of the late Michael Crichton’s books.

Despite much of the outcry against e-publishing, at least one literary agent (Pat Conroy’s agent, Marly Rusoff) pointed out that “Republishing is an art and takes a lot of energy,” and is glad to see this energy devoted to an author’s backlist, which generally doesn’t get as much attention from traditional publishers that are more focused on an author’s current book. In addition, while a simple reissue of an older book doesn’t usually get much attention,  Friedman is planning a “torrent of online marketing” as she reissues old titles in e-formats.

It’s great to see some new thinking that will keep people interested in and buying books — especially after learning that book sales are down this fall, despite the season’s big-name titles and the massive marketing campaigns. Publishers are finally noticing that it’s not such a bad thing to offer more options (particularly more cost-effective ones) in today’s economy. Hyperion publisher Ellen Archer told the Times that the season’s releases “are all great books, but they are all hardcover books…How many hardcover purchases can one person make given these difficult times?”

This article in the Pacific Northwest Inlander — which, on a sadder note, is about the closing of EWU Press — mentions a study showing that while 80 percent of Americans after high school never read a book to completion, more than 40 percent of people with college degrees never pick up another book after graduating. Will this change if the books are in more portable or interactive formats? I look forward to finding out…

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