Saturday, September 12, 2009

Night Shade Books' Jeremy Lassen on the Future of Book-Buying

As seen via The Bibliophile Stalker's Twitter: Night Shade Books' Jeremy Lassen on the Future of Book-Buying. An excerpt:

Do you think e-books are the future of science fiction publishing?

JL: The distribution mechanism for books has been broken for a long time. Books on the midlist have gone from selling 200 thousand copies 20 thousand because the distribution network doesn't get them in front of people's eyes. There is no distribution outside bookstores.

So I think ebooks are the natural successor to disposable mass market paperbacks. Mass market paperbacks are just not cost effective today. It used to be that you'd go to a grocery store and there would be an aisle of mass market paperbacks. That aisle is now cheap DVDs. Publishers just don't have access to the mass market.

What e-books share with the mass market paperback is cheapness - and their sense of intangiblity is similar to mass market paperback. What I mean is that you don't make an attachment to it as a physical object. Some people do horde mass market paperbacks, but most see them as ephemeral.

I think the mass market is going to flip on a generational basis. Everybody I talk to says "I love paper and the feel of it." I get that, but it's a generational thing. My brother consumes all his media on his computer screen on his mobile. That's where he consumes his media. He doesn't watch movies or TV either - he downloads stuff. Makes sense that he'd consume books the same way.

So how do we solve the distribution problem with e-books?

You need to grow the market for fiction by getting e-books in front of people who don't normally see books. When a kid buys Bioshock 2 on Amazon, then Amazon puts in link to Tor's new Bioshock book by John Shirley. You could see this happening in the context of movies or other pop culture stuff, too. You say find me a zombie movie, and Amazon comes back with a recommendation for some, plus here's some zombie fiction too. There are so many opportunities with the internet because you're not limited by category. You get people consuming videos or comics or movies to find novels that they would find interesting too. Which they don't find now because they're in bookstores, also known as "that store I don't go into."

Bookstores are confusing to people – they don't get the idea of authors, because movies are filed by title. Bookstores are intimidating. Amazon is great because they can buy books they know they want. You want to replicate that browsing experience in other environments, get people to stumble on the book they didn't know they wanted. There's a kid out there who didn't know there was a Bioshock novel by John Shirley and now he does.

That's where I see that recommendation engine being valuable – if it's only books leading to recommendations of other books that's reinventing the wheel. To be revolutionary, you need these books to reach a wider audience – the people who go to Amazon to buy a videogame and find a book.

How do you think people will read e-books? Kindles?

I don't think dedicated e-book readers [like the Kindle] will work. The Kindle takes all the wrong lessons from the iPod. When people want to apply lessons of digital music to e-books they aren't very smart. People desperately demanded e-music. Nobody is demanding e-books. People aren't jumping up and down to spend 400 bucks on a device to hold books. Sure there's always a niche market, but that's not enough. The Sony e-book reader? Talk about a fucking dead end. That's just not a mass market device.

Here's my wet dream e-book partner: Nintendo DSi online store. Package me up some titles and put 'em for sale on the Nintendo Store. The audience is already consuming scifi and they don't go into bookstores. Put my books for sale there and I'll be happy as a pig in shit. That's my example of going out and getting my books in front of people who wouldn't normally see them.

And that's on a generic device – not an e-book reader. These kids are already buying these devices. That's where I see future of e-books going.

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