BookExpo finally welcomes e-books

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NEW YORK -- The technological elephant is finally welcome in the living room of the American publishing industry.

As the trade show BookExpo America revved up its new abbreviated version here Tuesday, the digital publishing industry was given a prominent place at the annual gathering of one of the country's most traditional businesses -- the ink and paper world of book publishing. On Tuesday's agenda was the International Digital Publishers Forum. Monday was devoted to the emerging do-it-yourself online book market.

"The first wave of technology is here and the pace of change is accelerating," said Jonathan Galassi, head of the old-school publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He moderated a morning panel of seven people representing publishers, booksellers, agents and authors called "The Value of the Book."

"Publishers and writers must work together to exploit this new media."

He meant the electronic book reader, from the Kindle to the Sony Reader to the Apple iPad, devices that allow owners to buy digital texts via the Internet, then display these e-books in a readable format. Mr. Galassi estimated that about 10 percent of books sold now are in digital form.

Speaking for independent booksellers was Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, a co-sponsor of BEA. The independents' number has been shrinking for nearly 25 years in the face of superstore chains and online sellers such as Amazon, owner of the Kindle.

Mr. Teicher urged the panel to "forget about format and focus on content that meets the customers' needs. Booksellers need to be "format neutral," offering both print and digital copies of books.

"Print books are still 90 percent of the market, so don't expect the e-book to bring savings yet," cautioned David Shanks, CEO of Penguin Books. We still need warehouses and trucks and somebody to turn on the lights. "Certainly, there will be savings down the road, but not very soon."

E-books are not necessarily a good thing, especially for authors, charged Scott Turow, representing the "content providers" and whose new novel, "Innocent," is a best-seller. Mr. Turow was primarily worried about shrinking incomes for writers, both from digital piracy of the books to the lower prices charged for e-books, meaning smaller royalties. For example, an author can expect 50 percent of the price in royalties from hardcover sales, but e-books are promising 25 percent.

"If we are interested in preserving our robust literary culture, authors need to be paid," said Mr. Turow. He also questioned the business decision to offer a hardcover and digital version of a book at the same time.

"Why do both [for a new book] when it has an impact on the price?" he asked, suggesting that e-books eventually would wipe out the paperback market based on their low price.

He called e-book users members of the "flying class who can't wait to turn their toys on."

Mr. Galassi agreed with Turow. "It was a mistake to ever let Amazon put e-books out simultaneously and charge the price that they did. All of a sudden all editions are happening at the same time effectively. I think it's going to have a negative effect on the paperback editions."

Others, like Skip Prichard, CEO of major book distributor Ingram, were more optimistic. "Books are in a cloud that can move from device to device depending on their content," he said. "These different formats can be used very effectively" for example for reference volumes or even cookbooks where videos can supplement the text.

Regardless of the format, major publishers are set to roll out a full slate of old-fashioned novels for the fall. Editors from four mainstream houses unveiled their hopes for best-sellers at a forum sponsored by Library Journal. Among the candidates:

"The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking, called his "ultimate book" by Ballantine Bantam Dell's Jennifer Hershey, "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand, author of "Seabiscuit," "I'd Know You Anywhere" by Laura Lippman and "Adam and Eve" by Sena Jeter Naslund, both HarperCollins.

Two novels getting major buzz here Tuesday were "The Passage" by Justin Cronin, a dystopian thriller, and "Juliet" by Anne Fortier, a modern version of "Romeo and Juliet."


Bob Hoover: 412-263-1634 or bhoover@post-gazette.com .


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