Three Questions: Part Four

Here is the fourth reply I received while researching an article about electronic publishing. These thoughtful replies come from Laurie Hertzel, Senior Book Editor at the Star Tribune.

1) Do you see electronic books and print books ultimately co-habituating peacefully together in the marketplace, each with their particular consumer base? If so, how do you see the market's share of readers being sliced up in, say, ten years from now?

Gosh, I hope so. The consumer bases already seem to be forming, don’t you think? Those who love the ease of an e-reader, and those who find only a codex book to be satisfying? I wish I could predict how the market share will divide, but I am not sure; the e-book, I suspect, will continue to grow in popularity, but I’m hoping it’s not too much to the detriment of physical books. It’s a tough question to answer because try as I might I cannot be purely objective about it. I love books. I do not love my e-reader.

2) A physical book already seems like a perfect technology to me. Why do you think so many readers have embraced reading long novels on electronic platforms when their days (and nights) are already dominated by electronic devices such as iPads, laptops, cell phones, etc.?

Habit, perhaps. We get so used to looking at screens we feel like we ought to always be looking at screens. They are addictive, in their own glowing way.

To me, the convenience of e-readers begins and nearly ends with purchase: It’s so easy to buy books this way. Reading them, I find, is not so simple. I wrote a blog post about this not too long ago, which drew a lot of comments from sensible-sounding people who took me to task for being a stubborn Luddite. They had a lot of reasons for liking their e-readers: they liked the ability to blow up the type size, to carry an entire library with them in one slim device, and to feel “green” because they’re not using paper. I also know people who prefer e-readers for their “guilty pleasure” reading—light stuff that they will never want to read again and don’t want to keep. They download the book, read it, and then delete it. They’re not mucking up their house with stacks of paperbacks they’ll never look at again.

Another person commented that they like the fact that—because of some program or app she owns—the book she’s reading will appear on whichever one of her devices that she has handy: tablet, ereader, or phone.

I have found my e-reader (a first generation Kindle) is fine for reading light-ish fiction (I read “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” on my Kindle, as well as a couple of older books by Stewart O’Nan). Anything that requires me to flip back and forth, check an index, make notes, highlight passages, etc., though, doesn’t work for me on an e-reader. I’m not that adept and probably never will be.

3) How much power do you think marketing departments in traditional main stream publishing houses have over what books (and the authors behind them) rise and fall in the marketplace? A jaded mid-list author might feel that even fiction books are now being set up to either suceed or fail from the moment their initial print run is decided, especially in the bigger publishing houses.

Wow, I am not sure about this. Certainly you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in a publishing house’s marketing department who didn’t want all of their books to succeed. But certainly they have limited budget—now more than ever—and have to choose which books they get behind. I think it’s long been the case that the big blockbuster money-makers may not be their *finest* works but bring in enough money to pay for more literary stuff that might work at a deficit. So I can see the logic in putting money behind the books that they think will do that.

It’s really up to bookstores and book critics and literary editors to make sure that worthy, smaller books get some kind of ink, too. That’s why it’s crucial that jobs like mine don’t go away. And I am waiting for the day when book bloggers start digging a little deeper into the stacks of ARCS than the stuff that everybody else is already writing about.


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