by Sue Painter
I remember how it felt in my hands before I even opened it – sharp edges to the paper, a crisp clean feel, a brand-new smell. I couldn’t even read words yet, but when I hesitantly opened that small book, I fell head over heels for the words I didn’t yet know how to read.
Somehow, I instantly knew that books would take me places I never dreamed even existed. And I knew that one day I too would become a master of the secret language of words.
By the time my aunt sat down to read Tootle the Train to me, I would barely let go of it, insisting that I sit close by, hold it open and one by one, turn the pages. After all, it was MY book.
Golden Books began an entirely new trend in book publishing. The Little Golden Books series were high quality, a first in children’s publishing. I’d bet that if you don’t have a few of them around, your mother does. The things lasted forever – I still had Tootle the Train somewhere on my bookshelf when I left home for college! The illustrations were rich in detail and designed specifically for kids. The great success of Golden Books came from two things: 1) their price point and 2) how they were marketed.
Along with pushing their children’s books through traditional bookstores, the Golden Book’s publisher also sold them through department stores and other non-traditional retail establishments. This was a brilliant marketing idea: sell the books where the customers are. After all, children went into general stores with their parents a lot more than they went into bookstores.
So a few years ago, when digital publishing was just gaining steam (just like Tootle the Train), e-readers came out, and three of my favorite indie book stores had closed, I was pretty alarmed. By now, I’d blissfully opened thousands of brand new books for the very first time, for me, something akin to opening a new box of fine chocolates.
I felt reverence and gratefulness for every book I traveled through. I had taught myself to read by studying the captions under Life Magazine’s fabulous pictures. At the tender age of seven I had read every children’s book in the public library and had to get a note from my mom to start checking out “adult books.”
Books gave me an education and a feel for the world far more than my formal education ever did. Like many people, I was a book lover and a hard core one at that. And I was in distress. My beloved bookstores were closing. Some of my favorite magazines were going out of print. People were walking around with a cold, hard, gray device that felt and smelled nothing like a book.
I swore I could never turn into an e-book reader. I was sure my eyes would go awry. I was completely convinced digital publications would take the pleasure of book shopping away from me. I complained so many times to my husband that when the last indie bookstore in our city closed, he finally said to me, “Yes, Sue, I’ve known that for two years now, you can quit reminding me!”
The bottom line is that the publishing industry was doing exactly what Little Golden Books was doing back when they first got started, before I was even born. Publishers were following the market, putting the written word where people were. And where people were, more than ever, was on their computers. And eventually, on their tablets, their smart phones, and their e-readers.
The lesson is this: Go where your customers are.
And where we all are is online. Increasingly, we are reading content that is either downloaded to our own devices or “on loan” from the cloud – meaning the content is parked on a remote server somewhere, and we access it with our device when we want to read it. Digital publishing is where the action is, where the market is and has (and is still) profoundly changed the publishing industry.
Will “real” books still continue to exist? Yes, they will. But in May of 2011, Amazon reported that it had now sold more books in digital format than in hard copy. The publishing worm has turned. The market has spoken, and what it said was “digital is where it’s at.”
Here are the two big reasons even hard-core book readers like me fall in love with digital content:
1. There are multiple benefits to reading in the digital environment. It’s super-easy to highlight passages in my Kindle™ books, then press a button and get all of my highlights in a single document. I can look up words as I read with another flick of my finger. In some books I can see what other readers have highlighted. Most books let me plug in earphones and listen as I drive, automatically starting to read to me right where I left off.
And for a traveler like me, Kindle means freedom from an extra piece of luggage filled with the books I wanted to read on that trip. If I need another book, I can download it from almost anywhere in the world at any time. I don’t have to have money handy, or even a credit card. I have to admit, it’s pretty sweet.
And here’s the funny thing – I got so attached to the look and feel of my first Kindle that when it broke (from overuse, I’m sure) that when the replacement came, I fussed that the new model of Kindle didn’t look and feel like what I was used to. Book “feel” is still important to me. My expensive and beautiful Kindle cover wouldn’t fit the new model, either. I was fussy!
2. As a writer, I have enjoyed the benefits of digital publishing even more than as a reader. It’s been years now since I’ve sent off a formal query letter to a magazine’s editor, nervously waiting for a nod or a rejection letter. I always hated that someone else could decide what I could write about, how many words it would be, how many illustrations. I chafed when an editor chopped up my writing and moved everything around, changing the points I was trying to make.
Digital publishing puts authors in control. Along with that control comes a fierce responsibility, though. Your marketing efforts must match or exceed your writing efforts if you want to get known. But get known, you can. Anyone can publish. And it’s because this platform is open to nearly everyone, fewer will actually monetize it and get well known. That’s the trick with digital publishing.
And this is precisely why I’m so honored and happy to be writing now for The Future of Ink. My friends Ellen Britt and Denise Wakeman are brilliant to see that we need a place to call home in the digital publishing world. We’ll cover everything digital for you, all in one compact place.
We’ll talk about what it means to publish in the digital world, when it makes sense to still be in paper, how to market your special reports and e-books – everything it takes to thrive as a digital writer. Stay tuned for lots more from us. And welcome to The Future of Ink!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how and when you became ‘converted’ to ebooks in the comments below…
This article was originally published on The Future of Ink and is reprinted here in its entirety for our Magnolia Media Network readers.