Joe Wikert, at his Digital Content Strategies begins his report on BEA thus “The Javits Center must have some sort of time warp technology. I recently attended the BEA event there and I kept asking myself the same question: Is this 2015 or 2005? The digital vibe was almost nowhere to be found in the expo hall. For example, publishers are still handing out stacks of print galleys and samples. Is that really more effective than digital copies? Wouldn’t it be better to distribute e-versions and gather customer info along the way? All this talk of establishing direct relationships with readers and having access to the resulting data still seems to be the stuff of fiction.”

This, like the comment from Michael Bhaksar which he reports with approval: “Publishers treat ebooks as a secondary priority”, demonstrates a fixation which obscures a reality which digital enthusiasts seem unable to take on board. Digital sales represent something like 20% to 30% of total book sales.* We’d be insane to focus exclusively on the 25% to the detriment of the 75%. If all the publishers’ booths were just screens with no books (and some of the larger trade houses at BEA did actually seem to be tending in this direction) then some of us would be justified in complaining “The print vibe was almost nowhere to be found in the expo hall”. I can see that it might be nice, and cheap, to give people an e-book rather than a bound galley — but Joe — that’s obviously not what people want! Didn’t you see all those young ladies running about jamming ARCs into their book bags? Furthermore, although we now have the BookCon add-on at the end, the BEA show is actually designed to be an interface between bookstores and publishers. We don’t really need e-proofs to “track” what a bookstore buyer does with an ARC. We know when we see their order.

It’s all well and good to be ready (even eager) to greet the future — but don’t forget today in your rush to leave the past behind.

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*  The Bookseller’s Future Book does some extrapolating from the case of Bloomsbury to the whole industry, which is no doubt a risky procedure. However their analysis does show some interesting breakdown numbers. The recent standstill/drop-off in trade digital sales does appear to be a widespread phenomenon. We all wait to see what happens next! But for the moment, digital has to be secondary.

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