Print Publishers Adapting to E-books and Digital Downloads

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With the rising popularity of tablets, Kindles, iPads, and other capable e-reader devices, one wonders whether e-books will surpass the printed book in the same way that downloadable music has outpaced disk sales in recent years. Are publishers fighting the e-book trend or embracing it? One publisher, Princeton University Press, has a new e-book Shorts Program designed to leverage print material in the e-reader market, not by simply republishing the book in electronic form, but by using it to create a different product for a different audience.

I recently spoke with Rob Tempio, the Executive Editor overseeing the Princeton Shorts Program and Leslie Nangle, Associate Marketing Director at Princeton University Press to discuss their new approach to e-book publishing and to find out how the advent of online content and e-books have affected the publishing business in general.

What is the Shorts Program at Princeton University Press?

Rob Tempio: The Shorts Program is an effort to extract content from our existing works and publish them as e-books. We take books that we've already published and extract a chapter or a set of chapters from those books and repackage them as e-book only products.

What's your goal for the program? Is it aimed at gaining additional revenue from your existing properties directly through the e-book sales or to help market the hard-copy form of the full book?

Rob Tempio: Additional revenue is definitely one of the purposes, but it's also to get our content out in a different format for a different audience that we think exists for the book: an audience that might be looking for a briefer version of our longer books. If someone reads the shorter version or chapter, they might have their appetite whetted for the whole book. That's certainly the hope. We tie them together pretty closely. There are live links within the e-book leading to the full book. We give them new titles, but the sub-titles indicate that it's a selection from the larger work.

Leslie Nangle: They are stand-alone chapters. You can read them and enjoy them without ever reading the full book.

Do you start with things that are already doing well, and try to expand their reach, knowing they already have a good audience, or do you find things that you think are of high quality, but which were, perhaps, underappreciated by the market?

Rob Tempio: All of the books have tended to do pretty well in the original form, but there is at least one case where we wanted to appeal to a different or broader audience. The short might appeal to that broader audience.

How have hard copy book sales trended over the last few years with the broader availability of internet-based content? Have you noticed a significant effect at Princeton?

Rob Tempio: We have seen an uptick in e-book sales. Are we still selling a lot of hard copy books? Yes. Are the vast majority of our sales still hard copy books? Yes, but we've seen a dramatic uptick in the last year, I would say, of e-book sales.

Leslie Nangle: I think that will continue as the market sees more e-readers and more tablets out there. I think the audience for e-material is just growing. I think we'll see e-book sales growing along with that.

Rob Tempio: We publish all of our books, maybe with some exceptions either because of the difficulty in reproducing them in e-form or rights or permission issues, as e-books simultaneously with the release of our new hard copy books.

You mentioned that the Shorts contain live links within the e-book, do you give similar treatment to other e-books, embedding links or other rich media within the text?

Rob Tempio: No. There may be some experiments in the offing with enhanced e-books, but, as of right now, we have not done what we've done with the e-book Shorts with other e-books, adding links or the like.

Can you compare the methods used to market books, say ten years ago when everything was hard copy, with the methods used today with e-books?

Leslie Nangle: We have kept the same marketing techniques with advertising techniques and direct mail. Now, we're expanding more and reaching out to people in blogs, social media, and email. That's definitely a big part of our program now.

When you reach out to people like bloggers, you're looking for them to help spread the message and help get the word out?

Leslie Nangle: Yes, some will write about it or some may do a review. We're trying to push the program to people who are interested in e-content specifically, especially with the Princeton Shorts, right now.

With the growth in e-books that you're seeing now, do you think there will be a big decline in hard copy books over the next few years?

Rob Tempio: To be honest, I don't think we've seen a drop-off in sales that you can track with the rise of e-book sales. I don't think we've seen any startling trends or worrisome trends. I'm not entirely sure that it's going to be as dramatic as people tend to think it will be.

Princeton University Press might have some insulation from that since you're geared toward a specific, more academic audience.

Rob Tempio: Yes, I think that's right. I've always been a champion of models that allow us to sell a package that includes both hard books and e-books together. For some reason, there's been some resistance from retailers or they just haven't been quick to adopt that. Essentially, you would pay a slightly higher price and get a copy of the e-book along with the regular book. There are still lots of book readers out there, especially academics who roll up their sleeves and really immerse themselves in the book and mark it up, but who also travel a lot and buy a lot of books. They'd prefer to have the portability of the e-book.

Are you finding competition from new publishers or even self-publishing on the internet now that the difficulty of publishing has come down so much?

Rob Tempio: Again, I think we're insulated from that. All of our books are peer reviewed and [authors] come to us for the sort of scholarly credentializing Princeton offers, whether that's just for their tenured book promotion or to send a signal to the community that this is a book that's been peer reviewed and is rigorous and up to scholarly standards. So, I don't think we've experienced that yet.

How important a role is social media playing in book marketing?

Leslie Nangle: We have a presence on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Those are the ones we're focusing on right now. Facebook, as you know, has limitations. Not everyone will see a post that you make. Something like 5-10 percent of people will actually see it. I think, right now, it's not replacing anything, it's just another way to get the word out to people. We're very active on Twitter. We get a lot of retweets and we have authors who follow us and retweet. That's exciting to see, but whether they would have not heard about it or seen anything about it otherwise, I don't know.

Rob Tempio: I think it's especially important for the Princeton Shorts Program because these are the equivalent of supermarket cash register aisle impulse purchases and it's especially important to be able to see those links online and be able to click through easily and download the book to your device. Getting eyeballs on screens is a very important part of marketing and promoting these books.

One area of book publishing that has probably been the hardest hit by internet competition is also academic in nature, the encyclopedia. Do you see any parallels between what happened there and other aspects of the publishing business?

Rob Tempio: It's a good question. We still have a small reference program and sales may not be what they used to be, but there continues to be a demand from libraries for print reference in some form. That is definitely one area that is evolving toward a much more online delivery system. In terms of similarities with other types of books we publish not necessarily.

My son, who grew up with the internet, just finished his first year in college and as he was buying his textbooks, his first thought was always, "Do they have an e-version?"

Rob Tempio: Well, textbooks are an interesting area. I had people telling me five years ago, two years ago, that it's all going to be online. That hasn't proven to be the case yet. There is still resistance. That might change as we see more and more students who have always inhabited online environments or even ten years from now when they have always been using tablet devices.

If you go to any textbook publisher, I'm sure the majority of their revenue still comes from hard copy books.

Is there a marked difference for you in terms of profitability? If you had your choice of selling an e-book or a hard copy, which would you rather sell?

Rob Tempio: Ha! No comment. I think that remains to be seen because there is a price battle going on right now. One of the things that always frustrates me in the discussion over pricing is that it is not being driven by the actual costs that go into producing a book. It is being driven by somewhat arbitrary consumer price points. I understand that consumer demand, what consumers are willing to pay, is the way economics works, but on the other hand, eliminating the print book does not eliminate the vast majority of cost for producing the book. Yes you eliminate warehousing and printing and binding costs, but it still costs you to produce high quality books.

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