A friend of mine was diagnosed last year with a brain tumor. She underwent something like 30 days straight of chemo- therapy. She was temporarily blind, obviously extremely sick and, one would think, terrified. But her outlook during the entire process was amazing. She was optimistic, celebrated each small hurdle and kept going, seemingly undaunted by the road ahead of her. She told me that when she was diagnosed with the tumor, she had read a number of books on Kabbalah, and apparently it gave her a new perspective with which to deal with the challenges she was facing.
Aside from it hitting me, once again, how unbelievably important publishing books is to this world, it occurred to me that I didn't ask her in which format she chose to read those books. It would be a ridiculous question. The fact is, it doesn't matter.
A quote from Cengage Learning's Ron Mobed from the cover story (page 16) really struck a chord with me: "[Print] may not be as large as it's been in the past; it may be more print-on-demand. … It doesn't really matter to us. We're perfectly capable of delivering millions of print books every year; we're perfectly capable of servicing millions of online users every year. And we'll make that adjustment depending on how quickly things change in the marketplace."
That is one of the wisest and most succinctly described outlooks I've heard. People still will want to read books. Period. Format doesn't really matter, does it?
Granted, for many publishers, it's not that black and white, as adjusting to market demands takes forethought, research, investment and even culture shifts within organizations. And with so many new e-opportunities and devices out there, it can be overwhelming and confusing.
But Niko Pfund of Oxford University Press seems to address that point with another quote from the cover story: "Over the last decade, if we'd leapt at every new business opportunity dangled in front of us, we'd have spent an inordinate amount of time and resource on projects that soon evaporated, and so I think there's a real utility to being at the table, but not necessarily being the first player to make a bet."
Publishers range from those who were first to make a bet—and some big bets at that—to those who are still standing in the background watching, or even outside catching a smoke. There seems to be room for all to be successful.
None of this is to say that e-books will not be a major, if not even the predominant format for content in the future. For some readers (and publishers), it already is. A whole other aspect, as Mobed points out, is that the e-book is just one element of digital content distribution. For some publishing segments, other digital formats have taken off faster and more furiously than e-books.
More important than looking at e-book versus print sales, Mobed points out, is considering, "Are the solutions we're offering … what [our customers] want? Are we predicting where they're going?"
So, even if you are of the opinion of Rudy Shur, this issue's Guest Columnist (page 29), who believes that for indie presses, at least, "the pressure is not that great to shift gears immediately" to e-books, it seems wise to concentrate not just on e-books versus print books, but on your customers and market segments.
Signing Off … But Not Good-bye
On a different note, this will be the last editor's note you'll read from me, at least for some time. Janet Spavlik, whom many of you may know from her articles (and editing) in Book Business, has been promoted to editor-in-chief, so you'll be reading her editor's notes from now on—though I may try to force my way back in with a note, on occasion, if I feel I really need to talk to you.
I'll still oversee the magazine's content as editorial director, writing features and attending industry events. My role is not diminished, just slightly different (different being an appropriate theme for this issue, I guess).
Janet is not only an extremely talented editor, but also an avid book reader, an author, and now a blogger on BookBusinessMag.com. I hope you'll join me in welcoming her increasing role in providing you with content that helps you stay up to date on market trends and to advance your companies and careers.
As for me, this is certainly not good-bye. As always, feel free to e-mail me anytime, contact me on Twitter or give me a call to chat about your challenges, the industry or just to say hello. I'll still be here, just not so much in this particular format—but as we just discussed, does format really matter? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)