Book sellers, publishers brainstorm ways to use technology to their advantage
In the age of the Internet, book publishing is no stranger to the feeling that its industry could be threatened by all things digital.
Do the Internet and other digital innovations threaten the livelihood of the literary community?
That issue took center stage last week at the annual BookExpo America in New York City, where more than 20,000 publishers, authors, and booklovers gathered at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
But crime fiction novelist Michael Connelly, for one, doesn’t think the technological boom means the end of literature as we know it. Connelly, who is one of the few authors who have sold over one million Kindle copies of their books, explained that regardless of whether his readers use digital devices or not, his job is to “keep [his] head down and write the best story.”
But it is not digital devices that booksellers fear the most. The real threats to the book industry are online retailers like Amazon.com, they said. Not only do online retailers sell at prices lower than the publishers’, but they also eliminate the close relationship found between bookstore owners and their customers, booksellers said.
The benefit of going to a bookstore is having a bookseller who knows you and can recommend “great books that connect you to yourself or connect you to the world,” said Joe Regal, CEO of the social e-book website Zola Books. That sense of community cannot be found in online retailers, Regal added.
While online retailers can make book buying a lonely process, social media, on the other hand, brings booklovers closer together. For example, the Internet has better connected authors and their readers; nearly every author at BEA had a website, Twitter, or Facebook account.
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Even bookstores, like WORD in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, use social media to engage with customers. WORD owner Christine Onorati said that even people on the West Coast will share their book purchases with WORD via Twitter or retweet WORD’s announcements about events.
It is this sense of connection and community that Onorati believes places independent bookstores like WORD above price-competitive online retailers.
“If price becomes the bottom line for everyone, then we are screwed. Everyone can buy online and buy it cheaper,” said Onorati.
But book sellers and authors affirmed that the future looks optimistic for the book industry, despite the changing technology. Onorati says that her business is rapidly expanding, and Regal launched a beta-version of the social e-reading experience, Zola Books, at the BEA exhibition gallery.
If the crowds at BEA were any indication, people are still excited to read and discuss books, whether they are read on a Nook, shipped to your doorstep by Amazon.com, or thrust at you by an eager publicist at BEA.
Here are five other trends in books and publishing, evidenced at BEA:
1. The sale of e-books and digital reading devices are growing rapidly, outselling print books in many cases.
2. Online reading communities like Goodreads or Zola Books are gaining more users. These websites are also expanding to new platforms via iPhone and iPad apps.
3. Direct and independent publishing is becoming more common. One notable example is J.K. Rowling’s independent release of the Harry Potter e-books via her Pottermore website.
5. More book sellers and authors are using social media to directly connect with readers and consumers.
Written by Ellis Liang
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