It’s astonishing how much the conversation about digital publishing, self-publishing and indie authors has changed in just one year. Last year at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference, agents and editors said things like, “Yeah it’s out there, but it’s not a huge factor in children’s books yet.” This year, publishing houses are racing to set up digital publishing arms, E-book sales are outpacing hardcovers in the adult market, and a few breakout indie authors have made millions outside of traditional publishing.
While e-book sales of picture books are not at the level of adult e-books by any stretch, it is only a matter of time before it explodes, IMHO. Why? Picture books are the perfect medium for “enhanced e-books”(read: apps). Also, the expense of printing full-color picture books requires retail pricing of around $16 per book. Compare that to .99 cents to several dollars for an app or e-book, and suddenly you can imagine how this might revitalize the picture book market down the road.
With this in mind, last weekend I attended a Symposium hosted by the lovely Austin SCBWI folks entitled, Storytelling in the Digital Age. What I learned is that the more you learn, the more you realize you have LOTS more to learn. But you know what? So does everyone else. Presenters and attendees agreed that right now, it’s the Wild West out there in publishing. One thing that’s certain is that no matter how you plan to publish – traditionally, indie, or self – understanding digital publishing is no longer optional for writers.
For that reason, I am going to write a series of posts on this topic with the intention of creating a forum where we can share what we know and ask questions about what we don’t know. For this, the first, I figured we’d better begin at the beginning. Definitions.
- Print Books: You know – those paper thingies that people say are going to be made obsolete by e-books because they’ve forgotten that people said that T.V. would make radio obsolete and VCRs would make movie theaters obsolete. If you’re still not sure, watch this video. Sold in bookstores, retail stores, online stores and available in libraries.
- E-Books: This is a digitized version of the print book. It has exactly the same material but has been formatted to run on e-readers. Unfortunately, there is not yet a standard e-book format, so the same book will have to be formatted multiple times to work on all e-readers (Kindle AZW, ePub, Mobi and PDF are the major ones. Look here for a list and comparison of formats). Because most picture books are imported to the e-book formats as a fixed-width (i.e. exactly as the pages appear in the book), and the width of the e-readers vary, the illustrated pages have to be re-sized for each device. Sold primarily in online stores, although physical bookstores are also devising ways to sell them in-store. Likewise, many libraries already make or plan to make e-books available for patrons to borrow and read on their e-readers.
- Enhanced E-Books: Deanna Roy said, “A true enhanced e-book is one that changes the way you experience the book.” Not just an extra chapter, for example. For a novel, an enhanced book might include videos embedded with scenes from the book, an interactive map of a fictional world, music, etc.
- Storybook Apps: Storybook apps combine the art and text of a picture book and adds sound, animation and interactive features. While some apps are created from existing picture books (like Snuggle Mountain), many stories are now being written directly for the app market. An author/illustrator can work directly with an app developer to create a storybook app. Sold in the iTunes store (or the Android app store, etc.).
So that’s it for now – just a few definitions. Not too complicated right?