TWR has asked a number of Canadian small presses a set of five questions about ebooks and the future of publishing. Here are responses by Evan Munday of Coach House Books.
1) Bestsellers are selling now in all forms, ebook, pbook or otherwise. But what do you think will be the impact of ebooks on literary publishing in the near term?
I’m not sure. I think it could give some publishers the opportunity to publish really interesting work in e-book form alone (like ECW is doing with their Joyland digital-only imprint). And it could really be a benefit to backlist titles — for instance, it might be easier to include an older title from a smaller, literary press on university courses if you know for certain the book will be in print because it exists as a ebook. But at Coach House, the impact of ebooks has had no effect on acquisitions or editorial decisions. We do, however, try as best as we can manage to make ebooks of our printed titles as soon as possible after publication.
2) How will your role as a publisher change as a result of the increasing adoption of ebooks?
I’m not sure it will change in any fundamental way. We’ll certainly have to make our books available in more formats than before (in print as well as the various digital formats) and pay greater attention than ever before to how our books are listed and appear online and in e-retailing stores. And it will be more important to us than ever before to have worldwide rights to titles. But in terms of editorial and design, I can’t foresee much difference in what we do. We’ll still be committed to producing innovative work and making really fantastic-looking printed objects from that work.
3) What do you think the value of a conventional book is in terms of a collaborative process between editors, publishers, designers, printers, marketers, and retailers? How do you think that collaboration will change in the era of ebooks?
I think there’s great value in the collaborative process behind a conventional book, and I think many key processes will persist at the better publishers in the era of e-books. At Coach House, we attempt to provide the whole shebang — actual substantive editing, publicity, design and printing in-house. And given we’re a print house in addition to a publisher, we tend to think of the book as a printed object first, then work on the e-book. The only places where I can see the collaboration changing in the near future is in the realms of design and retailing. I think fewer and fewer hardcovers will be made, and more quality trade paperbacks will be the norm for first editions. In retail, more and more avenues are popping up for people to purchase ebooks, and soon your book’s metadata will be more important than the cover design (which is kind of tragic). I also expect we’ll soon see more of publishers selling printed books with free digital downloads included.
4) How do you think the McLuhanism that equates medium with message will apply to e-books? That is, will artistic forms such as the novel or the short story actually change because of the new delivery media, including e-readers, iPhones etc.? What about the impact of so-called enhanced books that include video and music?
That’s an interesting question! I think we’ll see a lot of new artistic forms or subgenres appearing with the new devices. You can already see it in the cell phone stories that are popular in Japan. And there may be a return to more serialized work later collected in books. It’s been happening with web comics for years — once a series takes off, they begin to collect the book in printed form. That said, I also think the long-form novel won’t disappear. We’ll just see more of these serialized or short-form genres. Or interactive choose-your-own adventure e-books.
Personally, I don’t see the point of enhanced ebooks. I grew up in the era of Encarta CD-ROMs, those encyclopedias on CD, which quickly evaporated when Wikipedia gained prominence. At what point do you stop reading a book and start reading the internet? Why bother with an enhanced ebook that’s just like an extremely abridged version of the world wide web?
5) In what ways will paper books change in the next few years because of ebooks?
I think we’ll see a few things: fewer hardcovers (which I’ve never been a super-big fan of, anyway), more attention to quality paper and design for first-edition trade paperbacks and more package deals (ebook and printed book together).