ARTICLE - Gary Kemble:
Science fiction writers have always been on the cutting edge, and now sf publishers are scrambling to stay ahead of the ebook curve.Tor Books senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, in Melbourne earlier this month for the World Science Fiction Convention, says 10 to 12 years ago ebooks were like the old joke about Brazil: "It's the country of the future and always will be".
"We had this unbelievably bad ratio of thousands of hours of meetings to hundreds of dollars worth of sales, so a lot of the industry got kind of accustomed to ebooks as an ever-receding future," he said.
But in the past couple of years he says ebook revenue has gone from 0.5 per cent of revenue to anywhere up to 10 per cent and now in domestic airports in the US he sees as many people reading ebooks as the old-fashioned printed variety.
Tim Holman, publisher with Orbit in the US and UK, reports similar growth, and says high-profile hardcover releases, urban fantasy and romance titles are doing particularly well.
"Romance readers tend to consume large numbers of books, they want the story, they don't necessarily want to have a big library of books on a bookshelf," he said. "If you read a lot of books, it's quite nice to be able to carry 10 around with you instead of just one."
Nielsen Hayden says the stratospheric rise of ebooks hasn't been without its problems.
"In the last year or two things have heated up so fast, we've had to get a lot of our backlist into ebook format at just ridiculous speeds, and of course there have been fiascos and books full of typos and so forth," he said.
He says Tor has been grappling with the challenges of dealing with ebooks, which aren't just a matter of scanning pages and putting them in ebook format.
"Another part of the challenge is streamlining our own internal procedures so we're producing something that's going to be worth the kind of money we want people to be paying, so that we don't have to lay off half of our staff, so that we don't have to let our more marginal writers go and so on," he said.
He says there's a misconception within the book-buying public that the biggest expense in publishing a book is paper and ink, whereas in fact a much bigger expense is paying retailers for favourable space, whether that's at the front of the bookshop, or in the big promotional sidebar online.