Publishing’s Ratner moment: why eBooks are not ‘stupid’



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Bronwen Thomas, Bournemouth University

In the days before social media – and, presumably, media training – Gerald Ratner’s description of some of the products sold in his chain of jewellers as “total crap” became a byword for the corporate gaffe. Recently the chief executive of publisher Hachette Livre, Arnaud Nourry, seems to have suffered his own “Ratner moment” when he described ebooks in an interview with an Indian news site as a “stupid product”.

The interview, which was intended to address the future of digital publishing and specific issues facing the Indian publishing market, was widely misquoted and Nourry’s comments taken out of context. But there is no denying the fact that the publisher criticises his own industry (“We’re not doing very well”) and attacks ebooks for lacking creativity, not enhancing the reading experience in any way and not offering readers a “real” digital experience.

Some commenters on social media welcomed Nourry’s comments for their honesty. They highlight his seeming support for the idea that publishers should be championing writers and artists working to exploit the creative potential of digital formats to provide readers with experiences that may be challenging and disruptive, but also exhilarating and boundary pushing.

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But many of the 1,000-plus commenters reacting to coverage of the story on The Guardian’s website spoke out against “fiddling for the sake of it” – claiming they were not interested in enhanced features or “gamified dancing baloney” borrowed from other media. They also listed the many practical enhancements that ebooks and ereaders do offer. The obvious one is the ability to instantly download books in remote locations where there are no bricks and mortar bookstores. But there are other less obvious enhancements, including being able to instantly access dictionary and encyclopedia entries (at least if you have wifi access) and the option to have the book read to you if you have visual impairments.

Elsewhere, Australian researcher Tully Barnett has shown how users of Kindle ereaders adapt features such as Highlights and Public Notes for social networking, demonstrating that even if ebooks are not that intrinsically innovative or creative, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be made so by imaginative users.

Nourry clearly isn’t averse to the provocative soundbite – in the same interview he went on to say: “I’m not a good swallower” when asked about mergers and conglomeration in the publishing industry. On the other hand, he also seems very aware of the special place of books and reading in “culture, education, democracy” – so his use of the word “stupid” in this context is particularly inflammatory and insensitive.

Dear reader

My research on digital reading has taught me that debating books vs ereaders is always likely to arouse strong passions and emotions. Merely mentioning the word Kindle has led in some instances to my being shouted at – and readers of “dead tree” books are rightly protective and passionate about the sensory and aesthetic qualities of physical books that the digital version possibly can’t compete with.

Mother and daughter Barbara and Jenni Creswell enjoyed Anne of Green Gables in both print and ebook format.
Ray Gibson, Author provided

But, equally, my research has shown that enhancements in terms of accessibility and mobility offer a lifeline to readers who might not be able to indulge their passion for reading without the digital.

In my latest project, academics from Bournemouth and Brighton universities, in collaboration with Digitales (a participatory media company), worked with readers to produce digital stories based on their reading lives and histories. A recurring theme, especially among older participants, was the scarcity of books in their homes and the fact that literacy and education couldn’t be taken for granted. Our stories also demonstrated how intimately reading is connected with self-worth and helps transform lives disrupted by physical and mental health issues – making comments about any reading as “stupid” particularly damaging and offensive.

I would like to know if Nourry would still call ebooks stupid products after watching Mary Bish’s story: My Life in Books from our project. A lifelong reader who grew up in a home in industrial South Wales with few books, Mary calls her iPad her “best friend” and reflects how before the digital age her reading life would have been cut short by macular degeneration.

The ConversationAs well as demonstrating that fairly basic digital tools can be used to create powerful stories, our project showed that the digital also makes us appreciate anew those features of the physical book we may take for granted, the touch, smell and feel of paper and the special place that a book handed down from generation to generation has in the context of family life.

Bronwen Thomas, Professor of English and New Media, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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More on Stupid Ebooks


There has been a recent controversy surrounding remarks by Arnaud Nourry, chief executive of Hachette Livre, concerning ‘stupid ebooks.’ The links below are first to an article reporting on the remarks and the second link is a response to them. I think the response is brilliant – though more could be said.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/20/ebooks-are-stupid-hachette-livre-arnaud-nourry
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/21/ebooks-are-not-stupid-theyre-a-revolution-erin-kelly

Hachette CEO is Stupid – Ebooks Not So Much


The link below is to an article that responds to Hachette’s CEO and his ebooks are stupid remarks.

For more visit:
https://the-digital-reader.com/2018/02/19/ebooks-stupid-product-blinkered-ramblings/

Ebooks are Stupid


The link below is to an article that reports on comments from the Hachette CEO, in which he basically says ebooks are stupid.

For more visit:
https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/hachette-ceo-proclaims-ebooks-are-a-stupid-product

Hachette will start selling books straight from Twitter


Gigaom

Hachette Book Group will start selling books straight from tweets, though it can’t be labeled more than an experiment for now: The publisher has partnered with digital distributor Gumroad to sell three gifty print books “for a limited time and in limited quantities” via the books’ authors’ tweets.

The print titles are Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking (starting December 11), Chris Hadfield’s You Are Here (starting December 15) and The Onion’s The Onion Magazine: The Iconic Covers that Transformed an Undeserving World (starting December 18). Each book sold will be accompanied by “an exclusive bonus item” — in the case of The Onion’s book, for instance, it’s a set of notecards.

“With so much of our book marketing done socially now, in-stream [company]Twitter[/company] purchasing is a natural next step,” Michael Pietsch, Hachette Book Group CEO, said in a statement.

Here’s an example from another Gumroad partnership that shows what this will look…

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In Amazon/Hachette deal, ebook agency pricing is a winner


Gigaom

In the deal that Amazon and Hachette Book Group finally reached Thursday after months of bitter negotiations, we don’t really know which side “won,” if one side did. But one survivor — perhaps surprisingly — was agency pricing for ebooks, the practice through which the publisher sets an ebook’s price and the retailer takes a commission.

Hachette said in a letter to authors and agents Thursday:

The new agreement delivers considerable benefits. It gives us full responsibility for the consumer prices of our ebooks. This approach, known as the Agency model, protects the value of our authors’ content, while allowing the publisher to change ebook prices dynamically to maximize sales.

That wasn’t a foregone conclusion. In 2010, [company]Amazon[/company] was vehemently opposed to agency pricing, though it ultimately capitulated. Agency pricing was at the heart of the of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Apple and book publishers in 2012, in which…

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Updated: Amazon and Hachette finally reach deal; Hachette will set its ebook prices


Gigaom

Amazon and book publisher Hachette Book Group have finally reached a deal in the negotiations that have been going on since May. For months, Amazon removed pre-orders on Hachette titles, shipped them with delays and would not discount them.

The new agreement, announced in a joint press release Thursday, covers both print and ebooks.

“This is great news for writers,” Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch said in a statement. “The new agreement will benefit Hachette authors for years to come. It gives Hachette enormous marketing capability with one of our most important bookselling partners.”

“We are pleased with this new agreement as it includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices, which we believe will be a great win for readers and authors alike,” David Naggar, VP of Kindle, said in a statement.

When the new ebook terms take place in early 2015, “Hachette will have responsibility for setting consumer prices of its…

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Everything Book Lovers Need to Know About Amazon vs. Hachette


Flavorwire

Earlier this week, Amazon unveiled its latest tactic in the mega-company’s battle with Hachette, a dispute that’s become as much about PR as profit margins: transparency. A brief “update” outlines exactly how much of the proceeds from e-books Amazon wants (30 percent) and how much Amazon wants to charge for those e-books ($9.99). There are also Economics 101 buzzwords like “price-elastic” and internal numbers that claim lower e-book prices actually result in higher revenue for everyone. There is, of course, another side to this story — and a months-long dispute that won’t end because Amazon named names. Here’s the rundown on what the average book buyer needs to know.

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