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#BEA11: Mark Twain May Be Dead, but Print Books Aren’t

BookExpo America 2011

By Erin L. Cox

At BEA, “The Report of My Death Was Exaggerated — Book Edition” panel did just what the Mark Twain quote did years ago: chastise the media for being too quick to decree the death of print publishing.

Though it’s difficult to ignore the e-books are selling like hotcakes, three publishers and one bookseller proved that, for some books, the print version is still a viable (and often wildly successful) business proposition.

Chronicle Books, Lonely Planet, and Workman have always made a business of being innovative publishers willing to invest in their print editions, but with the onset of e-publishing, they’ve taken it one step further and been sensitive to the competition from free outlets or less expensive editions.

Bob Miller, Group Publisher for Workman, said it best when he described why 80% of Workman’s sales are still print, “You can’t digitize a book about potato chip science that is packaged in a potato chip bag.” And, truly, you can’t.

So, like in so many other ways of publishing, publishers have to devote more energy to marketing and producing print books that not only can compete with an e-model, but also appeal to an e-audience.

John Boris, Executive Vice President for Lonely Planet, said that digital publishing has only helped increase their market share with their 9.2 million travel apps and, in some cases, driven a digital audience to the print edition. And, to appeal to a digital audience that is used to seeing travel information with color photos and more vibrant, shorter descriptions, they have augmented their print editions. The printing might cost more, but they are investing in their bottom line in order to expand that audience.

For Chronicle Books, they have expanded their output to include items beyond books that lead to print sales. I am a big fan of their many stationery lines by their designers, but their cookbooks have beautiful endpages and other design features that make a book more than a document of information, but a work of art that cannot be replicated in an e-book format.

So, the print editions might have some competition, but they are far from dead. Just like anything, we all have to be a little more creative and know what our audiences really want.

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One Comment

  1. Posted May 31, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    When I bought that potato chip science kit, I didn’t realize that I was taking part in a publishing trend. I work part-time at a bookshop, write, and teach. It always amazes me when I hear about the death of print books. What I see in the bookshop is the ongoing love of paper books. Sure, I see books like Seder’s SWING, Taback’s JOSEPH HAD A LITTLE OVERCOAT, and special editions of HP & Twilight building a love of paper books in the hearts of a new generation, but the fact is that the next generation will own many books only digitally–and that’s okay. There will always be a demand for paper books that turn that wood-pulp into something unique, plus anything my kids can explode.

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