Expozine 2015 Digital Publishing discussion
EXPOZINE 2015 Digital Publishing discussion
Digital Expozine took advantage of the presence of so many authors, publishers and avid readers at the last Expozine small press fair in Montreal in November 2015 to host a round-table discussion on the topic of digital publishing.
The participants were Maxime Raymond (Les Éditions de Ta Mère), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks) and Harley Smart (Bookart, Anteism), moderated by Louis Rastelli (Expozine) and Pascal-Angelo Fioramore (Expozine/ Les Éditions Rodrigol).
Les Éditions de Ta Mère is a veteran Expozine that is among the few which currently have all publications available in print and digital form. Editor Maxime Raymond will share his experiences on the road towards becoming a hybrid publisher.
Harley Smart has participated for a number of years in Expozine with Anteism. Established in 2003, Anteism focuses on producing limited/ short-run editions in the formats of artist monographs, artist books, exhibition catalogs & zines. He also has helped operate, since 2015, a print-on-demand style service called Bookart (bookart.ca).
Hugh McGuire is the founder of PressBooks, an online publishing Platform built to run inside of WordPress. He is also a writer and technologist who has focused on the transformations affecting the publishing world for several years.
LR: It’s gradual, but among the many publishers present in large numbers just next to here (during the Expozine small press fair), there are more and more starting to put out electronic publications alongside their physical books. It can still be a challenge for small publishers, for now, to get going in this domain. It may also be the case on the side of the reading public: tablets and electronic readers are not as prevalent among the kinds of readers who go to Expozine as they may be in other markets.
I want to start with Maxime Raymond, an editor at Les Éditions de Ta Mère, who impressed us in recent years by becoming one of the first in our community to start simultaneously publishing digital and paper editions of each new release. Tell us how you got there, Maxime!
MR: Well, I’ve been involved with Ta Mère for nine years already. We began the digital transition about four years ago. There was a kind of vibe at the time, it was as if digital publishing was to change the world. There were those who said “your books will be all over the Internet! It’ll be the new Eldorado of literature.” Then there are those who said: “books are about to die, no one reads them, they just browse the internet.” I’ve always been in between these extremes. To me, none of this is terribly threatening or dramatic for the book industry, nor are we in some epic re-invention period either.
The advantage we had as a publisher is that we were already working with InDesign to design our books, and so it is very easy to output the content as an ePub, which is the main format for novels that have minimal graphic content. Next, we knew an organization called le Déclic that is a social reintegration agency that literally helps people convert publications to ePub. Through them, for about $100 per book, we were able to create digital versions of about fifteen titles from our catalogue right off the bat. Now we create them as we go.
I find making digital books is not so hard. What’s more difficult is to distribute and sell them, to have a platform to really give people access to your books. We work with a distributor called De Marque, which is a big distributor of digital books in Quebec. Publishers provide them with the works and all their information, and then from that, De Marque makes titles available on amazon.ca and independent sites, independent booksellers from around the world. So it saves us from having to deal with so many different players.
But I should still mention that sales are not very strong. For us, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t cost much to make a digital version. Furthermore, our priority has always been physical books. Digital books can be convenient for those who travel a lot, but otherwise digital publishing has not had much impact on the literary scene in Quebec. Digital versions have replaced many super cheap US paperbacks that you used to buy at bus station. But in Quebec, I’d be surprised if the proportion of digital is 5-6% of sales, it’s still very incidental. We did it for our small catalog because it was easy. But beyond that, for small publishers I think the issue is still distribution.
LR : Interesting. On that topic I’d like to invite Hugh McGuire to say a few things.
HM: So it was in 2011 that I started pressbooks, which is software to help produce electronic books in ePub, .pdf and other formats. The idea is to have software that’s easy to use. People already using WordPress for their websites, so now with the same expertise we could push a button and have files that are formatted to a digital publication format. It’s been four years since I began developing this, our customers include many small presses and self-publishers but also institutions and presses that tend to produce the digital version first, and which print books on request only.
Our software aims to help reduce the costs and complexities of electronic publishing. However, regardless of format, publishers and authors still have the main challenge of reaching their readers. So that’s the key challenge for everyone who is interested in the creation or distribution of books.
When I started, the eBook market in the US was around 10% of the total book market. And shortly afterwards, around 2011, it rose quickly, and there were some who thought it would quickly reach 50% of the market, like within a few years. But there was a kind of plateau around 25%, and in Canada and France it plateaued much lower than that.
But what is really interesting for eBooks is the possibility of having global distribution, e.g. with De Marque it’s very easy to do this as Maxime mentioned.
For small presses that are already very close to their readers, the question that should be asked is: is it worth the trouble to go digital? The content can be a big factor, as electronic books work less well for literary texts, they work best for works that are not experimental, very straightforward such as detective novels etc. There are still quite a few electronic-only publishers of literary material, but these are very small publishers or publications. I think that four years ago I would have said “everything will change, all of you had better adapt immediately!” And then we saw that the life of the printed book is quite stable, maybe a 20% stake in some categories of books have moved to electronic, but not every category. I do believe it will continue to change.