A few weeks ago Neil Gaiman suggested quite directly to the publishing industry that wishing for a time machine to take them back to the era before ebooks was futile. That Amazon and Google are not the enemy. That big publishing is not the enemy. That the enemy is, in fact, “simply refusing to understand that the world is changing.” But he also suggested that there are still ways to sell paper books by creating books that are “prettier, finer, and better.” He didn’t go into much detail—the speech was more conceptual than concrete—but I can see several ways of making that a reality.
Before I get into the meat of this post, I’ll just say that its inspiration, Gaiman’s keynote speech at the Digital Minds Conference for the 2013 London Book Fair mentioned above, is worth listening to. It’s a half hour, though, so if you can’t spare the time, you could read the transcript. You’ll miss some of the nuances, of course, and his soothing, comfortable, floppy-eared-dog British accent, but reading it is better than nothing.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the ways ebooks are better than paper books. The truth, though, is that I still read plenty of physical books, some I borrow (from friends or the library) and some I buy. After I listened to that speech, I started thinking about the paper books I own and why I own them, and what other lures might entice me to buy a physical book. From that, I’ve pulled together a list of directives for the publishing world. Listen to me, publishing world. People do so much better when they just listen to me. So. On with it: ways the publishing world can entice Kindle owners, etc., to purchase physical books.
- Write good books. Become a favorite author. That’s the first thing. Sounds simple, but those of us who buy only some books in physical form are much more likely to spend the money on the ones written by writers whose work we like. Write things we love, and we’re likely to decide to acquire everything you’ve done.
- Publish in multiple forms. I am a fan of the hardbound versions of books. Some people like paperbacks. I hate them. The typical short, chubby ones, anyway. They’re awkward to hold open, difficult to shelve in an attractive way, and look a mess after just a few readings. Some people love ’em, though. I suppose there’s no accounting for taste.
- Bundle physical books with ebook and/or audiobook versions. This was the one particular Gaiman mentioned in his speech, and it’s absolutely true. I prefer to read with my eyes but occasionally will listen to an audiobook. My husband prefers to read with his ears but also will use a tablet or paper book. And sometimes, our tastes overlap. If I could buy a hardbound book and get the ebook and/or audiobook included, or even for a reasonable upcharge, I would do it.
- Connect with your readers. Make it personal. I recently read Owen King’s debut novel Double Feature via my Kindle, and I loved it so much—and connected with him on Twitter enough—that I decided I wanted a signed copy. Living in the middle of the US, I don’t usually have an option to get my books signed in a way that is meaningful to me. (Simply ordering a pre-signed copy doesn’t generally do anything for me; it does for some people, and long may they continue to enjoy that, I say.) But because of the way I connected with the book and the author, ordering a signed copy felt personal and right. (NOTE: It’s actually the only signed copy of anything that I own.)
- Include physical extras. By extras, I mean something that a user would not get from the ebook experience. That could be something like a related game, illustrations—I will be getting the hardbound version of Joe Hill’s upcoming NOS4A2 because I saw the snazzy endpapers—maps, even a particularly nice dust jacket.
- Include digital extras. A digital extra might be some sort of way to interact with a related website. A “soundtrack” playlist for the book. An online game. Anything you can think of. Note that some of these things would cost authors and/or publishers little if any extra money.
- Make the book beautiful. Make the physical object something to be cherished outside of its content. Make us want to pick it up. Pay attention to the way it looks before the reader even opens the cover. Put care into how it feels in the hands. Make it so that if we close our eyes while we are holding the book, there is still a reason to love it.
If you want to sell me (and other readers) physical books, even after we have grown to love our Nooks, our Kindles, our other e-readers, you can make that happen. You’ll have to work at it, though. We aren’t as easy as we used to be, but we can still be had. You just have to … be creative.