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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Independent booksellers show their fangs

The champagne glasses, now empty and squeaky clean, sit inside the kitchen cupboard. Holiday decorations are coming down. Radios no longer blare out Christmas jingles. The lines at Barnes & Noble have become manageable. With the vestments of the old year stripped away, it is time to examine how the publishing industry is faring now that the holiday shoot-out between Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet has come to an uneasy conclusion.

Needless to say, the chaos continues. The digitization of books is still disrupting the industry. Depending on who you are, Amazon has become either the gift that keeps on giving or the tornado that keeps on dancing. At the fringes of American publishing pandemonium, ereaders seep gradually into the international market.

On the home front, we have a nice little development: a number of independent booksellers have started to bare their fangs at Amazon by becoming publishers themselves.

Oh yes, we have entered the year of the dragon.

In a Salon.com article, “Indies battle Amazon – by becoming publishers,” author Steve Almond highlights the activities of independent bookstores which have begun to publish their own unique titles in response to the threat posed by ebooks and ecommerce. Evolution in the face of adversity.

“As publishers, indies enjoy a few distinct advantages over the competition,” says Almond. “First, they can emphasize titles of local interest by local writers. Second, they can showcase the books in their shops. Third, because of advances in printing, they can bring books to market more quickly than traditional publishers. Just as important, when an independent bookstore sells a copy of one of their own titles, they collect all the profits, rather than a sliver. Consider it a poor man’s version of vertical integration.”

While this development isn’t likely to make a dent in Amazon’s pocketbook, the small-press model does possess the potential to inject some breathing room into the industry by expanding that space between self-publishing and traditional publishing. And if we’re talking about evolving within a violently changing industry, “small” in this case also equates to greater flexibility and an increased ability to maneuver new and experimental projects.

I’m talking about enhanced ebooks here.

Those of you who have read my past articles probably noticed by now that I’ve taken to giving enhanced ebooks the benefit of the doubt. And the reason I do this is because anything struggling through its awkward beginning stages still has the potential to develop beautifully.

Hey, you never know. Enhanced ebooks might very well be the ugly duckling of the publishing world.

Increased collaborations between small, energetic presses (such as those run by independent booksellers) and young technology companies may prove to be an essential component in the research and development of an enhanced ebook design that will take the industry by storm.

Am I being overly optimistic? Perhaps. But like I said, you never know.

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This entry was posted on January 9, 2012 by in Business, News and tagged , , .

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