A boost for e-books

A boost for e-books

Karen McQuestion, Boyd Morrison and Joe Konrath may not be household names yet. But more than a few traditional book publishers will recognize these names, albeit with some discomfort.

By using the relatively painless route of self-publishing, the authors were able to get over multiple rejections from traditional publishers and reach eager readers. According to one report, McQuestion has sold 40,000 copies on the Kindle, and Konrath earns over $120,000 a year from digital sales.

And now, in a sign that digital publishing is not just for the trendy early adopters or gadget addicts, The New York Times(NYT) has announced that it will add e-book sales tables to the paper’s iconic best-seller lists for fiction and non-fiction books.

Published weekly since 1935, these best-seller lists are widely considered the American, if not global, standard. A position on one of the paper’s 14 lists—from Hardcover Fiction to Paperback Advice and Graphic Books—can mean accelerated sales and an enticing new blurb on the cover.

NYTsays it has finalized a system to accurately track and verify digital book sales, because of the rising share of e-book sales and in order to “tell our readers which titles were selling and how they fit together with print sales".

The move is further certification of the growing stature of digital publishing. In July, Amazon said it was selling 143 e-books for every 100 hardcover books. Earlier this week, Forrester Research said annual revenue from e-book sales in the US would cross $1 billion in 2011.

Parallels are already being drawn with the way iTunes changed music retailing. But there is potential here for disruptions that are different, if not greater, than those iTunes caused in music selling.

Like McQuestion and Konrath, authors can now write finicky publishing companies out of the plot and still reach a substantial digital audience. Musicians need a studio and production facilities. An enterprising author can publish on Amazon with just a word processor and some free formatting software.

On the other hand, e-book publishers may not see the revenue digital music got from format upgradation, i.e., users replacing old tape and LPs with MP3. Books are reread less than music is relistened to.

What about readers themselves? Will the new NYT lists highlight difference between old-fashioned page-turners and new-age button pushers? That seems unlikely. For now, it seems largely an issue of how people read and not what. At the time of going to press, the same book is No. 1 on both Amazon’s Book and Kindle stores: George W. Bush’s ghost-written memoirs.

Are e-books finally on a par with printed books? Tell us at views@livemint.com