Digital publishing: In praise of pioneers

July 16, 2015

Image from My Dog, an interactive ebook from Rosen Publishing.
Image from My Dog, an interactive ebook from Rosen Publishing.

We all know that digital publishing is disruptive. And when the Powers That Be are threatened, it’s not surprising that they circle the wagons and shake their fists. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” they say, even when it’s clear that nothing could be more likely.

But let’s focus on a new and better story. Disruption clears a path for pioneers, visionaries who see an opportunity where others see a threat.

When it comes to ebooks, a few publishers are worthy of note. They not only experiment with technology in ways that significantly enhance the product, but they also reach out to libraries as potential new partners.

One of my favorite examples is Rosen Publishing. They not only converted their books to EPUB, they also added levels of interactivity. Imagine a children’s book where the protagonist hears the sound of an animal in the night—click here to hear it! Or suppose a YA character is about to do something foolish. Trot over to his Facebook page to give him some advice. Rosen reimagines the book for the digital age, demonstrating the remarkable innovation often found in children’s publishing, and at Rosen in particular. And other publishers: I welcome the chance to hear about your own experiments.

Enhanced content is good. Publishers sometimes bemoan the fact that ebooks never fade away, and so what about that profitable backlist when librarians have to buy one of the perennials again? But how hard would it be to offer a new edition, featuring a clip of the author being interviewed about writing that particular book?

I have other favorites among publishers: Akashic Books, Book View Café, Crossroad Press, Dzanc Books, IPG, Poisoned Pen Press, Sourcebooks, and Christian publisher Tyndale House, to name only a handful. These are presses that began to see digital publishing as a way to move faster from idea to market, and see libraries as one of the single best strategies to get to the gold: readers avidly seeking new content.

Lest this important point be overlooked: for those libraries or consortia with their own platforms, these publishers are more than happy to sell direct, offering significant discounts off the consumer price.

These publishers are both reputable and offer really solid, well-reviewed content. Libraries can invest in them with confidence. And because of the price, we can buy more copies and, often, digital copies more cheaply than print.

At a time when our readers are interested in ebooks that we have and that are immediately available, these offerings stand out in our catalogs and collections. These new digital publishers realize that libraries at this moment in history offer them a real shot at new readers.

We talk too much about the Big Five. The real action, the experimenters, the library-friendly publishers, are moving from the midlist to the top. It behooves librarians to reciprocate the interest.