I’m still excited about the fact that I got meet a real book author, just before her big book-signing at my neighborhood bookstore! And along the way, I got a really fascinating perspective on how the publishing world could be changed by the Kindle…
Linda Wantanabe McFerrin had just published an Anne Rice-style novel called Dead Love, about a half-zombie woman and the lovestruck ghoul who’s pursuing her. In fact, after the book-signing, she was driving down to California’s Central Valley, where the next afternoon she was planning to participate in a “zombie walk”. (Where a bunch of zombie enthusiasts, wearing costumes, collectively celebrate their enthusiasm…) But she had a strange arrangement with the bookstore, because they hadn’t yet actually stocked her book. So they let her come in and sell her own copies – just for the prestige of having an author in town!
Before the book-signing, Linda and her husband were waiting for me and my girlfriend at a local modern “Italian fusion” restaurant. We all talked for over an hour, and then walked the two blocks over to the bookstore. The crowd was moderate but enthusiastic, and they really revved up when she read from her book. Linda started her presentation with a very unusual teaser for the crowd — “Would you like me to read to you about zombie sex?” But afterwards, I got to talk to her publisher — who was also in the crowd — who also had a fascinating idea about the future of ebooks.
He suggested bookstores should install “ebook kiosks,” where their customers could browse and purchase the latest ebooks for the Kindles and other reading devices. Then the bookstores could still claim a commission for every ebook that they’d sold! I’ve given the idea a lot of thought, and I’m not sure exactly what the business model would be. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great idea.
The truth is, I know people who are already using the bookstore as a way to browse for ebooks — which they’ll eventually go off and buy somewhere else. Sometimes they’re even making their ebook purchases from Amazon while they’re still in the bookstore! Using an iPhone app, they run a price-check in Amazon’s Kindle bookstore — and if the price is lower, the bookstore loses. The ebook kiosks could resemble those Redbox vending machines that let you rent DVDs, except with the ebooks, there’d be nothing to return!
Anyways, it’s the kind of “insider perspective” that you get when you talk to an actual book publisher during a reading by one of his authors. He’d dedicated his life to the distribution of printed stories — and he’d given a lot of thought to the health and future of bookstores. And best of all — he actually has a Kindle too! I enjoyed talking to him — and he didn’t seem curmudgeonly at all about the popularity of digital readers. Plus, I finally got to have the conversation I always wanted to have.
“I saw figures in the New York Times,” I said, “which suggested that publishers actually make more money off ebooks than they do off of printed books, because they don’t have to pay for the shipping and printing costs.”
“I saw that article too,” the publisher replied. “They seemed to be using figures for New York publishers rather than independent publishers.” But he seemed to confirm my general suspicion — that if you’re worried about the future, it’s the bookstores who are more likely to be hurt by the popularity of ebooks.
Looking back on the night, it was much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. (I’d thought I would’ve asked the author for writing tricks or professional advice — but instead, we just all had a wonderfully spontaneous conversation.) Okay, I’d also had a huge mango sangria at the Italian restaurant, so I was probably a little more talkative than usual. But I figured it was a special occasion — because it’s not every day you have drinks with a passing-through author and her publisher!
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