To e or not to e?
A couple of years ago we were being told that everyone was talking about changes to the supply chain. Today the book industry "buzz" is undoubtedly ebooks. In fact, I'd bet that more words are being written about this issue than are being e-read – estimates on the size of the market are still 1%-2%, even in the USA. This first wave of users are the 'early adopters', people who habitually use new technology, whatever it's for.
First, there were the usual 'death of the book' noises, which have been emerging every now and then ever since the invention of newspapers (or probably since the invention of moveable type itself). Curiously, the fact that this premise has been discredited several times doesn't stop it re-emerging. In reality books align themsleves fairly quickly and eventually benefit from whatever was meant to sound the death-knell (remember how after VHS videos came out, cinema attendance rose?). The content crosses the platforms, whatever the medium or the technology. Newspapers publish books. Films and tv programmes have tie-ins. And publishers are exploring ways of spreading their content across online, broadcast and print. The online content adds value to the book experience, it's not yet replacing it.
Booksellers now have to find a way to maximize on these opportunities, as selling coffee and DVDs isn't the answer (just ask Borders UK – oh, you can't). Some publishers are already blurring the lines, or even eradicating the traditional route to market – booksellers – entirely. Amazon, playing cuckoo in the nest, is simply gobbling up other people's content and selling it packaged as an Amazon product. It buys rights to content and publishes ebooks that can only be read by the ebook reader Kindle – produced by Amazon. The same will be true of the forthcoming Kindle 2. And when you download your book you don't actually own it, you just sort of licence it – if it's deleted or withdrawn you lose access to the content. Imagine buying a new book from Blackwell's only for a bookshop assistant to turn up at your house some time later and take it back! (Actually that wouldn't happen if only because they don't get paid enough to make house calls. Booksellers are among the best qualified, best-informed and worst paid employees anywhere.)
The Kindle and other ebook readers are probably the reason ebook reading is still marginal to the market. The reading experience isn't great, as on the whole the screens are smallish and black and white. As pieces of kit they're expensive (average £250-£400) and limited in what they do (no video, for example). In fact most ebook users (53%) are using their laptop instead. Another common complaint is the lack of quality and range of books available. There are only 250,000 titles available for Kindle in the UK (350,000 in the USA, none in Canada); that might sound a lot but over 100,000 new titles are published every year in the UK.
For publishers, the pricing is the major issue. We can't for the life of us decide what ebooks should cost. Most existing and potential readers – over 80% - believe ebooks should be cheaper than print books. But, cheaper compared to what? Paperback? Hardback? Book club edition? And should it be available before or after the paperback release? Publishers have already seen supermarkets loss-leading on trade titles, should the value (not price) of their product, brand or author be even further undermined? And then there's the debate over author royalties, which the Society of Authors believe should be higher than the current 15%-20%, given the larger margins available to the publishers.
Soon, however (March, actually), a new ereader enters the market. We're going to get the long-awaited 'iPod moment'. Apple are making a press announcement on 27 January, which is expected to end much speculation and say that in March they launch their own ereader. An ereader is already available as one of the thousands of Apps for the iPhone, and it will probably be the kind of multifunctionality and style we expect from Apple that will change the ebook reader landscape, for the better, if more expensive – the Apple version is expected to retail at about admin:edit_field,000. By doing more and doing it better, Apple will bring the 'added value' to the experience that other ereaders haven't. Apple don't launch products until Steve Jobs believes they've got something special. Some years ago he said he wasn't interested in the ereader market – but, a long time ago, he said that about mobile phones… At least one very major publisher, HarperCollins, is already in talks about making ebooks available for the Apple hardware (iSlate?), possibly via iTunes.
Of course, there are still the whines of "you can't read an ebook in the bath" and so on; hey - only 6% of us say that the bath is our favourite place to read, so there goes that argument. Sustainability is a more valid concern: I wonder how much carbon we'll using as we charge up our ebook readers, what nasty materials they're made out of and what happens to them all when we thrown them away.
Once we get to know and, undoubtedly, love the iSlate, answers will emerge for some of these issues, and publishers can continue their experimenting with multiple, complimentary formats, while hopefully maintaining the true value of creative, high-quality content.
St Teilo's Church - the book blog
At last, the first review for Saving St Teilo's has come in.
Reviews make me nervous but in a good, exciting way. I never really dread seeing them but it is a truth universally acknowledged (in publishing at least) that you can't keep all of the people happy all of the time. So, sooner or later we'll get a stinker. But not this time –
"Gerallt Nash’s book also conveys a spirit rarely found in museum publications – pride and joy, craftsmanship and passion, a genuine sense of adventure and achievement. It makes the reader not just want to see St Teilo’s, but also to wish that they had rolled up their sleeves and lent a hand in its rescue."
To read the rest of the review go to http://www.vidimus.org/booksWebsites.html
St Teilo's Church - the blog
We had a fabulous event at St Fagans yesterday. The weather wasn't quite with us - damp and overcast - but luckily lots of people were, and very many of them bought copies of the book!
I didn't catch the whole service as I was flitting around with boxes of books, but what I saw was very moving, and it felt intimate and totally natural.
Then a whole load more people arrived for the actual launch. People crowded into the Church and the two main speakers, Garry Owen and Eurwyn Wiliam, both did excellent jobs. Eurwyn spoke about the project from its beginnings, and as he's been involved with the project since its beginning 25 years ago it was a great overview. But, as always, humorous too! Then Garry Owen brought a lovely personal note, as he's a local boy who remembers the Church when it was still by the river Loughour at Pontarddulais. He really emphasised just how iconic the Church was - and still is - to the local community.
Finally everyone came over to Oakdale, the Workmen's Instititute, for refreshments and we were flooded with people queuing up to buy the book. It was like when you first arrive at a car boot sale! It was also great for me to finally meet some of the book's contributors, people I've only emailed up til now. I guess everybody was enjoying themselves as by 5.30pm some people didn't seem to want to leave!
The rest of the work for me is now to make sure all the relevant bookshops and retail outlets know about it. And making sure it's on the relevant websites. And sending out review copies... In a way, producing the book is only half the job: now we've got to sell it!
St Teilo's Church - the book
No blogs for a while now - but mostly because we've been working full tilt on the book (also because I've been off for a week...).
So, it's now at the printers, and there's nothing - well, hardly anything - more we can do now. If all is well the books will be in Cardiff this Friday, and we'll all be at St Fagans launching it on Sunday. If the weather is anywhere as good as it has been this last week or so then it'll be a truly lovely afternoon.
As exciting as it is to look forward to seeing the actual book (no matter how many proofs, dummies etc you've seen - the real thing always looks different!) this bit always makes me a bit nervous too. After it arrives, and I spot the inevitable typo that got away, or something I wish we'd changed when we had the chance, or... and after the launch event, I'll be able to reflect on what a pleasure it was to work on and how lovely everybody was to work with. It's a real privilege to have been able to learn so much about the whole project - one of the very best bits of my job is being able to get involved with such a variety of different projects that might otherwise have passed me by. But with this one in particular, I think, the depth of people's knowledge and skills, and their committment, is inspiring.
Anyway, look out for it, available in all good bookshops - soon!
St Teilo's Church - the book
We're getting really stuck in now. We've had a complete set of pages, which is our chance to move or replace any images, or perhaps move pages around. Once we've done that the layout is set in stone and we start proofreading. While we proofread the English, the designer will work on the Welsh pages - that's why it's important that nothing moves around after we've agreed on the layout!
We had some new external shots of the church done, so that we'd have a wider choice to try out for the cover. I think we're pretty close to deciding on the image. And I think the title is decided too:
Saving St Teilo's: bringing a medieval church to life.
I hope it's a strong title, and I like the fact that we get the name 'St Teilo's' right in there at the beginning!
We're also moving ahead with the launch event. It will be in the spring, March or maybe April. It should be a lovely event, it will be lighter then - and warmer!
St Teilo's Church - the book
We had a very positive meeting with the book's designer before Christmas at St Fagans. She's come up with some lovely ideas, it makes a big difference when you've seen something and you then have a set of images and visual themes you can relate to. The design manages to convey a sense of the crafts, skills and techniques behind the whole project, which is something I really want the book to convey.
We're still looking for exactly the right image for the cover though. We decided, although it might seem a bit unimaginative, to use a picture of the exterior of the Church. For all the amazing images we've got of the interiors, especially of course the wall paintings, I really believe that the audience for this book will be looking for a book with a picture of the church on it - sounds obvious I suppose! The book covers many things including art, archaeology and architecture, but in the end it's primarily about the story of St Teilo's Church. So that's the message the cover will convey. Plus, the building itself is now so recognisable, its shape is almost iconic.
I think one of the features that draw people to the Church is the contrast between the simple, white, almost humble-looking exterior and the riot of colour and images inside.
As soon as I've got images of the sample spreads I'll publish them here - it would be very interesting to know what people think of them!
St Teilo's Church - the book
I'm working on a book about the fantastic St Teilo's Church at St Fagans. Been really looking forward to this one, it's a lovely story and there's a wealth of fab images - unlike usually, when I have to scrabble around for some decent stuff. I thought we'd be much further on than we are mind, I really expected to be up to my ears in proofs by now. I sort of know why we're further behind than I'd planned, just can't quite explain. Or I could, but it still probably wouldn't make much sense. Plus, designers work in different ways, and this one likes to take a lot of time 'up front' working on the design concept, then when that's agreed we crack on with the proofreading fairly quickly. I suppose I'm more comfortable with spending the bulk of the time at the proofreading stage, especially with a fairly text-heavy book like this one. Still, we always manage to end up with a book on time. I should be designing the marketing plan by now, but I'm still getting the images together and finishing the copy - things like indexes, the glossary, that kind of thing. And I haven't written any of the image captions yet, which I decided would be quite long, narrative style, so that we don't have to cram absolutely everything into the main copy.
Having to work within a financial year is odd too - not at all the way publishing works. I could get really quite anxious about this if I let myself. I just have to concentrate on how good the book's going to look, and having a high-profile launch, with a popular speaker, where everybody buys a copy of the book, which will get great reviews...
In our favour is the fact that the Church is already incredibly popular and has had a lot of good press. The whole re-erection project at St Fagans has built up a swell of good will, and the Church has its own loyal following - a sort of fan-base! All that's keeping me going at the moment, but I know things are going to get pretty intense over the next couple of months.