Last week, I wrote that publishers had sacrificed the quality of the printed book in order to preserve their margins reducing the shelf worthy quality of hardcover, trade and mass market fiction. Because of the decreased quality of the printed books, it’s no real sacrifice to move to digital books.
<—-this is the first of a set of redesigned covers for Harry Potter series as imagined by MS Corely.
Digital book technology, however, can help publishers make creative and unique collectible books at a much lower cost. Ebooks are simply one by-product of digital book technology. Digital book technology encompasses a new way to process books, manage backlists, and distribute title information.
One benefit of advancing technology will be better print on demand. Both Google and Amazon are looking to provide POD fulfillment services to reduce the waste of print runs (Amazon has filed a patent to include advertisements in POD books as well as ebooks). POD can be used to create one of a kind collectible items for the reader. Mike Briggs brought this idea up in the comments and I think it’s pretty brilliant. While third parties may not be able to offer this because of costs, publishers can offer this direct to consumer service. (A byproduct of this is increased brand awareness for the publisher).
In other areas of the retail world, mass customization is an oft proffered option. There is the most common which is Burger King’s slogan “Have It Your Way” (created in 1974). In apparel, Levis held a promotion to allow customers to design their own jeans. Both Converse and Nike give consumers the option of creating a custom shoe.
With POD technology, readers can create their own selection of limited edition hardcovers for their favorite authors. They can choose from a selection of covers or upload their own. Designers can proffer their own suggestions for covers, taking a small royalty for each sale. Penguin held a contest to design the cover of the next Donna Tartt novel. Readers could choose which, out of the winning designs, they would put on the cover. Readers could include a custom flyleaf, pick their own font, chapter headings, and color of binding.
As a rule, I generally do not buy paperbacks as gifts. I would much prefer buying and gifting trade or hardcovers. Using POD customization, I could order a nice set of books to give as gifts to my girlfriends or family members For those individuals who are afraid to read a romance, I could create a beautiful hardcover conversion package. Replace the man titty with something more avant garde and even the most reluctant reader won’t know what hit them.
Another way POD technology could be utilized to create shelf worthy books is to tell a limited edition book club of just one author such as the J.D. Robb series. I would love to have this series in a futuritistic noir with a cloth binding and a special inscription (which would say “Dear Jane, enough with your natterings about ebooks). Readers could purchase this limited edition set on a monthly plan akin to something like the Fruit of the Month Club by Harry and David (there are an unlimited number of x of the month club gifts, from flowers to nuts to salsa to wine. I know this because I give these as gifts every year). I would love to gift someone one of these “collections.” (One statistic from 2002 indicated that 51% of holiday shoppers intended to gift a book. Random House created an entire campaign last year to promote book gift giving).
There is a kids version of this (of a sort). IlluStory Make Your Own Story Kit is a self contained packaged in which your child draws and writes his or her own story. These pages are then sent to the publisher where the pages are bound into a real book and returned. “The finished hardcover book measures 7 by 9 inches with 12 pages, and features a permanent hardback binding, a laminated cover drawing, and book title.” The cost is $19.99. I’ve used Mypublisher.com to create picture books for family and friends. Ned even did a story book for our tot recounting a visit to the zoo. Apple users have access to photo books through iPhoto.
It seems to me that publishers can leverage print on demand technology to allow mass customization of books. Each reader can have the option to create their own library of shelf worthy books containg their favorite content.
Mike Briggs, your idea was great. Hope to see Patty’s books available in a special collection one day.