Epublishing is unquestionably a vibrant opportunity for publishers and authors but because it is relatively new to the publishing world, it is still viewed with suspicion and disdain. Because digital publishing is seeking legitimacy with readers, writers, and others, it needs to step up its game.
First, there is the barrier to entry. According to a recent poll at DearAuthor, 58% of the respondents said that they don’t read ebooks because they don’t have an ereading device and don’t want to read on the laptop. This means that whatever being offered in digital publishing isn’t strong enough to overcome this barrier to entry.
Second, there is the quality issue. 43% of poll respondents had purchased more than five ebooks but still maintained a perception that the quality of digitally published books is lower than the quality of NY print published books. I believe this is due to a couple of things. First, it is fairly easy for anyone to start up an epublishing business these days particularly if the impetus is to publish works no one else will obtain.
Second, there is a certain segment of digital publishing that is publishing porn under the guise of romance thereby diluting the brand of serious romance digital publishers. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with publishing porn and profiting from it. I do have a problem with digital publishers coopting the romance genre for the sole purpose of attracting the large buying segment without actually delivering romance. Porn publishers should own up to what they are publishing and be measured against other porn publishers.
In order to address the quality issue, romance digital publishers must work hard to differentiate themselves from the morass of digital publishers out there whose product is not acceptable, either because of poor editing decisions at the acquisition stage, poor editing after the acquisition stage, or in production. Books such as this or this do nothing to further the image of romance digital publishers. Books from digital publishers must have good, tasteful covers. The websites must reflect a professional interest. Each and every release must evince high standards of editing. Failure to accomplish any one of these markers degrades the goal of legitimacy, not only to writing organizations, but with authors and readers.
Everything that ePublishers do must be at the level of NY or better than NY. This is because Digital Publishing is the new kid on the block. Any misstep makes it easy to dismiss digital publishing as valid. Every strident voice in opposition to print publishing serves to turn print people off, those include the readers of print books. It doesn’t matter that NY published books are badly edited. It doesn’t matter that NY publishing can give the shaft (and does) to its authors with measly $1,000 or $2,000 advances. NY has the benefit of 70 years plus of publishing behind it. While it really can’t afford to look down on digital publishing (and it doesn’t, in fact, as evidenced by the fact that no contract is obtained these days without digital rights), it has legitimacy that digital publishing does not.
I do not say these things in order to support delegitimizing digital publishing as a path of publishing, but to acknowledge that digital publishing is relatively new and therefore skepticism is to be expected. We should continue to fight for legitimacy but the greatest weapon that digital publishing has now and will have in the future is in the product.
There is no question that there are books published in digital only format that rival anything that New York is putting out. Evie Byrne’s latest vampire romance from Samhain, for example, exceeds anything I’ve read from the Silhouette Nocturne line (Byrne’s book is about the length of a category). Deidre Knight’s Butterfly Tatoo was an emotionally charged book as good as any woman’s fiction romance published by New York. I know that there are other readers who would agree that the quality is there but we need more of it and we need it to be more uniform.
The advantages to readers of digital publishing is obvious. The books are DRM free. The genres and tropes can be (but are not always) wildly innovative. The pricing is right and the books are always available on the dates promised. Digital publishing has many benefits, but we advocates of digital publishing need those forming and releasing the product to step up their game.