Thursday, November 11, 2010

GOING DIGITAL?








I was at work the day that B&N launched its new Nookcolor. It’s an e-reader in color. The 4th floor was closed for days in preparation and secrecy. I heard that Hors d'oeuvres and even alcohol was served at the event. No one was allowed up on the floor except those who were invited. That meant customers were barred. Most didn’t give us a hard time though a few gave a bit of an attitude. One customer said “I’m never shopping here again! I’m going to the Strand.” Good go, is what I thought. I hate attitudes.

Anyway, this is what I read on PW: “The addition of color to the e-reading device allowed B&N to officially announce Nook Kids, which in addition to 12,000 chapter books, will have 130 picture books at launch with that number expected to double by the end of the year. Some of the children’s books will be enhanced e-books, featuring video and audio.”

“Initial reaction to Nookcolor from the many publishers in attendance at B&N's New York headquarters was positive, with the addition of color and the price seen as the most exciting features. Color, said the head of one children’s division, “puts children’s publishers in the e-book game.” Also in attendance was Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Book Group, who observed that the presentation, which featured actors and actresses going through a typical day using the Nookcolor, seemed aimed primarily at women, the people most likely to buy picture books. Katz believes that not only will the Nookcolor provide a needed boost to picture book sales, but will also change the way authors and illustrators create picture books in the future, requiring them to keep in mind how the book will look on a screen.”



Boy does this scare me! First of all I can’t imagine having bedtime with a 3 or 4 year old while staring at a little screen, one that cost well over 200 dollars at that! God forbid the child touch it for he or she might break the device! Imagine if it were dropped during a reading? Or drooled on? What about the joy of the page turn? Kids like turning the pages themselves. Sometimes the pages might rip but it’s just paper! Well… it is when it’s a BOOK. And illustrators are expected to now worry about how their art will look in print AND on a screen? Like I’m not driven crazy enough about getting the color right for deadlines as it is.

Also, how do we as authors and illustrators get fairly paid? I still don’t think that’s clear yet.

There was one thing brought up on a list that a librarian mentioned. The devices might be good while at a restaurant or on the subway when the child needs to be entertained. But thinking along these lines, I don’t like this: “Some of the children’s books will be enhanced e-books, featuring video and audio.” Eeek! Maybe we illustrators will become obsolete, in favor of animators and people who can make things interactive.

So you can guess what my vote is on this one. I got a contract for one of my books to go digital and it’s still sitting on my desk unsigned.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nookcolor: giving kids ADD/ADHD, radiation poisoning, and the like since 2010....


I can see this device being used as another "fun alternative" to the TV or Nintendo DS. But, as an educator, this scares me because I can see how some people might want to start using electronic books only and leave print materials behind.

Kids need to learn that sometimes things will not be easy or fun for them. Sometimes in order to have the reward of reading a spectacular book, THEY will have to work to read it. Sometimes they will have to struggle, but in the end-through patience and hard work-they will reap the benefits.

I see every day how the Internet, TV and video games change kids' habits. Many can't sit still unless you are showing them something shiny and interactive. While the NOOKcolor's interactivity CAN be a great tool for problem solving in some cases, I do not think that we can discredit the impact a paper page has on a child. I know one might argue that we have lots of books that "move." We have pop-ups and books with flaps, but physically lifting a flap feels different than clicking a screen.

Do you think that publishers are trying to push the e-book market to replace picture books? Are picture books going to end up costing $35 a piece? Are people just going to start self-publishing, and picture book stores will one day be like comic book stores are today? Will a team of animators be hired to convert an artist's images into mini games (did you see all of the video game elements that were added to JAMBERRY?) or is the artist going to be responsible for all of that? That seems like a lot to me.

Already I can't read a Dr. Seuss, Clifford, Arthur, or Harry Potter book without children saying "I SAW THAT ON TV!" or "I have that video game!" Again, this is another case of pandering to kids (I was the school librarian who mentioned pandering in the "What should we talk about?" stream of comments.)

There is a time and place for everything (including e-readers). In schools, teachers seem to be really good at figuring out when those times are. But if books are going to be written as games, and people who want to stick to print are left behind, then there will not be a time and place for everything because there will only be ONE thing available and readers will not have options.

Courtney Autumn Martin said...

I agree with everything you've said here. I'm a children's illustrator myself and I could go on and on about the many reasons why I loathe the idea of digital picture books. Only just last night was my blood boiling over it during a debate with my husband. We had just come from the RISD screening of "Library of the Early Mind," in which, only briefly, was the importance of printed books touched upon. But the film did not cover it enough to assuage my fears.

I am all for creating an entirely new digital storytelling experience on these devices, one with intentionally interactive, NEW stories--which are really more like games than books anyway. And those should only ever be supplementary to the tangible, physical printed book, they should never replace them.

I work all day at the computer to make my art, and at the end of the day I do not want to "curl up with a good screen." Can't there be one last form of entertainment that doesn't need a battery or electricity?

Meghan said...

Are there video game elements in Jamberry for e readers? I promise I won't let that happen to my books even if I'm the last remaining person out there! Yuck. Seriously.

Anna Alter said...

You've all stated how I feel very well. I'm not against an e-reader as a supplement to reading actual paper books, but never a replacement... Its not the same experience at all when it comes to picture books!

Meghan said...

Yeah, a supplement is fine. I mean, my shelves are FULL (of course I collect art books - you can never put those on an e-reader). For novels and things I'll only read once, I could see myself using one on the subway at some point or for travel... (kind of like how I use my ipod). And I can see how editors would love it because manuscripts can be heavy (though what about taking notes? any editors out there want to comment?)...but for picture books? Whaaaa?

Libby Koponen said...

I'd be more likely to only look at a picture book once than a novel -- and could totally see myself doing that looking on some kind of electronic device. I'd be much less likely to read a 500 page novel or biography on a kindle or ipad or whataever.

As for reading the book aloud - maybe the kids I know are lazy, but they like me to turn the pages. I could see them enjoying pushing the buttons....

Maybe I only see the "bad" picture books (the ones the kids I babysit for get as presents, the ones our local library buys), but I think a lot of the picture books published now (NOT yours, Anna, Meghan and Grace) are pretty forgettable....rarely do they contain anything emotion or thought provoking. I see mainly a few words per page, bland or predictably edgy pictures, a formulaic story arch--what's to reread?

Anna Alter said...

When I was a kid I used to reread my favorite picture books over and over again. I would rarely do that with a novel, but maybe that reveals our difference in interests :)

I think there are lots of great books being published now that could become favorites read night after night, it would be a shame if electronic media discouraged that. Rereading seems more likely when you have a relationship with a book as an object... how often do we reread articles or blogs or other kinds of writing on the computer screen? I almost never do.

alvina said...

It can be scary, but it's also exciting. Personally, I'm excited about eBooks, but of course I don't want paper books to ever go away! But kids LOOOOOVE eletronic things. You've all seen really young kids with iPhones, right? In general, they're really careful with them, and they really adapt to the technology naturally. And yes, they already read books (and play games and watch videos) on them, and they do watch and read the same things over and over again, so that's not going to change. It's definitely a challenge, though, making sure that the reading experience is of high standards/quality, and some books won't translate as well to an electronic form and perhaps should never be an eBook, but others are perfect for the new format. And there are verbatim eBooks, and enriched eBooks, and enhanced eBooks and apps--the whole gamut.

Anyway, as Libby had posted a while ago, stories and art will always exist, and people will always be seeking them out. At least for now, eBook sales haven't been proved to be encroaching on traditional book sales. People who buy a lot of eBooks now weren't necessary the same people who would buy a lot of paper books.

We're all keeping an eye on the market and seeing how things change. As I said, it's scary but also exciting.

Oh, and authors get a royalty on eBooks sales--but yeah, I don't really know how the math works out.

And no, publishers aren't looking to replace paper picture books with electronic books! Well, at least not my publisher. There are NEW publishers who only publish eBooks, though!

Meghan said...

All I did as a kid was request the same PBs over and over again. I think most kids do (sorry Libby!) I could be wrong there - if there are others out there like Libby please speak out, I'm curious! (of course that means my career is a waste of time but I'm a big girl, I can handle it). When I go to schools I see it time and again. I'll say "Do you guys want me to read you one of my books?" "Yeah!" they all scream out. And then they'll pick the one that they just heard the day before and the day before that. I've heard of parents' kids memorizing text before they're reading age and then reading along -- pretending to read. They hear the book so often that they can do that! This is why we PB authors put adult jokes in the books--to entertain the parents for multiple readings so that they don't get bored stiff!

My mom also used to read us novels and I loved that. She'd read us a chapter a night. I don't recall, though, wanting any of that re-read. There was just too much out there to be explored!

Libby, I think you are a true novel reader. My sister was like that. She had her head buried in books constantly. I'll have to ask her if she re-reads anything. BUT you also write. So you certainly gain a lot by re-reading. May I ask what kinds of PBs the kids you babysit for have in their collection? I'm sure there are better ones we can all recommend! If you name Where the Wild Things Are I'm going to cry...

Meghan said...

You know what I was thinking about? Formatting. Would we have to start doing PBs to fit the e-readers? My picture books are always odd sizes, like squares. Would I have to start making them more traditional sizes?

The second thing: payment. The contract sitting on my desk says I get 15% of gross sales or some such. That doesn't seem like a lot to me! Who the heck gets the rest? I mean, there is no paper or printing or storage and no bookseller selling the thing per se so what gives? Who gets most of the money since we know it's not me!

Anyone want to weigh in here?

Dan Santat said...

I find it rather interesting that for all the interactive books that are out there now everyone has resorted to just the cartoon-y animated mass market feel of things, granted that products like Leapfrog only use licensed characters like Spongebob and so forth, but let's keep in mind that there are still other mediums to use if and when it comes to that. I don't think folks like us who are in the business are going to get less work or be replaced by animators, it's still a matter of finding the right artist for the right manuscript so I don't think people like Meghan, or Anna, or Grace will have to compromise what they do in order to make the books for the eBook market. With that said, I think this will be an interesting challenge for all of us to tackle in the near future and it's more productive for us to try and anticipate what we plan to do rather than worry. I say this because NPR recently did a survey on the current number of eBook readers out there. Currently, it's at 3.4 million, but by 2015 they anticipate that it will jump to 30.3 million. That's FOUR YEARS! It's inevitable, whether it's a replacement for the everyday printed book remains to be seen but I don't see that happening either (or any time soon at least). We'll be fine. It's not as if Mark Teague will be out of work making Dinosaur books because he can't use Photoshop. As for how we get paid, that may be a different matter, and honestly, I'm not even certain that a big publisher will be safe in the future if everyone can become an online publisher. If you look at other forms of multimedia, such as the video game industry, it's almost as if you can be TOO BIG to succeed as a company because more dollars are at risk and lots of folks have gone off to start their own publishing companies. Just my two cents.

Meghan said...

Hmm. Interesting points Dan.

alvina said...

in terms of the cost of eBooks, publishers still have all the same costs--overhead: editors and all of the other publishing people involved in creating a book, plus all the support staff and back office staff, plus rent and stuff. And then you have new costs associated--new staff to work on formatting the eBooks. You don't have the physical warehouse costs anymore, but you have new digital warehouse costs. Also, new costs associated with fighting eBook piracy and all that.

Publishers ARE afraid that we may cease to exist if we don't retain the rights to the new electronic form. That's the scary part--for me, at least!

Anonymous said...

It is a lot more difficult to photocopy a 500 page book than it is to download it illegally online once the "right" venue exists and all of the anti-piracy software is hacked. Doesn't this worry publishers?

alvina said...

Yes, of course! Which is why we're spending additional money fighting piracy, as I mentioned.

Publishers aren't generally the ones pushing eBooks, but we need to adapt to the market if we want to stay in business and keep publishing books well.

alvina said...

And I should add, fighting piracy includes monitoring the internet and sending take-down notices to sites that post books illegally. However, we've found that often the books up on a site are PDFs made from hard cover books being scanned in...

Anonymous said...

Well, was assuming that the costs of storing e-books digitally costed way less than actually storing physical books. A word document with a 250 page novel doesn't take up a lot of space. Neither does a jpg of a 72 dpi image.

Anyway, my point is that editors and the rest of the staff already get paid (and yes, I know you get paid from the books) but authors DON'T! We need this money! If it's only 15% of something that could be a lot more then we'll just quit and find something else to do with our lives (or at least I will). I mean, I sit for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours painting a picture books. I think when you do the math on it percentage wise an author/illustrator puts in most of the time. So why would he/she get the least amount of the profit?

As far as piracy: This really concerns me. A famous musician can get money in other ways, such as concert tours, t-shirts, dvd sales, and so on. Authors have nothing but their one product. If people start copying it and handing it around for free like they do with music then I think that's the end of all of us. I really do. People are savvy when it comes to technology. How will it be stopped if this is really the way its going?

meghan

ssherman said...

I think it's important to remember how many kids rely on their public (and school) libraries for books. Many many families don't have money for in-home computers and fancy readers. I don't see the economy getting so good in the next few years that that will change significantly. Ergo, not to worry: the library market will remain strong.
I think we'll see --are seeing-- bookstore sales fall off, but that "slack" should be taken up by the ebooks those 30 million (richer) folks buy for their computers and readers.
Children's books are always finding new markets: it's what makes it such an interesting market.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, yeah, libraries. I hope they can remain strong!

meghan