How Do Small Publishers Make eBooks?

by Kim on February 4, 2011 · 15 comments

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What happens to a small press when they need to start producing ebooks?

That’s always been one of my questions as I read stories about the impact of ebooks on booksellers and consumers, and I finally got a chance to get a perspective on that issue when I interviewed Krista Coulson, the electronic publishing manager for the University of Wisconsin Press, for the books column I write for a local newspaper.

I went to UW Press, a small academic publisher, at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, and ended up chatting with Krista for about 45 minutes about a pretty wide variety of topics related to ebooks.  She was great — a total book geek who was excited to chat about the market and think about where book publishing might go next. You can read the full column by following this link, but I wanted to share some of the things I learned that didn’t quite make my word count.

Krista told me there has really been two ebook waves — one in the late ‘90s, and then one that started just a few years ago. We’re in the second wave, which has been driven mostly by websites like Amazon pushing ebooks and the associated increased consumer demand. That was challenge for presses, especially small presses, who don’t have a lot of resource for experimenting.

Even today, a lot of the books that end up going from a backlist title to an ebook for sale go there because of consumer demand. UW Press pays attention to people who request books via Kindle, readers who e-mail asking for particular ebooks, or even authors who want their books available that way.

I also asked her about pricing, since that’s something I’ve always been curious about. Krista told me a lot of it is still experimental. Currently, UW Press sells ebooks below the paperback price, but price also depends on the type of book (scholarly or commercial) and how many of the ebook they hope to sell. At some point, the pricing should stabilize, but for now people are still trying to figure it out.

The other most interesting thing that didn’t make the print story was some thoughts on the future of ebooks. Krista told me she didn’t think things like the vook (books embedded with video) would be feasible for small presses, but might be a thing for some bigger publishers to experiment with. UW Press might take on some smaller projects, maybe using mobile and apps to connect Wisconsin specific guidebooks with users, or starting to embed multimedia with language teaching tools. It’s all still in the works, but I think small presses like UW Press will be successful if they have people as enthusiastic about ebooks as Krista is.

I hope you’ll take the time to go read the column — I’m proud of the way it turned out — and share some other thoughts you have about ebooks and small presses. It’s fascinating, and I’m happy I got the chance to talk about it with someone like Krista, who seems to love geeking out about books as much as I do.

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