By Keith Simmons USA TODAY
Will technology kill book publishing? Not even close.
By Harold McGraw III and Philip Ruppel
Today, it is not uncommon to hear predictions that the names of the great publishing houses will soon fall from the covers of books to the footnotes of self-published history tomes. Casual observers could be forgiven for thinking this way based on headlines on the e-reading revolution.
First, Amazon announced that its e-book sales topped its hardcover sales for the first time. Then, in August, the Washington Post Co. sold iconic Newsweek amid questions about the future of weekly magazines. And just recently, this newspaper launched a " major organizational restructuring" as part of a continued shift from newsprint toward more digital platforms.
While this tide of headlines speaks to the sea change sweeping the publishing world, the industry itself is anything but washed out. In fact, many parts of the industry are thriving in the digital age.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the success of the e-book. The Association of American Publishers recently reported that e-book sales for the first half of the year were up more than 200%. Far from being the end of the publishing industry, this number is a sign of a new beginning.
Why is there such a gap between the perception of a dying industry and the reality of a rapidly adapting one? It begins with five common myths about publishing:
Myth No. 1.Publishers are merely printers. That would be news to companies like ours, which don't even operate their own printing presses. Publishers today are in the content business. We develop it; we design it; and we deliver it however our readers want it. And while a large part of our business remains in paper and print, we are seeing an unmistakable and irreversible shift toward bits and bytes with e-books and digital delivery platforms accounting for a growing share of the total market.
Myth No. 2.Authors don't need publishers in the digital age. Anyone who has ever written a book knows this to be false. Many great authors would never have found their audience without a great publisher willing to take a risk on their talents and market their works. At every stage of the editorial process, publishers partner with their authors as creative consultants, editors and designers. Ernest Hemingway had Maxwell Perkins from Charles Scribner's Sons, and Norman Mailer had E.L. Doctorow from Dial Press.
These relationships are even more critical to a book's success in the digital age. With the ascent of e-books, authors will need publishers to serve as digital artists who can bring words to life by pairing text with multimedia features such as audio, video and search. While many of these functions are only included in so-called enhanced books today, they will be part of every book tomorrow.
Myth No. 3.E-books should essentially be free books. This would be true only if paper and binding represented the bulk of publishing expenses, and that is simply not the case. In bookmaking, manufacturing costs typically account for less than 10%-15% of the total. In short, the price of printing pales in comparison with the cost of creating content.
When readers buy new print books, they are paying for the ideas on the pages — not the pages themselves. At McGraw-Hill, as many as 10 editors and designers will have a hand in any given book. The process requires a significant editorial investment from publishers, and that dynamic will not change even as print gives way to electronic ink.