One of the most difficult things to do when running a business started from scratch (as Savas Beatie was in 2004) is to get out of the "shoveling coal in the boiler room" mentality and spend more time on the bridge. For it is only from that higher vantage point that one can see the seas ahead, the sky, determine wind speed, current flow, heading, and make damn sure Frederick Fleet is not dosing off in the crow's nest.
Even if the vantage point is not as high as Mr. Fleet's, it is easy to see the approaching digital iceburg.
But does this digital ice pose a threat, or an advantage? My guess is that the answer lies in how soon we recognize it for what it is and turn the rudder accordingly.
The book world is experiencing tectonic shifts. Print is here to stay, but so are digital books. (I believe the advent of digital books will increase print sales in the mid-to long-term, but that is fodder for another post.) Trade sales are falling, returns are increasing, the major chains are in severe financial distress, etc. Some of these problems are beyond the control of the publisher, but many of them pose new opportunities (I tend to see opportunity in every pitfall and exploit it accordingly.)
There is not a single publisher who has not at least thought about how to handle the digital issue. Some refuse to see it and like Mr. Ismay have ordered full steam ahead. Others remain frozen at the wheel, unsure what to do and so by default have adopted Mr. Ismay's position. A few, however, are busy turning hard to port or starboard in an effort to glide past the potential pitfall. Savas Beatie is in that latter category. It is my hope that within a short time I will be able to reach out and chip off some clear clean ice into a tumbler and follow it with three fingers of 20-year-old single malt and a good cigar. And from that glass both publishers and authors will sip. (You have to bring your own cigars.)
After spending an extensive amount of time reading and pondering the issue, I decided late last year that one of the three primary strategic goals for Savas Beatie in 2011 was the digitization of our title base for sales crossplatform. Many of our books have been available in Kindle format for some time, but I knew that would not be enough to get the bow of this ship around the berg.
I am happy to report that most of our available books (including our growing and vibrant back list) have now been (or are being) converted into the various ePub formats. The entire process should be done by the end of September.
In additon to the Amazon Kindle format, these include: Apple's iPad (available through the Apple iBookstore), Sony's Reader, Barnes and Noble's Nook, Border's ebookstore, and others. Wholesalers who also deal with digital editions (like Baker and Taylor) will also be carrying our titles. Each digital book also has its own eISBN number. Although Kindle sales have been modest thus far, they have been steadily increasing. Once the transition is complete and our titles are widely available, we expect to see strong growth in this area--but not at the expense of print titles. Growth in one area does not have to translate into a decrease in the other.
The digital age is upon us, and that iceberg is not of the "blue" variety. [Look up blue ice if you are unsure of my meaning.] Indeed, it has been visible for some time--even the coalers in the boiler room have heard about it.
Best to chip from that block and enjoy its advantages than hit it full on and go down by the bow.