At Mediabistro's Ebook Summit

This post, from Laura Dawson, originally appeared on the LJNDawson Blog on 12/16/09 and is reprinted here in its entirety with her permission.

Yesterday I was at Mediabistro’s eBook Summit, an event that actually spans two days (but I had to take one day to get this newsletter out, so there you go). They opened with a session on Open Road, the company founded by Jane Friedman and Jeffrey Sharp.

Jane and Jeff were interviewed by Carmen Scheidel of Mediabistro, who gave Jane and Jeff a chance to explain exactly what Open Road is, and what it intends to do.

Apparently they are looking at backlist titles with an eye towards both ebook and movie products. Their example was William Styron, whose books make good movies ("Sophie’s Choice"); there is also some extant footage of Styron himself that’s never been widely available. And it’s high time his books were available as ebooks.

Additionally, they are publishing what Jane calls "E-riginals", which are ebooks native to Open Road.

When Carmen brought up the memo from Markus Dohle at Random House regarding digital rights (and many of the books Jane would like to publish are, in fact, Random House books), Jane very carefully stated: "We are only working with people who represent that they have those rights to sell to us." This she repeated a couple of times.

Open Road is also working with universities, which of course are great repositories of authors’ papers. And they are developing apps – Jeff cited an app that would lead tourists around Charleston, highlighting Pat Conroy’s haunts.

Some discussion from the Q&A – all answers are Jane’s:

What will it take for traditional publishers to thrive once again? "I think there will always be physical books, and it’s essential that we keep them. But some of the issues of traditional publishing have to change. Advances are difficult, The idea of chasing the bestseller is very very difficult. Most of the time if you chase the bestsellers, you don’t make money. We are in a secular change – meaning we are not going to go back. Publishers will get smaller, advances will go down, and nonreturnability of books is essential. Each publisher will find his or her way; it’s going to be a tough decade, and the balance between e-publishing and physical publishing, the e-world is going to get pretty close to representing 50% of the publishing business."

How will readers purchase your ebooks? At what price? "At this point we are thinking of standard list price as around $14. But again, nothing’s definite. We have to see what the audience will bear. All of the marketing that we are doing will live on Pieces will be pushed out everywhere else. But we are not selling books from our website. We are auditioning distributors. We are agnostic – we will be on whatever device exists. We will distribute and have our books sold everywhere ebooks are sold."

Could you talk about the kinds of deals you’re making with authors for backlist and e-riginals? "We are in 50-50 partnership. Our intention is to be a 50-50 partner with a content owner."

Are you encountering resistance from traditional authors that ebooks will erode print sales, and how do you mollify those concerns? "Number one, we have to respect the author. If Sherman Alexie doesn’t want his books on e-, that’s okay. The issue of erosion is like the issue of price. We need every possible consumer and every possible purchase we can get. We cannot turn away a customer. I do not believe that the publishing on e- should be delayed. That’s TODAY. I cannot be dogmatic. Do I think there will be some cannibalization? Yes, but we are building a new audience and we have to satisfy that audience. It’s extremely important for us to face this head-on – perhaps we will increase the reading audience rather than cannibalize the audience. Traditional publishers have very big nuts – their overheads are beyond anything that’s understandable by people who don’t work in a big company, and the erosion of hardcover sales WILL hurt their bottom line."

How do authors reach you? "We say that we are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. If it’s agented or with a lawyer, we will accept solicitations."


CEO of LJNDawson, Laura Dawson provides consulting services to publishers, libraries, booksellers, and book industry service providers. Her clients have included McGraw-Hill, Audible, Ingram, and LibreDigital. She was also a co-founder of the StartwithXML project. Laura blogs at the LJNDawson Blog where you’ll find frequent updates on technology, publishing, bookselling, libraries, and industry gossip.