Interview With Read An Ebook Week Founder Rita Toews

Read an Ebook Week is coming, March 7-13, and it has a lot to offer indie authors, small imprints and readers alike. Herewith, we present an interview with event founder Rita Toews.

1) What is Read An E-book Week, and what was its genesis?
Read an E-Book Week is an event to educate the public about electronic reading, and to promote the individuals and entities involved in all aspects of the experience – from the authors who create the books to the technology in the e-readers.

In 2003 I was looking for a way to unite e-book authors under a banner that would help them promote their e-books. I registered Read an E-Book Week with Chase’s Calendar of Events and encouraged authors to use the week to educate the public about e-books in general – thereby creating a market for their own e-books. Authors were encouraged to: approach publicity venues and offer to be interviewed, set up displays in libraries, offer to do readings in schools, and to generally spread the word.
2) How many years has this event been running? 
This will be the eighth year for Read an E-Book Week. The first few years were very low-key as I figured out what worked and what didn’t. The last few years were very successful.
3) Do you feel Read An E-book Week has been effective in raising awareness of, and interest in, ebooks? 
I think so. People have to hear about a new idea three times before it even registers in his or her mind. When something like a new way of reading books comes along the initial reaction is "There’s nothing wrong with the old way." So on top of having to introduce the idea, e-book authors had to break down the scepticism and barriers to electronic books in people’s minds. I think we’ve done a pretty good job. 
4) How can authors and small imprints partner with Read An Ebook Week to help promote their books while promoting the event? 
It’s very easy to partner with Read an E-Book Week. The website is a clearing house of events happening during the week. To partner, an author or publisher just has to offer a free e-book on their website, and host a banner linked back to the Read an E-Book website. We in turn will list the partner on the REBW website with a link back to the author or publisher. Anyone visiting our website can explore the participating partners list and visit those that catch their eye. Last year some partners reported 4,000 visits during the week.  
5) The upcoming Apple iPad has been rumored for many months to be a possible Kindle killer. Do you feel the ebook market needs an "iPod for ebooks" to truly break through to a level of market acceptance competitive with print, or are the challenges not specific to a device/platform? 

I don’t think the challenges are specific to a device/platform. In 2003 e-book fans wanted a device that was affordable and would allow them to read e-books comfortably. Now there are so many ways to read e-books that one device isn’t going to dominate the market. Actually, the most popular way to read e-books is on a mobile phone. A phone serves more than one function, is easily carried, and is a device that many people have with them all the time. It’s there when a person, even one who may not be a regular reader, has some spare time and decides to read. 
A dedicated e-book reading device such as a Sony or Kindle is something that a person has to make a conscious decision to have at hand when they want to read. It’s a device an avid reader would use – out at an appointment, or on vacation.
What is an iPad? Is it a small computer? An e-book reader? It’s too big to slip into a pocket or purse. It’s too expensive to forget at the Doctor’s office, so it will probably be used at home or in the office. This may be a product with an identity crisis. 
At this point, I think the challenges for e-books to break through to a level of market acceptance competitive with print are related to price, not device.  
6) Mainstream authors such as Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Stephen R. Covey are signing Kindle book deals directly with Amazon or go-betweens such as Rosetta Stone, cutting their print publishers completely out of the equation. Do you think this is the beginning of a bona fide trend, and if so, what are the larger implications for the trade publishing industry?
I really feel the interest in e-book by mainstream authors is the beginning of a trend. Publishers have resisted e-books for many years, fearing the new format would cut into their profits. Authors on the other hand are looking for profits, which are hard to come by in the traditional publishing formula. To them, e-books are a way to increase their profits. If traditional publishers continue to dig their heels in about e-books more authors are going to claim the e-rights to manuscripts and sign their own deals, cutting the publisher out of the equation.
7) Where do you stand on the $9.99 ebook question? Can publisher moves toward higher pricing succeed in making the $9.99 price point a memory, or will their strategy backfire?
$9.99 for an e-book is a high price. When a reader looks at $15.00 and more they will go elsewhere – perhaps to the independents. If a reader wants a specific book they may wait until it’s being cleared out. I’ve seen popular paperbacks at discount stores for less than $10.00. 
8) There are strong differences of opinion about the future of print and electronic books. Some predict e will inevitably overtake print, as CD has overtaken vinyl, to the point where print books will become the province of purists and collectors only. Others think print is here to stay and e will never become a very significant factor in trade publishing. Still others foresee a world in which the two format types will co-exist and serve different needs or audiences. What is your opinion?
In my opinion, the two will co-exist. There is a place for print and a place for electronic. Infant’s books are definitely a place for print, as are art books and reprints of classics. Electronic works well for travelers who would bring a lot of books with them, as well as for fiction that is popular at the time but will not become a classic. Anything that changes constantly is also well-suited for e-books.  
9) Along those same lines, some industry watchers theorize that the ebook is now in its infancy, and the current, predominant model of static text ebooks is just a phase to be superseded by a totally new model of enhanced ebooks and ebook "apps". Many ebook consumers say they would prefer not to have the distractions of embedded links and videos, yet enhancing ebooks may be the only way for publishers to justify higher pricing for them. How do you predict things will shake out in this area?
This makes me wonder what the monks, who hand-lettered and gilded each page of their lovely books, thought of books produced on a Gutenberg printing press. Change is hard. Is a book with links and videos a book at all or a form of entertainment?
Images and a few links would not be a distraction to me. After all, images in printed books add to the reading experience. When it comes to video and audio embedded in a book — that stretches the definition of a book a bit too much for me. 
Publishers may say they need to include the "add-ons" to justify the higher prices for e-books but that may not be so. It does cost a lot to produce a good quality e-book. The vetting of the manuscript, editing, formatting, advertising – each step costs the same whether the final product is in print or electronic. The cost of the paper, shipping and storage are saved when producing the electronic copy. It’s estimated those costs are about 12.5 percent of the average hardcover retail list price. That’s not a large figure. 
But there’s another way to look at e-book pricing. Do the people who buy e-books buy the expensive print books? E-books may reach an audience that print books don’t — meaning that each e-book sold is an added sale to the publisher. A sale they wouldn’t have had if the book were produced only in print.  
10) What do you say to the author or small imprint who/which has elected not to release books in electronic format due to an assumption that e is too small a piece of the market to matter? To the author/imprint who/which is holding back on e and waiting for the dust to settle on pricing, DRM and related issues? 

I say they are missing out on sales and the e-book reader’s goodwill. For any business to succeed they have to give their customer what they want. If one business doesn’t, the customer will go to the business that does.

11) Where can Publetariat’s audience learn more about Read An Ebook Week, and can you offer links to any general online resources for good, up to date information about what’s happening with ebooks and related technology?
Read an E-Book Week is located on the web at The website has a host of information about reading and publishing e-books, as well as information on various e-book reading devices. Readers should also visit the Supporters page and the E-book Store page for a fantastic choice of free e-books during Read an E-Book Week.
There are a number of current on-line resource sites on the web. I would highly recommend Teleread and Mobileread.  The mobileread forums are really informative.


[Publetariat Editor’s Note: once again, Smashwords will be sponsoring Read An Ebook Week, with special discounts on Smashwords titles. Indie authors with books listed on Smashwords can learn more about how to participate here.]

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