Thursday, 23 September 2010

It Smells of Books: Lynne Garner

Recently I watched an episode of New Tricks ( entitled ‘It Smells of Books.’ As the story unfolds one of the main characters Brain (played by Alun Armstrong) finds his ‘spiritual home’ in the London Library. As I watch there is a mutter from the other end of the sofa. ‘That’s you that is.” I smiled because that mutter from the other end of the sofa was right. Yes, I admit it I like the smell of old books, I like the feel of an old book, I like the way the pages turn. One of my small pleasures in life is going into a second hand book or antique shop and getting my ‘fix’ of old books. I make no secret of it and luckily those around me indulge this obsession.
Having shared my not-so-secret secret with the world I also admit I understand the written word has to evolve in order to find a new audience. Recently myself and the mutterer from the other end of the sofa set up our own publishing company (Mad Moment Media Ltd - Our first six narrated picture story books (a further six should be up by the end of the month) are available as apps (applications) which can be read on the iPhone, iPad and iPod. We also plan to release these titles as Kindle editions, so they can be read on the Kindle, Mac, PC and Android phones. I’ll admit creating electronic books (apparently known as mooks, makes you shudder doesn’t it) did go against the grain a little. However as the episode of New Tricks highlighted our universities are ridding themselves of ‘old fashioned, out of touch, space wasting, uneconomical’ libraries. (Not my point of view I hasten to add and not a subject I’m brave enough to debate here).
Well why did we decide to produce electronic books? Several reasons:
  • Our research showed that unless you are one of the big publishing houses getting into book and super market shops is stacked very much against a small independent.
  • The initial cost of printing, shipping etc in large quantities to make it a viable business was outside our limited budget.
  • We don’t have the space to store thousands of books or the infrastructure to distribute nationally let along internationally.
  • We wanted to reach a worldwide audience which can only be achieved by attending trade shows, working with sub-publishers etc. etc. Again something we were unable to do.
  • Our profit margin once we’d given the huge discounts expected today by shops would have been almost non-existent.
The benefits of going digital for us:
  • Many of the big publishing houses have yet to discover and take advantage of this new media, so competition at the moment is limited, although this is changing.
  • Although we had the initial costs for the development of our apps this was tiny compared to the cost of printing, shipping etc. of a traditional book.
  • Via iTunes we can reach a truly worldwide audience without even leaving the office.
  • Space is not an issue as all of our books are stored digitally.
  • Although we have to pay a commission to iTunes for selling our apps and Amazon when we start to sell Kindle editions we receive all of the profit.
  • We have been working on a procedure for the creation of these books and hope to offer the creation of apps to other authors and illustrators in the near future. This becoming a second income stream for us.
The benefits to our customers:
  • If a child loves a book then they soon become very ‘dog eared.’ The beauty of an electronic version is that as long as the files are up-dated regularly they will last, in perfect condition for a lifetime.
  • They are extremely portable and many, many books can be stored and taken with you in one small device.
  • Our stories are narrated, so a child can read along and hopefully start to recognise words and improve their reading skills.
  • The cost of these forms of books is less than their paper version cousins.
  • Children understand today's technology and find it exciting. So hopefully that excitement will become linked with the joy of reading if presented to them on one of these gadgets.
Now I fully appreciate some will be horrified by the words above and believe this will spell the end of the book. However I don’t believe this is the case. An electronic book doesn’t smell the same (although I have read they are trying to mimic the smell so reading devices can give off a little whiff should you feel the need). An electronic book doesn’t have the same feel an an old book and the feel of turning the pages has been lost. Also I see the delight on my nephews face when he pulls a book from the shelf, shuffles backwards into you so you can lift him onto your lap and then read the book with him. He is beginning to understand when you press keys on a computer exciting things happen and I’m sure as he gets older reading a book on a screen will become second nature. However humans have five senses and we are programmed to use them. So although digital books have their place and become part of the evolution of the book, they are unlikely to be able to satisfy our need to feel and smell a good book.


Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

This is interesting, and coincidentally I have picked up more about electronic books from your post than I have from any other article I've read. On all things olfactory and books, and this is just a lighthearted by-the-by, but I can't help but remember working inhouse for Macmillan Children's Books, it must have been about six years ago, and the uncertain looks on Editorial's faces when Design suggested a scratch and sniff cover for a novel with the words "bum" and "psycho" in its title. That was one idea that never saw the light of day, although someone did go as far as doing the costings.

Andrew Strong said...

I love music: I have a cupboard of vinyl albums(love the sound, and the sleeves, of course), cassettes (my own stuff from years ago, mostly), minidiscs (one of the great unsung formats) and cds. I own two ipods, I use itunes, Spotify and a myriad of software applications to generate and synthesize music. I have an internet radio, and can't go through Saturday without tuning into Radio 3 for at least some of the day. My house is littered with ancient musical instruments. I love them all. I love books, I will come to adore ebooks, I'm sure.