February 16

Digital book publishing at home in Maine

Publishers and authors find ways to reach online audiences.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Two significant events of recent weeks suggest that electronic books and e-book publishing have arrived in Maine in a big way.

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Tim McCreight’s Brynmorgen eBook Group converts printed books into higher-end digital books.

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One is the appearance of Portland writer James Hayman’s latest thriller, “Darkness First,” on the USA Today best-seller list. On a national chart that tracks all sales in all genres – fiction, nonfiction, hardcover, softcover and e-books – Hayman’s book was at No. 87 on Feb. 2, up nearly 100 spots from the previous week.

That’s significant, because Hayman’s book, for now, is available only as a digital download, and it’s tough for e-books to crack best-seller lists that also include print.

“Darkness First” also reached No. 2 on Barnes & Noble’s best-seller list and is one of the top selling police procedurals on Amazon. Harper Collins will release it as a paperback in late March, which should boost sales even more.

The second noteworthy event involves Brunswick-based Brynmorgen Press, which converted yet another of its print books, “Complete Metalsmith,” to an enhanced e-book. The digital version includes the full text and 1,800 illustrations of the original print edition from 2004, as well as a dozen embedded videos, links to websites, additional photographs, built-in calculators and a glossary.

The conversion of “Complete Metalsmith” and nearly another dozen titles in the Brynmorgen catalog is significant because the publisher, Tim McCreight of Harpswell, is a tech junkie who’s been waiting nearly a decade for technology to match his ideas.

“I want my books to be read, but I want them to look good, too. The solution was waiting for the technology to catch up,” he said. “It’s been 10 years of keeping my ear to the wall and experimenting. All along I’ve been saying, ‘No, not there yet. Not there yet.’ But we’ve finally turned the corner.”

In many ways, 2013 was the year that e-books found a comfortable place in the book-publishing world. The astronomical growth in e-books sales, which began in 2007 with the introduction of the Kindle reader, finally slowed, which indicates that e-books have settled into sustainable segments and niches among the book-buying public. Readers are comfortable with the digital format and the tablets that support them, said Mike Shatzkin, founder and CEO of the Idea Logical Company Inc., and a leading thinker about change in the book publishing industry.

“I think there is a definite shift taking place,” Shatzkin said. “Readers are increasingly comfortable with digital reading, and that is especially true with fiction and the kind of nonfiction where you start at page one and end at page last.”

Among the major publishers, digital sales account for 25 to 30 percent of all revenue, Shatzkin said, which probably means book publishers are selling up to half their stock as digital books, because an e-book generally costs much less to buy than a paperback or hard cover.

Most digital books sell for a few dollars, compared to $25 or more for a hardcover. Fiction is the primary driver of digital sales, although nonfiction is becoming popular as well.

There are two kinds of e-books. The most common are books that do little more then reflow text in a digital format, allowing readers to control the font size and style. “Readers are not expecting anything more than that. ‘Give me the words so I can read it,’ ” Shatzkin said.

The other are enhanced e-books that include content that goes beyond print, such as videos and web links. Those require a high level of creative expertise and are much more expensive to produce, and they have a much smaller market. They generally are niche publications, such as cookbooks, how-to manuals and, increasingly, textbooks used in education.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Local author James Hayman’s e-book “Darkness First” is selling well for the digital-only imprint of Harper Collins.

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