Although I often check up on which traditional publishers are beginning to upload their catalogues to Amazon, I have to admit to preferring publishers whose businesses began online. As a customer, you can tell when an eBook has been thought about as a complete product in it's own right, and when it's been half-heartedly re-formatted as a concession to modernity. Of course, there are some traditional publishers who treat digital publishing with respect, but I've also seen some shockers. One very old and respected American publisher, (who I wouldn't want to embarrass), sells books for £10 that do things with formatting I didn't even know were possible: switching between font sizes for no reason, sentences sliding around the screen. Another sells it's kindle titles with a disclaimer that the formatting hasn't been preserved, and you'd really be better off buying the physical book. If you feel your poetry can't be enjoyed properly as an eBook, why sell it as one?
Byliner are concerned with journalism, not poetry, but I wanted to cover them because they clearly love digital publishing and are interested in what it can do. Founder John Tayman sees eBooks as an opportunity to publish longer journalistic pieces that struggle to find a place in physical books and magazines.
I brought Into The Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and High Water in Post-Earthquake Japan. The author records the local people's frequently naive impressions of the risks of nuclear power, and it is these encounters that give the book it's interest. I understand why the author makes constant reference to the levels of radiation picked up by his gadgets; the contrast between his own worrying over slightly increased health risks and the stoic attitude of people who face much more serious risk every day, is clearly sensed. However, I felt this was sometimes overplayed and the geekiness became at odds with the rest of the piece. Some of the description edged over into floweriness. Aside from these small complaints, the book gave me everything I wanted. And that's the point - Byliner are attempting to create a series of books that you'll always be interested in if the genre appeals to you.
The books are priced at $2.99 or just over £2, and are intended to be just right for reading in one sitting. In my opinion, they've judged this correctly; I spent about an hour and a half reading Into The Forbidden Zone, so it would cover a train journey home and a little reading before bed. I like that they've priced something in a way that makes sense to consumers, who are baffled by reading about 'the agency pricing model' and how publishers regard eBook sales as lost hardback sales.
Although the topical aspect of Byliner's model would have to be lost when looking at poetry, (there's nothing worse than self consciously topical poets), I'm inspired by their bite-sized eBooks. Of course, poetry has always had chapbooks as a way of introducing new poets, but digital publishing could make these shorter books much more economically viable, and easier to get hold of.
Some of this post was inspired by this article, yet another meditation on eBook pricing, but one with some genuinely interesting ideas.