The Scotiabank Giller Prize is quite prestigious in Canada as a book award, and traditionally, only big publishing houses have taken home the spoils. However, a book called The Sentimentalists won it in 2010 and what’s remarkable is that it was pubbed by a small, independent publisher who, once the book was given this award, could not keep up with the sudden surge in demand from people to buy the book.
They were SOLD OUT! And as a result, many readers could not get their hands on the book just at the moment that they wanted to buy it.
From a business perspective, this is bad news. Customers who are ready to buy are what keeps businesses afloat and when you can’t sell to them, the idea that these customers will stick around for another 3-5 weeks while you re-stock the shelves becomes dicey at best.
To me, this story highlights the shortcomings of the printed book. Sometimes books are over-printed. (Just check the 75% off section of any bookstore right after holiday season has passed.) And sometimes, as in the case of The Sentimentalists, books are under-printed.
Either scenario is bad for business but underlying all of this is the basic fact that it’s all a guessing game. No one ever knows what the exact right amount is, so you take your best educated guess and move forward knowing that you’ll be wrong (hoping you’ve under-printed as opposed to over-printed so you can go back to print).
Clearly, digital books run into no such problems. If The Sentimentalists had been solely published as an eBook, the publisher would have 1) never run out of copies and 2) been able to sell and sell and sell an almost infinite amount of books. For every buyer there would have been a copy and for every non-buyer, no resources would have been squandered on producing a copy.
Yet, let’s be honest. A HUGE part of me doubts that a book such as The Sentimentalist would ever get consideration for a prestigious award if it were only published in a digital format.
The printed book validates its worthiness (in the eyes of many). And to “merely” have it available through e-book format, in my opinion, stigmatizes a work… as if it wasn’t “worthy” of being published by a publishing house in the first place.
With Cinder-Smella, I am exploring/challenging that notion firsthand… yet seeing how still, it’s quite true.
Printed books, I am discovering, seem to have a legitimacy that eBooks do not. The people have spoken. And still are.
But the people who do the speaking are also changing. More on that tomorrow.