Six years ago I started pestering our publishers for pdfs containing tables of contents and sample chapters of their books so we could better promoter their titles. I’m still waiting for any publisher to do this.
Early last year I started making contact with the major Catholic publishers asking if we could sell their titles as e-books. At the time, we were already several months behind Amazon and non-Catholic Christian (nCC) publishers had fully jumped on the e-book ship with thousands of titles available. After weeks of calls I came away with the following results:
- One publisher had already started producing e-books that we could sell but we had to sell them at the same price as the physical titles even though both the publisher and Amazon were not (this has changed since).
- One publisher had books available as pdfs and allowed us to sell them.
- Two author had titles in pdf format and allowed us to sell them.
- We produced our own line of Catholic classics in e-book formats.
For the most part, the remaining Catholic publishers hadn’t even started discussing the sale of e-books internally or if they had, were still in the conceptual stage.
At the same time we were reading article after article in Christian Retailing about how the nCC bookstores were trying to come up with a solution to avoid missing out on being e-book distributors as they had missed the boat on digital music. What this means is that a year ago the Catholic market was already about 18 months behind everyone else.
Fast forward a year and there has been some slight movement in the Catholic publishing industry. The Daughters of St. Paul have farmed out their e-book distribution to a third party, effectively cutting Catholic retailers out from being able to sell them. Tan Books is producing e-books but isn’t letting anyone else carry them. Another publisher is also considering going the third part distribution route which will take their titles out of the Catholic retailing world. Another publisher has started producing some e-books but hasn’t figured out distribution yet. Everyone else that we have talked to is still holding meetings to decide what to do.
The problem, and one that I have been commenting about for years, is that as an industry Catholics do not adapt at the speeds necessary to keep up with trends. This doesn’t mean that we need a zillion Bible translations but it does mean that we shouldn’t produce our first zipper cover Bible years after the Protestant world. This issue of bad inertia is only being exacerbated by the speed at which technology is changing. When I opened Aquinas and More cassettes and VHS tapes were still a part of the landscape. Those are gone. E-books didn’t exist. The iPod didn’t exist. In three years (40 years if you want to go back to the origins of Project Gutenburg) e-book sales have gone from non-existent to surpassing paperbacks, according to the American Association of Publishers.
Both Catholic and nCC stores completely missed the boat on digital music. NCC retailers are currently trying to find a solution that will allow them to be part of the e-book revolution but the first time I heard the same worry mentioned by a Catholic store was yesterday – over a year after the NCC stores had already put together a group to try and find a solution.
So what are we to do as an industry?
- Quit talking and start doing. You are already a year and a half late to the party. I recommend taking a look at Catholic Digital Services if you don’t have anyone in-house with the skills to start the conversion process. If you use another conversion and distribution system you are most likely going to cut Catholic stores out of the picture because these distributors typically charge more than any Catholic store could pay for the service.
- We need to start talking as a group about how to become a viable outlet for digital media. No publisher, and rightly so is going to want to go to each individual store to sell e-books and music. We need to come up with a way to do it as a group. I want to start a regular on-line conference with other Catholic stores to discuss issues like this. If you are interested, please take our survey so we can start organizing.
- As an industry we need to talk together about how to make this work. The nCC publishers just plowed forward with digital conversions without having a discussion with nCC retailers so the retailers are in a panic right now in spite of being far ahead of the average Catholic store in technological acumen.
If you have any suggestions, please leave ideas here so we can start the discussion.