Lizzie Newell: Physical Books

The current state of publishing is a frenzy of competition and marketing with publishers, booksellers, authors, and distributors fighting over a seemingly shrinking audience. Whether it’s shrinking or not, the entire industry is engaged in a frantic effort to capture audience interest.

Recently I read about a new strategy publishers can use for identifying bestsellers by tracking the sales of indie authors. If an author is doing well the publishers move in for a takeover. Meanwhile indie authors are organizing blog parties featuring trivia contests and free giveaways. Wanna-be authors are polishing their pitches and query letters in hopes of getting that pitch just right and impressing a publisher. On the prowl, ever-present Amazon fine-tunes its schemes and algorithms for holding onto the fickle loyalty of readers.

Despite all this, we’re still in the business of selling books. In the last ten years, e-book sales have taken off, but they won’t replace paper books. Readers are still more likely to buy a book if they can hold it in their hands. Even if they buy the e-book copies instead, that experience of holding a physical book, thumbing through it, and hefting its weight remains part of tactile memory. A physical book is advertising.

The big publishers know this. They put their money into getting books into bookstores even if most of those books won’t sell. The sheer number of copies stacked up on tables or turned face-out on a shelf makes an impression on readers.

Paper books are indispensable to indie authors as a marketing tool. Conferences often have signing events with maybe a hundred authors signing books. Authors who have e-books only must resort to signing postcards and passing out candy and swag. I recall meeting with some of these authors and still have the pens, bookmarks, and charms, but I have little recall of the authors’ names or what they write. I carry copies of my book in a shoulder bag. When I meet new people, I could explain what I do for a living and pass out business cards, but it’s faster to show what I do by pulling a book from my bag and handing it to them.

Once those stacks of books are sold or given away, they continues to act as advertising. Books sit on bookshelves, lie around on tables, or are given away. Other people see paper books and may borrow them. This doesn’t happen with the e-books squirrelled away on cell phones. For physical books, the longevity of reach can be astounding. I have books which belonged to my great-grandparents. Some of the books contain doodles in the margins and mustaches on historical figures. Others are beautiful examples of design with vintage typesetting and gorgeous illustrations. I love these books as a window into the past. Their physicality offers an immediacy which e-books can’t surpass.

Lizzie Newell is an author, illustrator, book designer, and artist living in Anchorage, Alaska. She has written six books and twelve short stories set on the planet Fenria, a world which greatly resembles Alaska. She crafts related jewelry, costumes, and sculpture, and received a BA in arts and humanities from CSU in Colorado and a BFA in fine art from UAA. She does book design for other authors and often works with consulting editor Rebecca Goodrich. Newell’s first book, Sappho’s Agency, is available at UAA Bookstore and at Fireside Books in Palmer and as an e-book.

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