Launched at the end of 2011, the e-book program of the Library of America has released eight titles so far with plans to publish about two e-books a month for the next year. LOA publisher Max Rudin explained that the nonprofit charged with producing high-quality, beautifully designed editions of the best of American writing took its time to enter the digital market because it needed to make sure it did it right. “Our e-books have to be scrupulously produced, just like our print books, and it’s taken us a while” to find the right partner, Rudin said. That partner turned out to be eBook Architects of Austin, Tex.
LOA began its e-book program in November 2011 with The 50 Funniest American Writers According to Andy Borowitz, which is also its bestselling e-book title. LOA has published seven more e-book titles since, among them The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael; The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It; and The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard. Rudin said he expects LOA to release at least 30 e-books by the end of 2013. LOA e-books are released in print and digital editions simultaneously, “when we can,” said Rudin, “and we’re filling in where we can with the backlist.”
LOA e-book prices can be a little startling—e-books generally sell somewhere around $20—and Rudin said most LOA e-books are priced “at the lowest price of a print edition.” The digital list price of Borowitz’s 50 Funniest American Writers is $27.95, though Amazon discounts it to $13.49. The Civil War has a digital list price of $37.50. Of course LOA print editions also have higher prices. LOA omnibus editions collect either multiple writers or multiple works by a single author. “Our editions are aimed at a different audience and have higher prices that are comparable to our print prices. Our e-books are aimed at an audience that wants an authoritative collection,” Rudin said. LOA e-books are distributed through all the major e-book retailers.
Although LOA publishes the most revered writers in American literature, acquiring digital rights has not been a problem, Rudin said. “Our books are curated selections of multiple writers, and we have exclusive digital rights to them. The case we make to their original publishers is that our omnibus editions are aimed at a different reader and sold at a higher price” than conventional trade books, Rudin explained.
LOA is also looking to link its print and digital publishing via the Web. On July 17, it went live with www.loa.org/sciencefiction/, a companion Web site to American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, a two-volume boxed set to be published this fall. The site will act as both marketing and promotional vehicle for the set, but it will also act as a resource and online community for science fiction fans. Consumers can buy through the site, which will also offer essays on the development of American science fiction, including appreciations of the nine novels by such writers as Michael Dirda, Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Nicola Griffith, and others. In addition, the site will display classic jacket art of the period, author interviews, photos, links to audio-video resources, and additional stories. There’s a dedicated Facebook page, and the books will include a QR code on each jacket, which when photographed with a smartphone or QR reader, will take the consumer to the LOA science fiction Web page.
“Our mission is to make texts as widely available as possible,” Rudin said about LOA’s expanding digital efforts. “Our subscribers want digital for a lot of reasons, including for travel, and it’s our obligation to make sure these books are available digitally.”