The opening panel of BEA's day of educational programming, “The Value of the Book,” certainly demonstrated that there is value in the book—but those who are leading the industry have wildly varying opinions of what that value is, and how best to exploit it.
Within the first 20 seconds of his introduction, Farrar, Straus & Giroux president Jonathan Galassi, who moderated, brought up what would turn out to be the issue of the morning: how the industry should navigate the “bumpy landscape” of e-books. That quickly led to a heated debate about piracy, with author Scott Turow—who was recently named president of the Authors Guild—calling piracy an “enormous” risk, one that should be at the forefront of publishers’ minds. Speaking to the rest of the panel—which included Workman group publisher Bob Miller, ICM executive v-p Esther Newberg, Ingram CEO Skip Prichard, Penguin Group CEO David Shanks, and American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher—Turow said, “You guys have got to do a better job.” Prichard, however, noted that most books that are pirated today are being scanned in from paper editions, and that e-books “did not cause piracy.”
Prichard, along with Miller, seemed to be more pro-e-book than the other panelists, and Teicher repeatedly urged publishers to be “format neutral” so that booksellers can serve readers in a number of ways. Galassi and Turow criticized Amazon for simultaneously releasing print and e-editions of certain books. “It was a mistake,” said Galassi, to which Miller responded: “It’s pretty hard to go back now.” And when Newberg brought up all the enhancements that can be made to e-books, especially on the iPad, Galassi retorted, “Who has time to enhance an e-book? [With all the links to external websites], you could be in an e-book forever.” Shanks had little to say about e-books in general, continually noting that print books still make up "90-plus-percent of our business."
Getting back to the panel’s official subject—what the value of a book is in today’s market—Newberg mentioned a new Steve Martin novel that Grand Central is publishing this fall, An Object of Beauty. With its vellum pages and high-quality jacket, Newberg said the book must have cost Hachette a fortune to produce. Yet she was confident that “if you make a beautiful product, they will come.” Prichard disagreed. “People around books care [about that sort of thing], but the vast majority of readers don’t.”