Penguin Group CEO John Makinson wrote an op-ed for today’s Wall Street Journal on the meaning of e-books.
Steering mostly clear of the trickier challenges facing the publishing industry (authors would like higher royalties, while consumers would like lower prices–“fair enough”), he tackles a sentimental (but still important!) issue: How do you make e-books an appealing commodity to devotees of ink and paper?
In Makinson’s case, the answer is “compare them to the Penguin paperbacks of the 30s”:
Allen Lane founded Penguin in 1935 on the basis of a brilliant and simple idea. He would buy the rights to publish paperback books from established hardback publishers for not much money, package the books beautifully, and then sell them around the world at a ridiculous price-sixpence in the U.K. Many years later, Jeff Bezos invented an even more creative, and much more profitable, model for the distribution of physical and digital books. He called it Amazon.
But in case the 1930s-paperback thing doesn’t have enough historical resonance for you, there is a Gutenberg shout-out to be had:
We can argue about speed and direction but there’s not much doubt that the world of books is undergoing its most profound structural shift since Gutenberg.
How will we book publishers respond to this opportunity? With anxious enthusiasm is the honest answer.
Anxiously enthusiastic: Better than enthusiastically anxious.