ALLi's founder and director Orna Ross considers the tricky issue of terminology when talking about self-published books in their many different forms.
“What do we think about ‘p-book’?” asked Andy Lowe, ALLi’s watchdog recently.
“I’ve heard some of our US members say it,” I said. “I guess it makes sense. E-book = electronic book. P-book = print book.”
“Hmmm…” said Andy, as is his wont. (Excellent trait in a watchdog).
And then I started to think about it, as is my wont. (Inevitable trait in a writer).
I decided I liked it. Though it felt funny at first, I've got used to it and have extended the idea, so that now I speak and write not just about p-books for print, but also a-books for audio. And I notice more and more indies doing the same.
It's not just because these are handy abbreviations. That wouldn't be enough to make us push beyond the awkwardness that always accompanies the determined use of a new term. I'm sure it's because they feel, as I do, that making these three terms equal helps move us beyond the perspective that print is the real format, with e-books secondary and a-books tertiary, handled as a subsidiary right.
That's how it has been, traditionally, in trade publishing but that's not how it is for indies.
The Indie Author Way
For almost all of us, e-books are our primary source of income. Print distribution, POD notwithstanding, does not work well for indies. It's too hard to make the pricing work, unless we have live, “back of the room” distribution in place or a large online following , who will buy direct from our website.
Readers of e-books and audiobooks are comfortable buying online. (Ahem… a-books…yes, yes, it does take a little getting used to!) And the dominance of author-friendly platforms in digital (KDP, iBooks, Kobo, Ingram Spark in e-book, Audible/ACX and Author's Republic in a-book) gives indies more advantage there. The advent of Amazon's Whispersync arguably makes audio an author-publisher's secondary consideration, before print.
Jerry Weinberg raised this topic a while back, calling it his “pet peeve” that “because books…made of paper have been around for hundreds of years, they have captured the name ‘book' as their exclusive property, while electronic books, around for about one generation, have a different designation: e-books.”
This, says Jerry, “makes them sound like they’re not real ‘books'.”
He suggests that the p in p-books could stand for paper, or print, or perishable and the e in e-books for electronic, easy-to-use, enduring or even elastic “for their ability to change dynamically”. The point is that both formats are equally books, not “real books” (p) and some “johnny-come-lately pretend books” (e).
I'm with you, Jerry. What makes books magic is the words, not the format.
Freedom of Choice for Writers – and Readers
The format is simply how the reader — the purchaser and consumer of the words — chooses to ingest the words and as consumers, we may prefer one format over the other. As author-publishers, though, we should publish in as many formats as possible and prioritise the formats that make most commercial and creative sense.
As a-books are not a “subsidiary” format for indies, the way they are in trade publishing, and as most of us make more money selling e-books than p-books, making the names we give the different formats equal and interchangeable feels to me like a necessary step for indie authors and something we should encourage in readers too.
Thanks, Andy, for asking… and getting me to think this through.
What do the rest of us think?#Authors: are you happy with the terms ebooks, abooks, pbooks? Join @OrnaRoss's debate here Click To Tweet