Literary agent Peter Beren’s thinks traditional publishers will learn to make the most of ebooks. His thoughts set the stage well for an upcoming writers conference next month in Santa Rosa.

Berens, based in Point Richmond, has worked in various roles in the book industry for three decades. He spoke about ebooks Sunday to the Redwood Writers Group at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa.

Ebooks will be a big topic of discussion at the group’s Next Step Writers Conference April 28 at Santa Rosa Junior College. I’m going to be on an ebooks panel there with Smashwords Founder Mark Coker (full disclosure: I’m also on the conference organizing committee.)

While print book sales have dropped as ebook sales are soaring, many traditional publishers are going to benefit from digital publishing, Beren maintained. For one thing, the buyers of Kindles and iPads aren’t expected to stop buying print books. One estimate is that eventually the market share will balance out at about 50/50 for print and digital.

And ebooks have a higher profit margin than print, meaning less financial risk for publishers. As such, he said, in the future publishers may be more willing to take a chance on first-time authors by launching them strictly in digital form with “ebook originals.”

Some publishers are looking at bundling the sale of a book’s print and digital versions. The reader can take the ebook on the commute to work, and pick up the story with the print copy in the evenings.

As well, he said, the ebook can allow for shorter works that now are too long for a magazine but too short for a book. These ebook “singles” are providing new opportunities for telling stories in both fiction and non-fiction, and were the subject of a front-page story in last week’s New York Times (click here for story).

“Ebooks will be a savior, not a slayer,” of the book industry, Beren’s said.

For self-publishers, he put his finger on the single biggest challenge for success: what he called discoverability. Self-published writers need to work extremely hard to get readers to find their books. He even suggested that authors shouldn’t print solely with ebooks but should launch in print, too.

“How is anyone going to know that that ebook exists and where to go to find it?” he asked.

What do self-published authors think about that last idea? I think it’ll be an interesting debate at the April 28 conference.

Besides ebooks, the conference will feature breakout sessions on marketing, publishing, the craft of writing and tips on writing for various genres. The discount rate for early registration ends Thursday March 15. For more information, click here.

— Robert Digitale







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