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21 March 2011 ·


Thanks to Dee White who blogged on this ASA panel. I learned a lot researching my 5 minutes’ worth, and of course, more on the night!
On Friday night I attended a session on digital publishing run by the Australian Society of Authors at the State Library of Victoria.
It featured high profile speakers like author Wendy Orr, literary agent Jacinta di Mase, Emmett Stinson and David Day.
It was good to see a large contingent of children’s authors and illustrators in attendance because for us, the issue is even more complex than most.
Take picture books for example, a topic covered extensively by Wendy Orr. She talked about the fact that PDFs can’t handle the double-paged spread that is an essential feature of so many beautiful traditional picture books.
Wendy had spent many hours researching her subject and discovered that whilst many of the PBs designed for e-readers had interactive features, these were rarely produced in consultation with the author so that the meaning and essence of the book could be lost in translating the story into this medium.
For this reason, Wendy suggested that apps not be given the same name as the book but be called App based upon the book…etc.
Furthermore, as Jacinta di Mase pointed out, the interactive component (which can end up being like a short movie or book trailer) of the book is like a separate edition and consequently should attract additional royalties.
Angelo Loukakis, Executive Director of the ASA commented that one of the difficulties in the evolving world of e-books was the variation in interpretation of modern terminology like ‘apps’ or ‘interactive’. Currently, there are no standard industry definitions and this is clearly an issue that needs to be resolved. I’m hoping that eventually the ASA will have a ‘standard’ e-book contract available for members to refer to.
Technology is ever changing and so are the players and opportunities in this field so as Jacinta mentioned, it’s important for contracts to have a sunset clause in them, where after a period of say two years, you have the capacity to renegotiate royalties.
Piracy was also raised as an issue with e-books, but this happens in the traditional book market already. How often do we lend a book we like to a friend and the author receives no royalties, PLR or ELR in the exchange? Even if books are pirated, there is still some indirect benefit to the author in getting their work ‘out there’. As we know, ‘word of mouth’ is a very powerful tool.
As a children’s author and parent, what concerns me most is not the advent of e-books as such, but that e-book sellers don’t categorise books for children other than to separate them into children’s and young adults sections.
So the buying experience isn’t like walking into a traditional bookshop, picking up a book to read the blurb and the first few pages to ensure that the content is suitable for the child reader. And I’m not talking about censoring here. I’m referring to the fact that one child will have very different tastes in books to another of the same age and gender.
E-books have opened the floodgates to self-publishing and consequently, the marketplace is overflowing with choices. So unless a prospective buyer spends a great deal of time researching and relying on reader reviews, they can’t really gauge whether the book is suitable for their child. For example, some 7 year-old boys love crocodiles and others are terrified of them, but unless the world ‘crocodile’ is in the title of the book, potential readers won’t even know that a crocodile is featured unless it’s mentioned in a review or some other publicity.
Parents of young children don’t have the time to spend hours trawling through online catalogues and reviews, and after speaking to a number of them, I discovered that many are choosing not to buy e-books at all or to just buy e-book editions of works they know rather than risking that the book they buy might not be suitable.
To me, this is an issue that needs to be addressed, and we as professional authors and illustrators need to find a way to get our message across to buyers — to let them know what our books are about and why our stories will work for their particular child at that particular age. When I work out how to do this, I’ll be sure to let you know.
The e-book debate is a complex issue but what came out of the night was that there are positive opportunities for authors in the new marketplace. We have to accept that change is upon us and make it work for us in the best way we can.
I can certainly see the advantages of making my books easily available to readers on the other side of the world. Radio didn’t die out when television was invented and I can’t see it happening to traditional books either. The advent of e-books just means that our books will now be enjoyed by readers in more than one form.

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio