NeWest’s Paul Matwychuk on the Future of Books


Paul Matwychuk, of NeWest Press in Edmonton, responded to our questions by email on April 8.

1)  We all know that Dan Brown and his ilk can sell product in any form, ebook, pbook or otherwise. But what do you think will be the impact of ebooks on literary publishing in the near term?

The biggest impact I see ebooks having on a small literary publisher like NeWest is accessibility and availability. It can be hard sometimes for us even to get space on the shelves of the large chain bookstores, and it can get expensive to print up enough copies of those books of ours where there is significantly higher commercial demand to send out to all the stores that want to stock them. With ebooks, it feels as though we are operating on… well, maybe still not quite a level playing field with the Dan Browns of the world, but at least a playing field with less of a forbidding incline. It becomes much cheaper to get our books out to readers in regions of the country that might not have access to a well-stocked bricks-and-mortar bookstore.

I also feel that the ebook format lends itself better to fast-moving, plot-driven, one-and-done genre novels—mysteries, romances, science fiction, fantasy, and so forth. Books that keep you flipping forward to the next page and the next page and the page after that. More “contemplative” books (not that genre novels can’t be contemplative too) are a little harder to appreciate on an e-reader, I find, and so readers might continue to experience them in a print edition.

2)  How will your role as a publisher change as a  result of the increasing adoption of ebooks?

I have to say, I don’t see our decisions regarding which titles to publish changing at all as a result of the popularity of ebooks. I suppose the biggest challenge in the future will be persuading authors that there is value in publishing their books with a literary press (whether that means the prestige of the NeWest name, the availability of professional editors and proofreaders, or the freedom from worrying as much about having to market the book themselves) instead of simply publishing them independently. For more and more authors, self-publishing may now become an attractive alternative to conventional publishing—literary presses no longer have quite the same monopoly that they once had.

3)  What do you think the value of a conventional book is in terms of a collaborative process between editors, publishers, designers, printers, marketers, and retailers? How do you think that collaboration will change in the era of ebooks?

NeWest takes a lot of pride in the physical presentation of its books—cover design, layout, editing, proofreading. There’s something about a beautifully executed book that is so satisfying to own and read, and that’s something I often miss when I read e-books—every e-book I read on my Kobo looks exactly like every other e-book I read on my Kobo. But it may well be that that fetishistic attachment to the physical elements of a book—the feel of the pages, the exquisiteness of a well-designed cover—will start to seem a little old-fashioned and decadent to the next generation of readers, who are used to experiencing *all* their entertainment on one interchangeable handheld screen. I often hear people predict that physical books may become something akin to vinyl records: items bought mainly by collectors and purists. They could be right, although the idea of having to plug in a book in order to read it has always seemed a little bit ridiculous to me.

4)  How do you think the McLuhanism that equates medium with message will apply to ebooks? That is, will artistic forms such as the novel or the short story actually change because of the new delivery media, including e-readers, iPhones etc.? What about the impact of so-called enhanced books that include video and music?

The concept of “enhanced” ebooks always reminds me of those “enhanced” CDs, packed with videos and concert footage and interviews, that the music industry was releasing for a while and which they thought would save them from declining sales. Do people really want a book that comes with videos and audio files? Maybe there will be special cases where that will work—I can picture someone like Nick Bantock, for instance, coming up with some kind of enhanced Griffin & Sabine ebook. Maybe children’s books or movie tie-ins or certain types of educational titles would also benefit from these sorts of extra features, but I have a hard time picturing them becoming anything other than a novelty. That said, maybe some kind of D.W. Griffith-like visionary will come along and completely reinvent the form in ways I can’t even imagine… you never know.

5) In what ways will paper books change in the next few years because of ebooks?

You might very well see more titles (especially in genre categories) bypassing the expensive design and printing process and coming out exclusively as ebooks. With the cost of producing books now greatly reduced, you might also see more publishers taking chances on unknown authors, or fringe genres, or books that target niche markets such as specific ethnic communities. It could be a paradox for authors—it might become easily to get your book “in print,” but it might become harder to actually make a living as a writer.

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Paul Matwychuk

Paul Matwychuk is general manager of NeWest Press in Edmonton.