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Why Digital-First Makes Sense for Books
Anyone who has worked in marketing knows how to use digital communications to test and improve the quality of the work before going into print. The best brands test first in digital format because they can improve internal knowledge at little expense before carving their marketing into stone and investing those subsequent expensive ad dollars. True for product packaging, advertising campaigns, and just about anything going out the door.
Does this same approach make sense for books? Books are long, contain a lot of words with plenty of opportunities for typos and other errors that the author and publisher would love to fix before it is locked into print.
Imagine how awful most software would be if user-response mechanisms were not built directly into the product so they can be quickly addressed and fixed wherever possible. All the participants in the content benefit from an ongoing continuous quality improvement process. Alpha. Beta. Release. Round and round and round.
I have a feeling this is what the future of books will look like. The vast majority will be released in digital first and then some will go to trade paperback editions and then a lesser amount into deluxe hardcover editions. The digital edition will have the most errors and needed fixes; the paperback should be near perfect if not perfect, and then the deluxe hardcover that someone pays $29.95 or more for will be flawless in all the best ways of the printed book. Design. Typography. Editing.
The digital edition costs the least so the reader will be slightly more forgiving of errors. The print editions will then fix those issues reported by readers. Right now, if a reader encounters typos, there is no good feedback system in place. In fact, getting through to anyone in editorial at a major publisher without already having an email, which most readers will not, is like trying to penetrate a fortress surrounded by music-theory graduate student zombies playing spectral music from Germany. (Trust me here.)
The other advantage this new approach would have relates back to the marketing example at the beginning of this post. Publishers could test their digital editions before going to print to better identity new readers, to better understand the demographics of the markets with growth potential. Then the print distribution and associated marketing could be that much smarter when their time rolls around.
— Caleb Mason