Sunday, April 1, 2012

Italica Tablet Editions
The figures are in and they’re hard to refute: the age of the handheld and tablet is most definitely with us, and that’s a good thing. About three years ago Italica Press started slowly, and carefully, converting all our titles to the Kindle format for both the Kindle itself and the iPad. By the end of this past Fall all of our titles had become available in these formats. (Please see our Italica Digital Library for current offerings.)

It’s very clear: the digital is here to stay. While digital sales of our titles remain only a percentage of overall book sales (our paperback and hardcover editions are still going strong: many titles have sold well into the five figures and remain in print), the percentage represented by digital sales has grown steadily, and now rapidly. What started off as barely a percentage point just three years ago, now accounts for nearly 30% of Italica Press’s overall book sales, and the numbers keep rising every month.

Why? One reason is their convenience: readers simply make two clicks on their computers and one of our titles — including all introductions, texts, images, notes, bibliographies — is streaming onto their handhelds/tablets, and available on all their devices. Students are particularly attuned to this advantage, especially for course-adoption titles. Another is that that old bugaboo of computer critics — that reading on screen is next to impossible — no longer holds much validity. Using a tablet for reading is as convenient and pleasurable, in many cases even more pleasurable for those of us who like to enlarge the type, than reading most printed editions. The third is price: every Italica Press Kindle edition is now priced at $9.99, and that beats any serious print version there is. It’s a good deal for the reader, and it’s a good deal for us: no manufacturing (no dead trees or toxic inks), no distribution (no wasted gasoline, tarmac and warehouses), and no physical returns to start the process all over again. Texts can be searched and bookmarked, annotated and hyperlinked to external texts and other digital resources. Best of all, a reader can carry dozens — even hundreds — of books around in one small, lightweight device.

True, there are limits to “readability” on these devices: batteries do need to be recharged and all those hours spent with Einstein on the beach do make hard reading. But there are also limits to reading paper: bad type and paper, carrying weight, dim lights and rocky rides on the bus, train or plane, the distractions of the modern home or office, our multitasking lives, badly written and dull books. And there are still limits to good content on these devices. Granted, we can download the latest New York Times bestsellers (fiction or nonfiction) and get hundreds of free, out-of-copyright classics; but few scholarly publishers have yet to make their new titles really available for the handhelds and tablets: either they do not publish for the handhelds/tablets at all, or they impose release-date embargoes on the digital edition, or they charge as much or more for the digital edition. All in all it’s a strategy based on equal measures of fear, uncertainty and the belief that markets are zero-sum games: that the digital will cannibalize the print, and that print is the best, most profitable format for everything.

We’re happy to say that we haven’t found that at Italica. By pricing well, by putting all our titles into the digital as well as print, we’re doing our part to move the digital into realms of serious (if not specialized) humanities publishing. We hope other presses will do the same — especially our colleagues at the university presses and serious commercial houses. They are slowly catching on and up, but until they make that serious, full commitment, you’ll continue to find serious, instructive, entertaining, and well crafted digital (and print) editions thriving here at Italica Press, still well ahead of the curve.