Posted by Jason Diamond
Tonight at Housing Works, people will gather to celebrate the official launch of Emily Books, the ebookstore started by Emily Gould and Ruth Curry. We figured it was no better time to talk to Gould about the last year-and-a-half of her life which included putting out her first book, bringing a popular web series to a close, and becoming a business owner, so we asked her some questions over e-mail.
How are you doing right now at this very moment?
The idea was born less out of a desire to start a bookstore per se and more out of a vehement desire to assign the world a syllabus of the books that have rocked my world and changed my life. Backlist and independently published cult classics as well as books that are overlooked by the big book marketing apparatus. Ruth and I are both big book evangelists — it’s why we worked in publishing! We are that friend who’s constantly telling you that you HAVE TO read book X immediately. I thought there had to be a way to professionalize my hobby of caring deeply about books and shoving them into people’s hands that didn’t involve publishing them, reviewing them, or being a book blogger, so this is what I came up with.
Ha! Well … you don’t see the term used because independent ebookselling doesn’t exist, unless you consider independent publishers who sell their own ebooks to be independent ebooksellers, or independent bricks and mortar stores who sell Google ebooks to be independent ebooksellers.
Amazon, B&N and Apple have a monopoly on ebookselling because they have proprietary ebook formats that are linked to devices, and also because the way ebookselling is set up now, retailers are in charge of putting DRM — “digital rights management,” a fairly meaningless but very expensive-to-implement form of piracy protection — on the files they sell. We don’t have a signature ereading device, obviously, and we don’t have the resources to offer DRM, even if we wanted to, which we don’t! (I think the people who torrent a book are the same people who in the past have waited 5 weeks on a library hold list rather than shell out for the book they want to read. People will buy books as long as it’s easier to buy them than to steal them. This is maybe the only way that digital books and digital music are analogous.)
A professor named Ted Striphas offered up a plan for the Indies to band together and launch a “platform-agnostic” ebook system. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of independent bookselling, which the future of independent ebookselling is inextricably linked to, like it or not. Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson linked to it in this blog post, also a useful read on this topic. Having all the indies band together and also ally themselves with the smart people who are tech people and also book people is a tall order — but it’s what needs to happen. The Emily Books dream is that we are harbingers of a future in which a thousand indie ebookstores catering to niche and non-niche markets bloom. I really hope this can happen, and also that the bricks and mortar indies can find a way to really sell ebooks. One first step would be to realize that they’re not — and I hope someone will tell me if I’m wrong about this — doing themselves any favors by selling Google ebooks, even if they do get some cut of the profit. It’s like letting Amazon set up a kiosk in your store.
You’ve held two bookclub meetings in New York. Are you planning to host events in other cities?