According to reports from the world of publishing, adult hardcover sales continue to go down while e-book sales go up.
So why do I resist the thought that publishing an electronic version of a book--an electronic version alone, mind you--would satisfy that weird part of me which wants to hold the finished work in my hand and sign the front page when I hand it to someone who might (just might) read it?
Sure, you've spent two, or twelve, or twenty years working on a project, but as soon as it enters the marketplace, your magnum opus becomes a manuscript. It then becomes a review copy, which becomes a book, which gets puts on the shelf of a store (if you are lucky).
After a fairly brief period of time, during which it becomes apparent that you are not being interviewed by Piers Morgan, attacked by Rush Limbaugh, reviewed on the front page of the NYT Book Review or endorsed by Kate Middleton--more often than not--your book gets returned by the store to your publisher as an unsellable product. All books are returnable. The bookstores can order all they want; they can also send every single one of them back. They need the shelf space. They need to sell new titles. It's how they stay in business.
And publishers need to publish new titles; it's how they stay in business, too, and your title gets old fast. So when your book doesn't move out of the warehouse, they pulp it. They destroy it. Even used bookstores can only buy a few copies at a time, after all. The rest? They're toast. There is no such thing as a no-kill publishing shelter. According to statistics from a variety of reputable sources--because very few people in the publishing industry want to talk about this--up to (and perhaps even more than) 40% of the books printed are pulped.
Neither academic presses nor trade houses have sufficient warehouse space to store their "products." That's what books are, after all: products.
No need for the quotation marks when you think about.
Here's a real question: can you kill an electronic book? Once a work leaves paper and enters the Other Realms--as an audio book, for example, or an e-book, does it ever get the electronic version of "pulped"? Does it matter to anybody, anywhere if it is ever read? Or does it float, tree-in-the-forest-when-nobody-hears-it, in the ether, forever?
I'm lucky and I know it: before they became used copies or were returned to the sawdust from which they emerged, my books started life as cloth-copies. Some of them even had real-live sewn bindings.
And I’m even lucky enough to have several of my books available in every possible form. Yes, indeed, lucky is what I am. But it also takes work. If my publishers want me to, I will (as every author will soon be expected to do, except for the seventeen or so superstars who actually sell over 500,000 copies of their books a year) be asked to show up at readers' houses and make them dinner, so long as they purchase the books for full-retail price.
That's what Adult Hardcovers are expected to do, and--just as long as I'm not expected to wash the dishes as well--I think it's worth it.
What are you in the mood for, Dear Reader? I'll get cooking.