The e-world buzzes all around us these days, and yet in the land of writing, publishing, and sharing books with young readers, print continues to flourish. But there is an area of tension that we all — and I especially mean those of you who are officers in ALA, who sit on award committees, and who review books — need to consider. Right now award submissions have a cut off date defined by when the book was published — for example, to be eligible for the YA NF award the book has to be published (as I recall) by the end of November of that award year. But what does pub date really mean in the land of ebooks?
When a book is finished, the publisher has a file that contains all of the carefully copyedited text, all of the hi-res images in place along with the proper permissions, captions, and citations. The backmatter is neatly set off in the proper pages. For print purposes, this final moment needs to happen as much as a year before the book hits the shelves — in order to create advance materials, in order for the file to be sent to Asia where the book is printed, and to allow time for the physical books to be shipped and to clear customs, and in order to give the first reviewers the four months or so lead time they need to make sure a review is ready at that key moment when physical books are available. And, indeed, that selling date — so famous for books like the Harry Potter series when stores opened at midnight — was set well more than a year in advance to suit the sequence of publishing seasons, the printing cycle of publishing catalogs, and the scheduled trips of publishing sales reps.
But now think of the digital universe — from the point of view of an ebook, the book was totally finished when the publisher had that file. Indeed that file is the ebook, once uploaded into the appropriate epub format. In many cases, then, the ebook is done, cooked, ready for the public one or more publishing seasons, and thus even calendar years, before the print book. Now, to use my own experience with Hoover, what if there is a reason — say a film aimed mainly at adults — to release the ebook a season ahead of the print book? What if that ebook were enhanced to suit one set of readers while the print book, aimed at another, went on through the traditional printing and selling process? Right now — at least as I understand it — that early release of the ebook would mean the print book would be seen as having been published a season (and thus in my case a year) earlier, and thus not eligible for next year’s consideration.
What are the cutoff dates for ebooks? What lead time do reviewers need? Should an ebook release define the pub date of a print book? How different does an ebook for one set of readers need to be from the print book aimed at another to satisfy reviewers and award committees? These are questions that the digital explosion is forcing us to ask — and I hope all of you in a position to do so, will take them seriously. We chose not to release an enhanced ebook ahead of the print book — but I am sure someone else is facing that same decision now, and we need to offer them fair, thoughtful, guidance.