Photo by CC Chapman via flickr

What led you to Iambik?

Iambik comes out of my experience as the founder of LibriVox, a project that gets volunteers to record public domain books, and gives them away for free.

It seemed to me that some of the ideas we had at LibriVox could be applied to works that are in copyright, in a slightly different model.

With Iambik we’re clearly more concerned with producing professional-quality audiobooks, and of course we won’t be giving audiobooks away, we’ll be selling them – through our own site, and through partners such as Audible, eMusic and Overdrive.

LibriVox gave me the insight that publishing ought to happen from the web first, and grow from there, rather than have the web as a kind of add-on to a physical business.

I suspect that’s where all book publishing will go: web and digital first, with the physical incarnations of books happening only for a subset of books that, as Frank Chimero says, “deserve to be objects.

Do you think audiobooks are getting more popular?

Yes, the top book apps in the iPhone app store are consistently audiobooks. I think that’s indicative of a change, where younger, more tech-savvy people are discovering audiobooks.

People have less time to read these days, and if they can do part of their “reading” via audio – in a convenient, cost-effective way – then I think we’ll see significant growth, or at least growth of new audiobook listeners.

Plus, the stigma that went with audiobooks is starting to fade. No one has time for stigmas any more. At least not about the formats people choose to get their “bookiness” from.

What sorts of publishers will Iambik be dealing with?

We’re talking to all sorts. We’ve started with independent literary presses because they’re really in line with our vision of publishing. Our next collection will be crime books, again with some great indie presses.

We’re also talking to the Big Six – really any publisher with good books they’d like to make into audio. We’re keen on talking to them and they seem to be interested in talking to us.

So mostly North American publishers? Do you see this project branching out internationally?

To date we’ve only worked with North American publishers, but we will be working with some UK publishers too. And eventually, we’d like to make audiobooks in every language.

You’ve described Iambik’s publishing model as very “webby”. Can you explain how you will work with publishers, authors and producers and the reasons why you’ve decided to structure yourself this way?

Well, I think we are a lot closer to the structure for many digital publishing schemes – the real difference is with traditional print publishing.

The big difference with Iambik is firstly that we’re not paying out any big advances, and second, we’re going to connect as much as possible directly with customers online.

Our hope is that narrators and publishers will want to work with us because we do a good job of finding good books to record and getting people in front of them.

Do you think dealing directly with customers online will be your advantage?

I think a publisher’s job is to connect content producers with the people who will enjoy that content, and vice versa. And so by definition, I think that publishers need to connect directly with customers. If they don’t, I believe they will have a very hard time, going forward. This is the big shift of digital.

At the same time, the existing online distribution channels do something really important: They aggregate audiences. So we will sell directly to our customers, but we’ll also spread our content through whatever distribution channels we can.

We’re starting with three distribution channels: OverDrive, eMusic, and a third one we can’t mention until it is finalized.

But I think in the digital age, producers of content need to be everywhere the people are: That goes back to the importance of connecting people and content. You go to the people and bring them your content, and hope that the people start coming to you to find your content.

In a recent article, you wrote that “thinking of eBooks as just another way to consume a book lets the publishing business ignore the terror of a totally unknown business landscape and concentrate on one that looks at least similar in structure, if not in profits and losses.” What do you think will be the real force of change in the publishing industry?

I think the real force of change will be the tension around what readers wish to do with (digital) books once they get them. In the old days, book publishers paid writers and editors and printers to make books, and then sent them off to retailers, and that was the end of it.

Publishers are trying to maintain that structure with eBooks. We make the books, send them to Amazon or Kobo, consumers pay $X for the books, and everyone is happy.

But there are two things happening. Digital means that anyone who really wants your book for free can get it for free. And digital means that consumers expect to be able to do all the things we expect out of digital goods: ship them around, chop them up, search them, annotate them, comment on them, share them.

So, on the one side, the clarity of what consumers are willing to pay for, when, and how much is up in the air. On the other side, what publishers are expected to provide or support is going to look very different than it does now.

So my answer is: It’s going to be a rough ride for book publishers in the next decade. But, what will win out in the end is what always wins out: good books that people care about. I don’t think we have to worry about those.