Sunday, May 23, 2010

Change is coming - but from where?

If you follow writing blogs at all, you'll find many of them foretelling the imminent death of the traditional publishing model. They say the system is broken, that it focuses too much on celebrity tell-alls and not enough on finding and grooming the great writers of tomorrow. Some even say it's too commercially focused. To which I reply, "Well, it is a business, isn't it? And businesses need to make money in order to survive, right?"

Perhaps it isn't so much that the old model is broken, but that the world around it has changed? We're all scrimping. We still want entertainment, but are always looking for cheaper and cheaper ways to be entertained. And in tight economic times, we all learn to become more particular about how we spend our money --- this also includes publishers, who (if they are going to survive) must find ways to minimize risks and maximize profit margins.

So, a lot of bloggers out there - and even a few industry bigwigs - have been telling us that a digitally-based model will be the wave of the future. Like who? Check out this Publisher's Weekly article about comments made at a recent gathering of the Book Industry Study Group in New York City.

Barnes and Noble, creator of the Nook, recently announced the upcoming launch of its new digital self-publishing service PubIt! - its answer to Amazon's Kindle service for authors.

If I kinda, sorta wanted a Kindle before, now I drool everytime I see an ad for Apple's iPad - and I'm not even a techno-geek. But wow! It's so slim and shiny and can do so many things, including store e-books. Through Smashwords, independent authors can now publish to the iPad.

Yes, writers can bypass the middleman and get their works out there all on their own now, BUT... what does that mean to readers? Good question. There are several scenarios:

1) Ambitious indie authors (or self-publishers, if you prefer) with good stories will market themselves ruthlessly (but preferably not obnoxiously so) online. Readers will gradually become aware of them. Word-of-mouth will further promote their books. And the more books they sell, the more visible they'll become. How and where readers find new writers may very likely change, as well.

2) Ambitious indie authors with subpar stories will make themselves visible, but if readers don't sing their praises, sales will reflect the lack of enthusiasm and eventually fizzle out.

3) Unambitious indie authors with great stories will make feeble attempts at marketing. Relatives will buy it. Maybe, if they were frugal with start-up costs, they'll make their money back, but fame and fortune will be elusive. There's always an outside chance that some influential reviewer or perhaps an editor will trip across it, but the less word gets out, the fewer those chances are.

4) Unambitious indie authors with subpar stories will self-publish and fail to market their books. If the few who do know about the book aren't impressed, sales will be practically non-existant.

With all the options I mentioned above now being available, yes, more and more writers will self-publish through print-on-demand and e-books. Call me optimistic, but I really believe the cream will have a tendency to rise to the top - provided the writer backs that up with some marketing. If readers don't know a book is out there, they won't buy it.

So will the digitally based model be the wave that changes traditional publishing for the future?

Only if the DEMAND for it comes from readers.

We can speculate as much as we want. The technology is there, writers are jumping in and now even publishers and online retailers are getting involved. But maybe, just maybe, rather than some drastic change to the world of books, digital publishing will serve as a testing ground for evolving reader tastes and the commercial potential of emerging authors.

What do you think?

Until later,


Anne Gilbert said...

I think your scenario is realistic enough. I've already seen at least two examples of indie published books which were more or less rushed into print, and a lot of flaws. They had interesting ideas or characters, but were short on writing skills, or at the very least, they needed to write another draft. I think that it's very tempting to rush into print like this if you have a Grand Idea, and POD or "print your own" might tempt a lot of 'unambitious' authors trigo do just that. And glut the market with badly-written books. Which will not make the reputation of indie publishing any better. But I really hope you're right in what you describe.

Daphne said...

I really want an iPad too - but I wouldn't read books on it. I like the feel of a book and I already spend so much time on the computer that reading a book on a screen just doesn't appeal to me. I have told my family in no uncertain terms that under no circumstances do I want a kindle, or a nook or any of those other e-book thingies.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

@ Daphne - I still prefer paper books, too. But have resorted more and more to reading on screen out of necessity and, well, budget restrictions.

@ Anne - I think it goes the other way, as well. I have three books by indie authors on my shelves - all well written and sufficiently well edited. In fact, in one of them, the only typo I spotted was a broken ellipse that spilled over onto the next line. The book was not only technically nearly flawless, but a fantastic read, too. My point is that with those books, just as with traditionally published ones that I've enjoyed, I tell people about them.

Anita Davison said...

I blogged on this subject today as well, Gemi - it seems to be in the forefront of many writer's minds. I am not pioneer enough to be one of the first, but I will follow the trend with interest. You have some great points here by the way - especially where the mediocre books will sink into oblivion of their own volition and the good ones will rise to the top on their own merits.
I love my E-Reader, but I also love shelves and shelves of books...

Greta said...

All very valid, Gemi. I have found as I get older and my muti-focals stronger that it's easier for me to read on the screen than from a page. Maybe I've just done too much of it.

Marketing is the thing - provided you have a well produced book. And that's difficult. We see more and more cooperatives springing up (sort of like farmer's markets, instead of just at-the-gate sales). Me, I think that's a great move.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I love my Kindle. It's half the price of the iPad, the wireless service is free, and the ebooks are still half the price of the books you buy for the iPad.

I beleive you're right. Traditional Publishing is with us for some time longer. A flood of badly written books cannot be good for the budding ebook market.

I'm glad I found your blog, WRITING IN THE CROSSHAIRS. Come check out mine if you're of a mind and have the time, Roland

N. Gemini Sasson said...

I agree, Roland, that there will be a steady rise in the number of self-published e-books. I think, however, that it won't matter if most of them are not worthwhile reads. Those will sink into obscurity, no harm done. The well written ones, if discovered by enough readers, will rise on their own merit.