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?