Sunday, May 31, 2009

Books and writing in the future

I remember car shopping not too long ago and trying to find one that still had a cassette tape player. Okay, maybe that was a decade ago, but anyway... all the new cars had CD players in them and I had stacks of cassette tapes I wanted to listen to while driving. How many of you remember vinyl records? Or the first computers, with their behemoth monitors and dot matrix printers?

Nowadays, you can play music off your MP3 player in your car, and computers are condensed down to the size of a coffee table book, yet they can do much, much more than the original ones. You don't have to drive to the record store for you favorite music. You simply hop on the internet and download it instantly at home. And computers are our means of communication, and a source of education and entertainment. Technology is advancing at a mind-blowing exponential rate.

So what does that mean to readers and writers? Hard to imagine, but there's one invention that holds promising possibilities. On Michael N. Marcus's blog he writes about the Espresso Book Machine, which prints books at the push of a button. It was on display recently at Book Expo America in New York City and created quite the buzz. There are also e-book readers, like Amazon's Kindle, which allows you to download a book anywhere there's an internet connection. In one little device the size of a paperback book, you can have multiple books ready for reading. (Personally, I'm waiting to get one until the price comes down a little more, which like all things it will eventually.)

In recent years, mainstream publishers have been experiencing shrinking profit margins due to increasing production and shipping costs and decreasing book sales. This has led to some layoffs within the industry and fewer and fewer books being contracted for publication. Which means new writers are having a harder time than ever breaking in. It may seem like a terrible time to be a hopeful writer, but I believe this is just the lull before things begin to change. How? Only time will tell, but with the internet and all the options it lays before us, print-on-demand publishing and space-age inventions like the Espresso Book Machine, this may actually be a great time to be a writer. Time will tell.

Until later,


Anita Davison said...

I have read about these machines too, Gemi. It may be the beginning of reader driven sales rather than which book gets the most expensive marketing.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

I'm hearing lots of different figures on their cost, from $35-180,000. When/if they become more commonplace, they may indeed change how and what books we buy. One bookshop owner in New England who has one said a lot of his business is people printing their own books to give to friends and family. Now there's the answer to friends asking, "You wrote a book? Where can we but it?"

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Bah! That should read "buy" it!

Jen Black said...

I guess these machines are not that dissimilar to the ones used by piracy sites...why does it always seem that every new invention leads to someone being ripped off much more easily? Paper and typwwriter, anyone?

Ron Tocknell said...

Things have simply moved on a notch and this is bound to upset the status quo. From the publishers' point of view, it's bad news; from the writers' point of view, it's bad/good news (harder to get published but easier to self-publish) and, from the readers' point of view, it's good news.

Certainly the best thing about the Internet is that now anyone can publish anything they want without it having to filter through the confined criteria of mainstream publishers.

Arguably, the WORST thing about the Internet is that... er... we DO:o)

N. Gemini Sasson said...

I just want to add a couple of points to this discussion. While mainstream publishers are indeed having to be pickier about taking on new authors, they are not going to disappear anytime soon. The book-buying public and bookstores will continue to look to them for quality books. And the most sought-after authors will continue to publish through them, because there IS a lot about mainstream publishing that works well: the editing team that puts polish on the project, eye-catching cover design, the power of marketing and sheer name recognition. That being said, our options as both writers and readers are widening. Tough times instigates change, wanted or not. It will be interesting to see how our book-buying habits change in the decade to come.