Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The e-book revolution.

It seems that virtually every post I read at the moment regarding the publishing world concerns the big questions about the rise of digital print, of self-publishing, of the role of agents and publishers within this ever changing environment and of how it's all going to come crashing down around us etc etc etc.

Personally, I don't get what the big fuss is. Ancient Egypt once did a cracking trade in papyrus reeds until paper came along. Coal was essential for foggy London postcard scenes until electricity sparked into life. Vinyl records were all the rage until a flashy little disc appeared, and that flashy little disc is now itself disappearing with the rise of digital memory.

Things change. Those who move forward and change with it tend to succeed - those who grumble and dig in their heels tend to vanish with yesterday's news. One of the big questions hangs over the price of digital books: why so expensive? Why can't they be cheaper? Why should we pay nearly the same for a Kindle book as a paperback? Well, I agree, from an author's point of view - cheaper e-book titles make for more sales, which makes for a happy author and publisher. But the same people asking those questions are often also those who lament the demise of the traditional bookshop, and what do they think will happen to traditionally published books if all electronic titles are re-branded at, say, £2.99? They'll vanish, of course. People will use bookshops as super-sized shopping lists, jot down the titles that they see on the shelves at £7.99, then pop off home and download them for less than half the price on the Internet.

It is, I suspect, inevitable that electronic print will eventually all but replace traditional books, but the publishing industry is right to make that change slowly. If they re-branded their pricing structure overnight, virtually every bookshop in the country would close within months, the entire print industry would suffer a catastrophic loss of business and corresponding loss of jobs / livelihoods etc, and there would likely be an outcry over publishers abandoning their roots in favour of quicker profits from digital print. They can't win, whichever way they go. Those readers who prefer physical books are far outnumbered by those who would rather save a fiver, especially these days.

It's true that some e-books are hugely over-priced, but most are already a couple of pounds cheaper than their three-dimensional counterparts and represent a saving. I'm sure that over the coming years that price gap will increase as digital slowly but surely overtakes traditional publishing. Better to let it do so at a manageable rate than to let an entire sub-industry implode on itself.

And while we're on the subject, self-published authors may rejoice at the chance to be put on an even keel with their more famous traditionally published brethren. Don't bother. Publishers will still be able to provide their authors with something of extreme value: advertising power. Just because indie author Clint Cumperdink might one day find himself next to Clive Cussler on Amazon's author list doesn't mean he'll be seeing his books in the same position on the ranks. This isn't to detract from the fact that there are many talented authors self-publishing out there. However, sites such as Twitter and Goodreads are awash with indie authors "following" 30,000 people, proclaiming themselves as "Amazon best-sellers", writing reviews slating traditionally published authors and telling all of how it "should be done", but their sales figures reveal the real picture. They're utterly unknown, and no amount of blogging, Twittering or reviewing will help them. They should be busy sharpening their writing skills, not flapping about on the Internet.

Publishers, agents and editors of established publishing houses will all survive the current chaos because they can provide the brand awareness and advertising reach that virtually no author can achieve on their own. And only the best and most commercially viable authors will be able to gain their representation, just as is the case now. If you want to be one of those authors, keep writing, keep improving your skills and keep searching for an agent and a real publisher, because the more everything changes, the more it stays the same.


Kate said...

I've been to a number of author talks recently and inevitably someone asks them about e-books. The general view seemed to be 'it's just another format'. I think that's true. I love my kindle and I'm glad I can get some books in electronic format - especially for travel! But there are others I want to have on my bookshelf - so I think there will be room, in the future, for both.

Dean Crawford said...

I agree - traditionally published books won't go away entirely, but I think they'll eventually be released as "collectors" items, special hardbacks and the like. I think the mass-market paperback will eventually vanish altogether, because it makes business sense that it should, and publishing is a business like any other. They'll want to save expenses to increase profits etc. A shame, but that's the price of progress I suppose! :)

Anonymous said...

Well said, Dean. At the end of the day, the writer has to make money, as well as the publisher. However, I have 1 problem with e-books: I live in the U.S. and have a Nook (garbage, btw) so I was looking at Kindle. I would have to order an e-book through I love British crime novels but not all are sold on the U.S. site, but only on the British site. If I want to order the paperback from the U.K., I can, and have it posted. So why can't I order a British e-book and have them deliver it wirelessly to the my Kindle in the U.K.? It doesn't make sense. Although more and more British books are being made available to U.S. customers (Stuart MacBride, for example) they have a long way to go. Nook by Barnes & Noble is awful for British content. Was a waste of money for me. Very poor machine. Although B&N do sell your books, Dean! On that note, almost finished your book - cracking read! (Yes, I know I'm not the fastest reader! lol)

John Carson

Dean Crawford said...

Cheers John, glad you've enjoyed the novel! Sounds like the Nook's to be avoided. It is indeed odd about the availability of e-books in different countries, but I think it's to do with release advertising and the publishers wanting a bit of a buzz during the launch phase. If people can download the e-book months before the paperback comes along, then it takes some of the impact away from the marketing. I think that will change in coming years, as more and more readers ( and authors ) switch predominantly to the e-book. Author's works will be published directly upon completion of editing, instead of waiting a year for print publishing. A lot will change I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like there are big changes ahead in the publishing world. Personally, I don't mind paying a bit extra for an e-book that's just been released. It's like buying a hardback instead of waiting for the PB. What I would like to see is, if you pay the same for your e-book as you would your HB, then why can't you share it more? Just one at a time, like you might pass round a HB to your friends. (Not good for the author that though! lol). But with the e-book on Nook, you can share it but only for 3 weeks. I would also like to see some kind of integration between reading devices. After all, if you buy a HB, you can give it to anybody. Why not send it between a Nook and a Kindle? The only downside to the e-books is stores closing. I love going into a book store, but you're right, Dean; businesses have to change, or they'll fade away. Now that the Nook is being launched in the UK, I will be very surprised if they can knock the Kindle off the top spot, if the U.S. one is anything to go by.

John Carson