My critique partner Patti and I have been having long email discussions about e-pubbing.
I’m all for it. I’m all for reading e-pubbed books; I’m all for publishing e-pubbed books; and I think the future for e-publishing is just going to get more and more exciting.
But Patti, like many writers, has a part of her that already misses traditional publishing and wants to hold out for her own books to be bound and printed. She’s labored for years on these books, and she’s always dreamed of holding her books in her hands and flipping through real pages. She wants to see her name on a cover.
This is the discussion that’s been going on all over — well outside my and Patti’s inboxes. It’s been going on across the publishing world and all over the publishing blogs. Readers are embracing e-reading in rapidly increasing numbers (either on computers, laptops, or e-readers). Last January was the biggest jump, presumably because record numbers received e-readers for Christmas. Readers are simply getting used to reading books online, used to the backlit lettering, used to different column sizes. E-reader prices are coming down. It’s just becoming the norm, and people are craving their “real books” less and less.
So with more and more readers spending their money on e-books now, traditional publishers are nibbling their fingernails and trying to figure out how things are going to play out: Will we still need presses? Still need book binding? Still need cover artists? Still need bookstores/book buyers/delivery trucks/etc.? It changes everything about publishing. And everyone in publishing is just looking around, hoping they’ll still have a job.
The writers, though, are still guaranteed jobs. No matter what, you still need the storyteller. But writers have their own worries about digital publishing: it’s pricing. If some authors are willing to sell their e-books for 99 cents, or give away an electronic book or short story for free, does that devalue writing in general? Does that mean all writers will have to bring their prices down? Will writers have to labor for 3 years on a book they sell for just a dollar?
Former agent Nathan Bransford has had some fascinating discussions about e-books and publishing on his blog for some time now, but he addressed the new pricing panic in recent fascinating posts 99 Cent E-Books and the Tragedy of the Commons and the fairly depressing How Will Authors of Tomorrow Make Money?
Meanwhile, bestselling romance writers Jenny Crusie and Barbara Samuels had an online debate about this same topic last week in Barb and Jenny on E-Publishing Part One and Barb and Jenny on E-Publishing Part Two. Barbara Samuels was one of the authors who priced her backlist at 99 cents and made a sweep of it. And Jenny is skeptical (though curious) about how e-publishing is going to affect the new author and midlist author.
It feels a little bit like the Wild West out there in publishing, with everyone making up rules as they go along and refusing to acknowledge any rules from the past. But overall, I’m excited about e-pubbing — both from a reader’s perspective and a writer’s. I think there are a lot of amazing possibilities there (like writing books with accompanying soundtracks, pop-up maps, pop-up pictures of the characters, accompanying videos … gah! so many possibilities!), and I think we’re all on the brink of an exciting new era.
How do you feel about e-books and e-publishing? What do you think will become of authors in the future? What do you think the landscape is going to look like once the dust settles?