It’s an interesting dilemma. There is no doubt the publishing industry is changing. Rapidly. Statistically, there is an exponential increase in eReader purchases and eBook downloads each year, and a corresponding fall in hardcopy book sales.
There seems to be as many doomsayers predicting the demise of the book, as there are enthusiasts rejoicing in the changing technology. So who is saying what, and why?
I went to the Young Adult Writers Festival at the NSW Writers Centre on the weekend and heard a few different viewpoints on the matter. The fact that the industry is changing is not in dispute, but the best way of dealing with these changes sparked much discussion.
Epublishing opens doors for authors. It allows them to get their work out there to test the waters. I think people will always want to read. Along with the technology, what I think is changing is how, when, and where they read. Savvy consumers are fast realising that they don’t need to buy a book based only on the blurb. Buying an ebook means you can sample the text before you purchase it, sometimes up to a third of the book. And this is not going to happen unless the text is a grammatically correct, well-written, engaging manuscript.
As a prolific reader, I make great use of my local library. But I find that because of the volume I read, I don’t have the patience to persevere with a book that doesn’t grab me in the first few chapters. As eBook consumption increases, unless the book is high quality writing, it just won’t cut it at all. And when the eBook is a great read, it is typically much cheaper than a hardcopy.
This is a good thing for authors and readers alike. But it doesn’t seem to be too popular with publishers. There is some debate about pricing of eBooks, with those thinking that ePublishing at ridiculously cheap prices (for example: $0.99) undermines the integrity of authorship. I’m not sure about this one, I don’t know if it does or not - but I don’t suppose the guy who has just sold his first million ebooks (for $0.99 each) would think it does.
Un-contracted authors at the festival seemed excited by the prospect of being in control of their work and publishing themselves electronically without the costs usually associated with self-publishing. Publishers however, not so. One publisher on a panel, upon hearing that an author had released an eBook before securing a traditional contract, was concerned about ‘what’s left for us?’
An author who had published the traditional way and had since bought back the electronic rights to his book, told of making more money as a $0.99 ebook than he received in royalties from the publisher.
These days, with the tools of social media at everyone’s fingertips, authors are their own best publicists, and if they are on top of things can potentially be very successful in the electronic book world.
I suppose traditional publishers should be worried. No-one can survive doing the same thing in a changing environment. Borders is a testament to that.