That seems to be the new name many within the publishing industry have ascribed to the e-book phenomenon – be it Kindle, Sony eReader, iPhone’s thingymabob, and the new Barnes and Noble Nook [what kind of lame name is that, anyway?]. As it is when anything new hits the marketplace, people stand by and wonder how this new kid on the block will affect the industry. Since it’s new, we can only guess.
When you look at the face of it, print and electronic books are merely a means of getting stories out to the public.
Are e-books a bad thing or a good thing?
It depends on who you ask. Certainly anyone who is directly involved with physical book production will be affected, if they haven’t been already. This would include printers, layout designers, paper producers, ink manufacturers, and cover designers.
Right now e-books are a small slice of the publishing pie, but those numbers are increasing every year, and this domino affect will impact a lot of people. As it goes with evolution, there are always some species that go extinct because it’s all about survival of the fittest. And every writer board I go to, there is invariably some thread about the evils of this crime against humanity. Some go even further, which I wrote about here.
But I will say that print books aren’t going anywhere. The sky is not falling. HOWEVER, it’s a fool with their hand in quicksand who doesn’t look at where the world is heading and take steps to go with the flow rather than scream about impending doom.
Bookstores: Are we facing the death of bookstores? If we are, I certainly don’t hold e-books responsible. That particular bag of marbles lay in other backyard. Our world is about evolution. Anyone who remains static, fails to grow. We can’t help but change, and our ingenuity and willingness to think outside the box is what propels our existence. Bookstores will have to do the same thing. Powell’s Books, for instance, sells e-books. As this phenomenon grows, bookstores, like publishers, have to include this format.
Agents: I’ve heard people lament the death of agents. Again, ain’t seein’ it. They’re selling stories to publishers. It doesn’t matter what the eventual format will be. Now, traditionally, advances for e-books have hovered between low and nothing. Agents wouldn’t dream of querying an e-publisher because small sales and zero advances don’t make it worth the effort. Why go there when the agent still has options?
But if the only game in town is e-books, then the scenario remains the same. However, I feel that as long as print and e-books live side by side, there will always be a huge disparity for advances because physical books are deemed more valuable. I can’t think of a single agent who would thrill at the sale of an e-book contact. It’s all about print, baby.
Publishers: And what about the publishers? JA Konrath has a very illuminating article about how his Kindle sales on his self-pubbed titles surpassed the Kindle sales from his publisher. Turns out he was making off far better with his self-pubbed titles. In this brave new world of e-books, will publishers be considered obsolete? The technology is there for anyone with a firing synapse to self-publish their own e-books.
For now, I see that as a doomsday scenario. For one thing, Konrath already has a readership. He could write his books on walnut shells, and his fans would read them. But for an unknown, chances are strong that their book will be lost amongst the plethora of other e-books. Which leads to publicity.
Publicity: How do you promote a product that only exists on your hard drive, or an e-reader? This is where bookstores can get a jump on things. If you’re at a book event, readers could buy the e-format and the bookstore would send it to their Kindle, or Sony e-reader, etc. If Powell’s can do it, why can’t B&N, or Waterstones?
If you’re at an event other than a bookstore, d/loading a book is equally easy. Readers would pay just like they always do, and whoever is assisting you would email the e-file of your book directly to the person’s e-reader. I’ve done it. I know it works.
Convenience: I admit it; I adore my Kindle. Not only can I stuff a ton of books on one little device, which is wonderful for all the traveling I do, but I can also upload author submissions and manuscripts. I can make notes right on the document and it automatically saves. I’m not lugging around a ton of books and hundreds of pages. The week before I bought my Kindle, I had no less than 600 pages in my brief case. Gad, no wonder my shoulder hurt.
I can increase the size of the font for my tired eyes, and I can order a book while sitting in the airport, or at the beach – done it, pinky swear. A book is always at my fingertips. I can download a free sample of a book – all at my leisure. With my busy life, this scratches a lot of itches, and I’m far more efficient. The biggest plus is that I read far more books than I did before.
In the end, it’s hard to say where the Eeeek-book is going and how it will ultimately affect the publishing industry. But I don’t think for one minute that print books are in danger of going the way of the dinosaur. There are still too many people who love the physical feel of books, and these two reading options can play in the sandbox quite nicely together. Instead, we need to understand that, like it or not, you can’t stuff this particular genie being back into the bottle. With each new advancement comes opportunity and an invitation to grow and expand, and each of us must take steps as to how we plan to evolve. Otherwise, get out of the way.