The last big technological advance in publishing–audio books–filled a growing need and expanded the number of people who enjoyed books on their commute or during time at the gym. But it didn’t impact the sales or popularity of traditional books. With the surge of the newest technological change–ebooks–people are wondering if it’s going to fundamentally change the publishing industry forever. Here’s what an industry expert says:
”The physical book really has had a 500-year run. It’s probably the most successful technology ever. It’s hard to come up with things that have had a longer run. If Gutenberg were alive today, he would recognize the physical book and know how to operate it immediately. Given how much change there has been everywhere else, what’s remarkable is how stable the book has been for so long. But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever.” ~ JEFF BEZOS, Newsweek, Dec. 20, 2009
My writer friends on the New England Chapter RWA loop had a fascinating discussion about this recently. Many bemoaned the impact ebooks have on mom-and-pop bookstores as well as B&N, the last brick and mortar big boy in play. Others touted the benefits of ebooks to readers–convenience, lower prices & more choices. Writers have more autonomy and control over their own careers with self-published ebooks.
I’m thoroughly addicted to my ereader. It makes so much sense since I live in a small condo, and yet…I miss real books. I have a friend who works with special needs children who always says there is a little autism in all of us that resists change. That’s me. I’m conflicted about this change in publishing.
Professionally, I’ve got a foot in both worlds. This year I’ve been blessed with 4 traditional releases from my two publishers (Sins of the Highlander, Touch of a Rogue, Lord of Fire and Ice, and Touch of a Scoundrel). An embarrassment of riches in writer circles, to be sure. Then on the other side of the aisle, I’ve released 4 ebooks and an enovella as well–Maidensong, Erinsong, How to Distract a Duchess, How to Please a Pirate and Touch of a Lady. It reminds me a bit of when I was a kid at my grandparent’s cabin on the lake and I’d balance between the dock and the dipping boat. I wonder how long I can hold this position.
Yet all we’re really talking about is the delivery method. The important thing–the story–is still there. As long as people have huddled around a common campfire, there have been storytellers. (Wonder if that’s why Amazon dubbed their biggest, best Kindle ‘Fire’?) The switch from oral tradition to written was a sea change, yet the story was still there. The switch from paper to digital is an wrenching change as well, but the story goes on.
I’ve heard some suggest that in the future, books will be delivered in 500 word chunks on our cell phones, a technological nod to the past when Dickens and Alcott’s stories were serialized in newspapers. There’s already been a novel released solely as “tweets.” What’s next?
What do you think? Whether you’re a reader or a writer or both, I’d love to hear your take on the state of publishing, paperback vs ereader, the fate of bookstores… Where do you think the story will go in the future?