If you read my recent blog on writers and friendship, you know I spent last week at the Novelist’s Inc. workshop on St. Pete Beach, my old stomping grounds. It’s always a surprise when I go home to find not the huge changes we sometimes see, but a re-creation of the past. My neighborhood looks much the same. The old Pelican Diner where my aunt worked is gone–and what a shame–but the hardware store where my uncle worked is still thriving. (The diner, an old silver “mobile” diner is hopefully being refurbished in a warehouse nearby.)
If my childhood landscape was much the same, the conference convinced me that publishing is not. In fact publishing is going through such huge changes, that in the next two years, keeping up with them will be a job itself. I arrived at the conference thinking that the book biz was spiralling downward, fewer sales, fewer publishers exerting more control, fewer opportunities for innovation. I left believing the sky’s going to be the limit. And all because of ebooks.
Do you own an ereader? Or are you in a “wait and see” holding pattern? Is a Kindle or a Nook–or any of the other possibilities–at the top of your Christmas list? Or are you holding fast to paper and the comfort of the familiar? Are you sure you’re too old (jaded, technically challenged, angry) to learn yet another piece of technology? And heck, you can’t see print that well anymore, so why try to read it on a fuzzy handheld computer screen?
I’m something of a skeptic, and I was not at the head of the pack when I bought my Sony eReader several years ago. I didn’t buy the newest version either, but one a generation behind, because I liked the resolution better. I bought it solely because as an author, I needed to understand what the fuss was about. To start I downloaded free classics, and some surprisingly generous giveaways. The day I stretched out my hand to turn the page of my eReader as if it were a paperback novel, I realized how quickly I had adapted. Two pages into a story it no longer mattered how the story was delivered. Better yet, I could change the font size, so if the print was too small, I could make it large enough to suit myself.
Even better? I could download a book any time of the day or night. 24 hour downloads, just in case I had a truly gargantuan attack of insomnia. Even during daylight hours I didn’t have to get in my car to find the nearest bookstore, something that’s not particularly easy in DC traffic. If a friend told me about a great book, it could be mine in minutes. No more delayed gratification. Wow.
While I still buy plenty of print novels, now I always check the digital version first. Sales of ebooks are soaring. And if that’s not enough of a reason to perk up an author, here’s the clincher. Publishing our OWN ebooks is now in reach. Yes, original ebooks written by some of your favorite, tried and true novelists. Published exclusively as ebooks on places like Amazon, B&N and Borders online, the Sony store. The list goes on. Smashwords, A Writer’s Work, and other smaller venues. Authors with control over their own product, their marketing strategy, and reaping far more of the “cover” price.
Wow, times two.
Many of us have books out of print that we still own the rights to. Many others have “ideas” they’ve wanted to try and now can, taking the full brunt of success or failure themselves. We can price our books low, high or in between, try this cover art or that, package them this way and that way. Discontinued series can be revived. Books that didn’t sell to a publisher may now climb bestseller charts. The possibilities are endless and exhilarating.
Christmas will be the big benchmark for ebooks. The prices for e-readers are falling within acceptable boundaries for many book lovers. The price of ebooks may fall along with them, at least those that are author generated. Stay tuned here as I conduct my own experiments. I have two novels I own full rights to, and they’ve been out of print for a decade. Expect to see updated versions again, hopefully before the Christmas rush. And expect to see them priced so that buying them will be a pleasure.
I hope someone brings back the Pelican Diner. There’s room for the old and the new. I will always buy and read print novels. But having an alternative? It’ll be a good thing for readers and authors. For bookstores and publishers? It’s going to take a little scrambling to catch up, but as a big fan of both, I am certainly hopeful that in the end, this will be a good thing for all of us.
For more on this subject, enjoy this Huffington Post essay by Joe Konrath.