Thursday, May 19, 2011

Opinion — E-Books and the State of Play Revisited

A few weeks ago, Amazon announced that it sold more digital books than paperbacks — this amidst the wholesale closing of Borders and the gloom that spread over big-box book retailers everywhere. Today, Amazon announced that the sale of books on Kindle exceeded sales of ALL printed books.

Most of us, I suspect, are not surprised by this phenomena; but I also suspect that most of us are surprised by the speed of it. And by “us,” I mean everyone for whom books are a significant part of their lives, from readers to bookstore owners, from publishers to publicists. The rules that have been in place for decades no longer apply. If the primary reader is now downloading on line, how are books to be advertised? How are libraries going to deal with the change in reading habits? What about used bookstores? Will they see a diminishing interest in their business? And will that matter if there is a significantly diminishing supply of pre-read books? What about author signings? How does the author sign a Kindle copy and dedicate it to your daughter for her birthday?

From a writer’s perspective, many of us if not most of us, are doing our best to adapt to the new reality whether we endorse it or not. We know that it could make our survival more difficult. We also know that this change may provide new opportunities if we are willing to take some measure of risk. As writers, most of us I believe, just want to be read.

A year ago or so, I countered a good friend’s recommendation that I put all the out-of-print Shanahans back into print with the notion that both the idea of a vanity press and the cost versus risk ratio made such a proposition a no-brainer. “No.” However, with the unpredictably speedy reader acceptance of digital publishing the odds for that idea changed. For me, it also provides an opportunity to publish shorter works (mystery novellas, 20,000 to 40,000 words) that I feel most comfortable writing, but that traditional publishers feel uncomfortable trying to market. (The model for crime fiction appears to be at least 80,000 words).

Unfortunately there is so much we still do not know as we — writers, booksellers, publishers, marketers, even the manufacturers of digital readers — are in the center of all the publishing turbulence. It is possible for anyone to see the future clearly?

I would love to have your thoughts on the matter.

No comments: