I’m just thinking about this; throwing a few ideas about. I don’t know, so don’t assume I really know what I’m talking about, though I’m pretty sure that many in the industry don’t know what’s going to happen either.
I’ve been reading up on this row between Macmillan and Amazon about ebooks, but now want to step back and consider what it all means. The ebook market is going to grow, every time someone buys a Kindle or an Ipad or any other the other readers out there, that’s a dead tree customer gone. This is not like the fight between Betamax and VHS, since with them the information, the entertainment, was a physical product that wasn’t interchangeable. The makers of these readers will try (using stuff like DRM), initially, to corner the market for their e-reader, but it is a losing battle. The more restrictions put on ebooks sold or what e-readers will accept, the more piracy and the more likely people will buy product with less restrictions. By making restrictions publishers and e-book manufacturers will lose market share. The eventual winners will be the e-readers that will accept any ebook and the ebooks that can be loaded to any e-reader. Piracy will be easy and rife. Publishers will have to accept that to sell ebooks they’ll need to reduce the price, because high prices will push customers towards piracy. So what does all this mean to me, the writer?
Things are going to change, and drastically. The market for paper books will continue to survive, hopefully until I’ve shuffled off my mortal coil, but it’s going to get smaller and smaller. Hopefully people will still want to read my books. This is what I must think. Books as we know them are just the medium through which the story I tell goes from my mind to yours. Even if that medium changes, I have to presume that you still want that story.
I wonder about the shape of a future market. Maybe the book publisher as we know it is going to die. Maybe a writer will publish his book on the Internet, without much in the way of middlemen, incidentally taking a larger cut of the cover price than present paltry royalties, which will be necessary to cover the losses through piracy. After a book has sold well on the Internet, has been proven as a product, that’s where the dead tree publishers step in. People will read many ebooks, and some they will decide are keepers.
Another scenario I see is the end of writers being able to make a living through writing books. If the main source of books is the Internet, without the middle men, where is the guarantee of quality? How is anyone going to be able to sort the wheat from the truckloads of chaff? A dead tree book you pick up in a bookshop has gone through a process, the first part being people in the publishing industry looking at the typescript and deciding they are prepared to risk spending thousands of pounds to get that book into print. (For those who say that publishers produce a lot of crap, let me give you a wake-up call: for every Daniel Steel or Jeffrey Archer book you sneer at, please remember that the publisher has rejected skiploads of the most appalling drivel you can imagine.) There’s your guarantee.
Perhaps the guarantee will be simply through sales, electronic bestseller lists, trusted reviewing. Even publishers admit that word-of-mouth is the best advertising available and, once the middlemen are out of the way, this would be the ultimate in word-of-mouth. Let’s face it, despite the ‘is this going to make us money guarantee’ publishers still quite often get it very wrong. How many publishers rejected the Harry Potter books?
What do you think?