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Although I love my Kindle, I have to admit it has lived up to its name and started a conflagration. The sudden popularity of ebooks has thrown the publishing world for a loop, and brought editors, agents, and publishers into direct contact with technology whether they wanted it or not. Every year in Las Vegas, geeks and gadget lovers gather for their very own con, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This year for the first time, books and reading are being discussed at CES— always assuming you're willing to call ebooks books, which I guess some folks aren't. The explosion of eReaders is now bigger as the QUE from Plastic Logic has made its official debut (it's pretty but pricey). Conversely, book folks are actually paying attention to CES!

Between that and the new year starting, everyone is making forecasts about ebooks. Indeed, this post on the Big Money blog argues that eReaders will wipe out book marketing as we know it. Blogger Marion Maneker has a point. Most of the money in today's book marketing goes into either schmoozing distributers and book buyers for chains, plus co-op dollars that pay for specific placement in bookstores. Ebook "distribution" is a whole new ball game. Ebooks don't need bookstores, nor do they necessarily need distributors. Maneker's most interesting point, I think, is this idea which I quote here:

. . . self-publishing will be the most cost-effective way for publishers to discover new talent. But to get authors to invest in themselves, publishers will have to increase the size of the prize. In this scenario, you bill the authors for marketing consultation and increase the royalty to 70 percent or 80 percent. Lower the publisher's risk and increase the author's reward.

In some ways, this sounds a lot like publishing prior to the 20th Century, when you needed money to publishing a book. Not sure I would call that progress. In fact, I'd called it closer to CreateSpace or Lulu than the current model of traditional publishing.

For a different, less drastic view of possible changes ahead, literary agent Jane Dystel gave GalleyCat her predictions for what publishing will be like in 10 years. She mentions ebooks only in reference to rights (she sees publishers and agents battling it out over rights) and to "windowing" (delaying release of ebooks; she thinks it will stop because revenue will go down because of it), but her point about rights brings up this week's NY Times Op ed piece by Jonathan Galassi, president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Galassi seems to be arguing that once a publishing house invests time and effort into a book, the author (or his/her heirs) ought not to be able to cut them out of future deals.

Which I think pinpoints the most interesting (and disruptive) aspect of this whole situation. Technology has outpaced law. Where there were no ebooks, contracts between publishers and authors didn't mention ebook rights (which is why there is squabbling about it now). It used to be reissuing a book meant investing in reprinting it. Not any more.

And that's the game changer. Contracts now will spell things out. If publishers expect to be paid by the author for their editing efforts, it seems to me that limits their long term rights to the work. On the other hand, if they continue to provide editing services while still paying the author for the privilege of publishing his book, perhaps the version that reverts to the author will be the unedited version, as delivered by the writer? Who knows?

It might not be a brave new world, but it surely will be different.

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( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 8th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
Every day I see something more that makes me feel a fool for want to get an agent and a commerical publishing contract.

Watch the People's Choice Awards last night (last 1 hour), I felt like the world had shifted under my feet. The awardees were blogging or tweeting while they received their awards. Whoa! Do I feel old or what?
Jan. 8th, 2010 12:52 pm (UTC)
I think what has changed most is the pace of change. It used to be that it took 10-20 years for a new technology to go mainstream. Now it seems to take 10-20 minutes.
Jan. 8th, 2010 12:43 pm (UTC)
Technology is changing so fast, I suspect the end result of all this will be something none of us can anticipate right now.

Thanks for sharing :)
Jan. 8th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
See my answer to Anonymous, above. We should be there by noon tomorrow!
Jan. 8th, 2010 02:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, technology is changing, but it is also changing us. I suspect that -like the internet- this eBook technology can be both freeing and isolating at the same time. Freeing in that you can hunt down the book you want wherever you are, but isolating in that we don't have to go out and actually visit a public space (library) or a business (bookstore) to do so.
Jan. 8th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
That's true. One thing I have found though, is that I buy a LOT more books, because when I am with people and we talk about books, if they mention something interesting, I go ahead and download a free sample right there. The free sample feature is another fantastic thing about eReaders.

Of course, Barnes & Noble is very sensitive to what you're talking about, and they made their Nook automatically connect to their network as soon as you walk into one of their stores. They also enable browsing in the whole book, not just a sample, while you're in the store.
Jan. 8th, 2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
The ease of purchasing online -and eBooks in particular- lend themselves well to impulse buying. (I'm guilty of that as well -oh, more than you can possibly imagine- so I'm not judging.)

Here's where I believe the electronic edition of a library can come in handy. Our local system not only allows you to request items online, but recommend items for the library to purchase. Additionally, the eBooks that can be "checked out" mean that a book can remain in print and available at a library indefinitely.

That actually brings up something that hasn't been thought of much: if a library has an electronic copy for lending, why not simply get that copy whenever you want to read?
Jan. 8th, 2010 05:05 pm (UTC)
But they are limited, just like in print books. Say they buy two ebooks copies of ENDER'S GAME. Two people each borrow it. If a third person asks to borrow ENDER'S GAME, he/she goes on a waiting list. It's just like a p-book, except that there's no forgetting to bring the book back. When you hit the deadline, the e-copy dies. So, if you rely on the library, you might have to wait. That's the downside. Plus, I don't think any e-Reader has wireless delivery for library ebooks. You have to use the USB cable.
Jan. 8th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
Aha, so there's a specific number of licenses out there at one time.

Then could you forsee a scenario where bulk licenses are available for a vastly reduced cost? If instead of two copies of Ender's Game there are two hundred copies bought at a big discount, that could create sales issues down the line.

Our library does allow you to download directly from the net to a PC, but getting it from a PC to a eReader is a different story. I'm sure it's only a matter of time in that regard.

(Darn it; here I am promoting reasons why eReaders are a good idea, and I like paper! How did that happen?)
Jan. 8th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
I can't imagine! -)
Jan. 8th, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC)
All this technology makes my brain hurt. ;)

I'm slower on the uptake when it comes to these things, but I find my way eventually. It's exciting, and scary--but isn't any new venture?
Jan. 8th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
Definitely! It's the pace that's scary. Think about how long the print book lasted as the best technology. Refinements like paperbacks took centuries to evolve. New eReaders may last a few years and then be replaced. My hope is that the books can be easily ported to the new platform. That's one reason I went wiht Kindle; I am hoping Amazon, as a book seller, will make sure there is always a way to read Kindle books.
Jan. 8th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
I hope that it never becomes a matter of the old technology becoming unsupported, or untransferable to newer systems--like my kids' video games. You buy a system, get a bunch of games, then a new system comes out and if you want the new games, you have to buy the new system. Support for the old system becomes next to nonexistent. I believe in progress, but it sucks when you spend a crapton of money on a system one year that is obsolete by the next.
Jan. 8th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
I hope that it never becomes a matter of the old technology becoming unsupported, or untransferable to newer systems--like my kids' video games. You buy a system, get a bunch of games, then a new system comes out and if you want the new games, you have to buy the new system. Support for the old system becomes next to nonexistent. I believe in progress, but it sucks when you spend a crapton of money on a system one year that is obsolete by the next.
Jan. 8th, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
I agree! That's why I find it encouraging that Amazon has created apps that allow you to read Kindle books on PCs, Macs, and iPhone/iTouch. I think B&N also does something similar. I don't know about Sony, though. They're more into the hardware.
Jan. 8th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
I think that of all the players in the game right now -- publishers, authors, agents etc, the most vulnerable of all are the publishing houses. What value do they add in this new world? Editing? If so, individual editors will make names for themselves with or without publishers behind them.

It's all very interesting.
Jan. 8th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
That's a good point! I spent some time talking with Deanna Hoak at World Fantasy in San Jose and was surprised to discover that she works as a free lancer. She's a copy editor, it's true, but still I was surprised publishers rely on free lancers for that work.
Jan. 8th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
And maybe soon only the freelancers will be left...
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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