The Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy and sobering piece this week about how the rise of the e-book is altering the landscape of the publishing industry. It was not, on the surface, a happy picture for authors:
The digital revolution that is disrupting the economic model of the book industry is having an outsize impact on the careers of literary writers. Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers. And big retailers are buying fewer titles. As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America’s top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.
The Journal piece focused on fiction writers, but the implications are similar for nonfiction authors like me. Whenever a wave of change sweeps through an industry, the old ways of making money tend to dissipate faster than the new ways coalesce. There is much wringing of hands. People panic. As a veteran of the newspaper industry I feel like I know this movie pretty well by now.
I also know this: when you do creative work, you are not owed a living. Few things are more ludicrous than a writer with a sense of entitlement. It would be wonderful if the pie available to reward authors were growing rather than shrinking. But we live in an era blessed with an abundance of opportunities to publish — and a relative scarcity of time to consume the products of publishing. Gluts make prices collapse. There’s no way an e-book can or should cost anything like what a paper book costs. Maybe volume will make up some of the difference — but, plainly, not yet.
I don’t see the point in hand-wringing. But I still plan to write long-form non-fiction and hope to earn at least some portion of my living doing it. So I’m going to do my damnedest to try to understand the changing publishing environment and figure out the smartest way for an author to navigate it. Id rather adapt and evolve than gripe my way to extinction.
To that end, I’m beginning a self-education program in the world of electronic book publishing. I know by some measures I’m coming to this absurdly late. Then again, I was worried when I started this blog in 2002 that I was late to that party, too.
So help me out. What are your favorite sources of information about e-books and e-readers? Do you just read about them as part of your wider intake of tech and gadget news? Or are there dedicated sites, publications and bloggers who you rely on?
I’m aware of the venerable Teleread. I’ve been enjoying Tim Carmody’s thoughtful posts at Wired and the Atlantic. I’ll read all the think pieces about “the future of the book” by writers like Steven Johnson and Kevin Kelly that come along. Any other useful sources out there I should know about?
I’ll collect my findings and report back!
Great post, Scott, you’ve already got a solid appreciation of some of the underlying forces at work right now. There’s plenty of relevant stuff posted at http://radar.oreilly.com/publishing, and I’ve also been collecting relevant and recommended links at http://www.delicious.com/andrewsavikas/recreading . And pretty much anything by Clay Shirky.
You and I are in much the same boat here, my authorial comrade :) Very much looking forward to reading your report.
By way of anedote, here’s an interesting one:
I’ve read many of the trend pieces too – but I pay more attention to what people are reading when I see them reading. As I type this comment on a 737 from Detroit to Seattle, about 35% of the (~200) passengers are reading something, and of them, the wide majority are reading on paper. I counted 4 kindles, 1 i-pad, a few laptops (mostly playing solitaire). The 10 or 12 phones I saw in use were watching movies or playing games.
I have no basis for assuming air travelers are a great data sample, but I pay attention none-the-less. And the data I see on the plane makes me worry about the decline in reading, rather than the form people use to read when they do.
This is a great blog on ebooks I’ve found by a guy who’s making a lot of money publishing them:
On Joe Konrath above: leaving the mainstream–fiction. The Acquisitions Editor: http://bit.ly/cm3V4L
Six figure authors leaving the mainstream (non-fiction). RUSHKOFF: Why I Left My Publisher in Order to Publish a Book: http://bit.ly/cfBkfi
Follow @jafurtado–within a couple days of tweets you’ll be onto most of the best sources of info. http://www.baitnbeer.com/ and http://www.idealog.com/blog/ are smart blogs from the publishing industry angle. http://booktwo.org/ has had many interesting posts recently.
How about Ted Striphas’ work on print culture, including his new book, The Late Age of Print:
Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control? He teaches on new media at Indiana University in their Communication and Culture Department, and offers some solid insights on this topic.
His website is http://www.indiana.edu/~bookworm/
One more I meant to include is Craig Mod at http://craigmod.com/, especially “Books in the Age of the Ipad” and “Embracing the Digital Book”. Beautiful website, too.
Like you I am just starting, Kindle arrives tomorrow, but tool that convinced me to spend the money to try it out was Calibre + instapaper and or Read it later. Check’em out. Hours of happy yak shaving to come.
See you Sunday at Cybersalon?
Awesome trove of info. Thanks to you all! Tim, Calibre looks really great — look forward to playing with it.
I want to be there Sunday and will, if I can get back in time from an event I’ll be at…