Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Future of Books

Some interesting thoughts on the future of book publishing from David Nygren at The Urban Elitist. I agree with many of his main points, although I have to say that my wife loves print books and doesn't see any future where she would give up print for an e-book on the Amazon Kindle - which she has played with a bit. I'm sure there are many with similar attitudes - it doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the e-book reader or the e-book reader experience - they just love books!

I think we can already see that print is shrinking, so hard to argue with that. As for mega publishing going bye-bye, I see more consolidation, so fewer companies, but those that survive will be even bigger, and don't think that they won't control a big piece of the e-book market. Nygren even admits this later in the post, although he mentions primarily Amazon and Google. Everyone will be published - this is already happening, but in non-traditional ways, blogs, wikis, youtube, etc. Publishers partner with authors - makes sense. As for his point about gatekeepers, there are already other gatekeepers. Consider buying a book (or e-book) from Amazon; the first thing you do is read the reviews. The community is already the gatekeeper. And with e-books, the ability to download a free sample chapter turns the end-user into the ultimate gatekeeper - if you don't like it, you don't buy it.

I've excerpted some of Nygren thoughts below: The e-Book and the Future of Book Publishing
...thinking about what the book publishing world might look like in the not-too-distant future. More specifically, I’ve been wondering if and how writers will get published and make money under whatever new model takes hold.

Print Is Dead Shrinking: Some people think that true readers will always prefer a bound paper copy to hold, smell, fondle (the descriptive terms tend to get kind of gross). These people are wrong. Some others think that print books are dead, that they’re just going to go away. These people are also wrong, I believe.

For now, for most people, print is to read, and electronic is to search and browse and discover. But this will soon change. E-book reader technology is at the point where it would be acceptable to most people. All that is necessary is for the price of readers to come down (or perhaps they could be provided for free in return for an annual subscription to content) and for their use to permeate the culture

But print will still have its place, as it should. Any person or organization that takes archiving seriously will see the value of print. ...We will have to pay more for them, however, and most books will printed on demand, so don’t expect to see stacks of every new title lying around in bookshops.

The print-on-demand copies, I’m guessing, will have kind of a generic look and feel to them, so I bet there will also be a small but significant market for beautifully printed, bound and designed books. Again, expect to pay for it.

In summary, there will be more than one medium, but print will lose its dominance.

Mega Publishing Conglomerates Go Bye-Bye: Or at least they will look very different than they do today. Their scale is not sustainable.

But there will still be major publishing houses that handle the superstars, the sure (as you can get) bets. That is what they do best, after all. But for the vast majority of readers, the big houses will not longer be the gatekeepers. Good.

Everyone Will Be Published: Or at least anyone who wants to will easily be able to publish an e-book, just as anyone can now be published on a blog. It will be no big deal, but also will not carry the stigma of self-publishing a print book. Apart from writing content that people will want to read, the trick will be to get the book noticed and purchased and read. So how might this happen?

Publishers and Authors Will Be Business Partners: It’s supposed to be that way now, but the relationship is rarely one of equals.

Authors will be expected to share marketing costs but will also make a greater share of any profits than they currently do. Currently, publishers lose money on most titles and, they hope, turn an overall profit thanks to a handful of best sellers. It’s a gamble. Under the new model, publishers will risk relatively little financially but will share a greater portion of the profits with the author. We’re already seeing this, of course, but I predict it will become the dominant model.

Other Gatekeepers: There will be many more publishers, and perhaps many more books, than there are currently, so people will still want some official stamp of approval before spending money and time on a book (even if it’s an e-book that can be obtained for free or for far less than a printed book). I expect the rise of “super readers,” such as Oprah has become (though not on that scale). Each super reader will have his or her own following. Many of them will be mini-tyrants, but at least the power will have moved from the profit-centered board room to those who truly care about and appreciate the content. As we have currently, various reading groups, online review journals and bloggers will also drive readers to content that might otherwise have been ignored.

Most Published Writers Will (Still) Not Make Money: But we’ll write anyway, won’t we?

IMPORTANT: I do not believe that because a book-length text can be easily be shared and obtained for free that people will not be willing to pay for it. In 2007, $835 million was spent on digital music downloads from iTunes and other sellers, despite the fact that anyone can obtain almost any recorded piece of music online for free (despite the act’s illegality). Although it will be impossible to prevent all piracy, the majority of readers will pay for an e-book if it is reasonably priced. It is frequently assumed that if people can get something for free they will definitely not purchase it, despite evidence to the contrary. Publishers will still have to manage copyright, but the fact that copyright can be infringed, and will be infringed some of the time by some of the people, does not mean that it is no longer possible to make money from copyrighted material.

Authors and publishers should still learn to be more creative in their attempt to make money. There’s no shame in advertising. And people love tee shirts. Whatever helps promote the success and reach of your book, and whatever helps support you during the writing of your next one, is justified.

So No More Big Players, Right?: Unless somebody comes up with an open source e-book format that can be used on an affordable, high quality and readily available reader, I’m afraid that the distributors of e-books are still going to be the big guys. Could be Google, could be Amazon, could be some entity that doesn’t even exist yet. It’s certainly easy to imagine a world were such giants are not necessary, but I have a feeling it’s not going to happen that way. I don’t even want to try to predict how the e-book reader and e-book format wars will end (if they ever end). All I know is that e-books, in some form, will soon dominate the world of book publishing. (Request:apart from making e-book readers easily readable and affordable, please allow for a color cover design and graphical representations of book covers that can be browsed on a virtual bookshelf.)

How will they be sold? Still title-by-title? A Netflix-type subscription model (probably the least desirable from an author’s perspective unless the author receives a usage-based royalty)? I don’t know.

But: STM (scientific, technical and medical) publishing is far ahead of trade publishing in moving to an electronic format (though for journals more so than books). Most users get their content online, but the big publishers are still firmly in control. Open Access, author-pays models have barely registered. STM authors still want the convenience and authority that comes with publishing with a major publisher.


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Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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