While the news of Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader could signal a changing trend in the way that readers consume their information, unremarked upon is how the rise of the e-book reader will eventually change the world for writers.
If readers can download books into their Kindle (or Sony Reader), what’s to stop them from cutting out the middleman and downloading directly from an author?
What’s happening to the news media (blogs vs. newspapers) and music (free downloads vs. buying a CD) and video (YouTube or downloads vs. buying a DVD) will happen with novels: the middleman will become unnecessary.
Currently, it is extremely difficult to get a novel published. A novelist might spend a few months writing a great novel, and then submit his manuscript to a bunch of publishers (or hire an agent to do it for him). He’ll most likely be rejected completely by all of them, because publishers get thousands and thousands of submissions, and can only print a handful. If a novel is accepted by a publisher, there’s a long process of editing, layout and design, marketing, and so forth, just to get the book into print, into bookstores, and into the hands of the readers.
Consider the electronic version of this process: an author writes a book (and preferably has it edited) … and sells it to you via his website. So much easier! Sure, Stephen King experimented with this unsuccessfully in the past, but there wasn’t a market then. In a few years, there might be.
So let’s take a look at Amazon’s business model with the new Kindle e-book reader: publishers will give them an electronic version of the book, and Amazon will re-sell it for $9.99. That’ll still limit most people to a few purchases a month.
But take a look at the blogging model: we give our writing and information away for free. Sure, there are millions of bloggers giving away their writing for free, because anyone can do it. Bloggers, then, have learned that to get attention and readership, they have to learn to differentiate themselves, with quality and usefulness and value. They still make money, if they can do that, but they don’t charge the reader for each post.
Will novelists eventually give their novels away for free? Only time will tell. I’m betting that those novelists who can’t get accepted by a publisher will definitely give away their content for free. I bet there are a lot of great novelists out there who don’t get published. Soon, the publishers and Amazon will be competing with free novels, and it’s only a matter of time before major authors cut out the publishers and Amazon and sell their books themselves, perhaps for half price (still getting more than they do with the current setup).
The e-book reader removes the need for a publisher and bookstore. The author, then, becomes the only important element in the business, and rightfully so.
Ultimately, the market will determine what happens, and which business model will win out, but I’m betting on the blog model: people are less likely to pay for newspapers and magazines if they can get great stuff on blogs for free.