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The concept of the virtual book has finally captured the reading public’s imagination thanks to portable and convenient devices such as the Kindle, Nook, iPad and Kobo. e-books aren’t new. They’ve been around for a decade or so in some form or another, but the convenience and portability of the current crop of e-readers has caused a massive shift in attitudes. Amazon (s amzn) and Barnes & Noble (bks) can probably thank the digital music revolution and everyone’s reliance on multifaceted smartphones for the acceptability of virtual content. The upshot is the e-book has arrived and it’s here to stay.
Naturally, the popularity of e-books has a lot of people worried. Should this format take over as the dominant medium for books, publishers will be forced to re-examine their place in the world. And if publishers suffer, so do the writers. The problem is even more worrying for bookstores, which face redundancy with the demise of the printed book.
So as a midlist author, what does all this mean to me? Change, but change I can work with. I’ve seen a lot of side-taking amongst my writing brethren. You’re either sticking with a dead technology or you’re part of a brave new world. Personally, I don’t see why I have to pick a side. Maybe I’m greedy, but why can’t I have both? I view e-books the same way I view audio books or foreign translations: They’re another revenue stream. To choose one over another seems a little short-sighted. If the public demands e-books, print books and audio books, I want my stories in all those formats. e-books are a new source of income for me, so I love ‘em, and no less than any other format that my books are currently published in.
So, I’ve embraced e-books for a number of reasons. First off, e-publishing has a very low barrier to entry. I don’t have to deal with a printer, distribution, getting into stores, or returns, nor do I need access to a recording studio to produce an audio book. All I have to do is format the manuscript to meet the needs of the various e-book-reading devices, and can have an e-book-ready manuscript in a couple of hours. The only real cost comes in the form of cover art, and that’s not much of a hardship. Even if I’m purchasing stock images or commissioning original artwork, I can pull together a professional-looking product for under $100.
Secondly, I don’t need a publisher for an e-book. As a midlist author, I’m used to having to play a number of roles and managing my e-book portfolio isn’t a hardship, especially when I can reap the reward of a larger royalty. Thirdly, I get to utilize a sizeable backlist that would be gathering dust under normal circumstances. I possess a number of out-of-print works that aren’t financially viable for a new print run, but are viable to resurrect as e-books. The same applies to stories where the electronic rights haven’t been utilized. I’d be a fool not to embrace e-book publishing.
I don’t really know where the e-book revolution will go. It might be a tougher proposition to replace the printed book than people might think. I believe printed books will be around for some time. There’s probably going to be even more consolidation among the publishers, which will limit places for midlist authors, but even that’s not the end of the world. It might not be financially viable for the big publishing houses to support midlisters, but that isn’t to say there isn’t profit to be made. Advances in technology when it comes to book manufacturing and audio production means it’s pretty cost-effective to produce a print book or an audio book. Orphaned writers might want to take a leaf out of W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks’ collective book when they created United Artists and formed author cooperatives to produce their own print, audio and e-books. The potential is there.
And before anyone gets too complacent about e-books, who’s to say that in five years something else won’t come along make the e-book redundant? That’s technology.
The e-book revolution might affect the publishing industry with devastating consequences, but the important thing for me to do as a writer is roll with the punches. The one constant in all this change is that the world will always need storytellers regardless of the medium.
Simon Wood has had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. His latest works are “Terminated” and “Asking for Trouble.”