I was talking with my husband about the publishing environment recently, discussing the viewpoints of Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, J. A. Konrath, and Mike Stackpole. All of them believe digital books are the way of the future. All of them are frustrated with authors who insist that traditional publishing alone is best, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. At most some of these authors see digital books as another medium, one that isn’t much of a challenge to the status quo.
One of the arguments I’ve heard disputing the digital revolution is that we’ve been hearing that ebooks will kill traditional publishing for twenty years — and it hasn’t happened yet. They’re tired of folks crying “Wolf!”
I sympathize. The problem is, the wolf is finally here.
Whenever I used to hear this discussed at science-fiction conventions, there was one caveat that was always appended. Digital wouldn’t take over the market until cheap, easy-to-use e-readers became widely available.
Guess what? Cheap, easy-to-use e-readers are in a lot of pockets. They’re called smart phones. And for those who want to read on a larger screen, we have the Kobo available for under $100, and the internet-connected, color-screen Nook is only $250. If you want even more apps and have more money, the iPad, the Motorola Xoom and other tablets are out there to help you read your digital books. Any day now, we’ll see bookclubs offering a free e-reader with a two year contract.
None of the above named authors, not even at their most evangelic, is saying that traditional publishing will go away completely. As Mike Stackpole has said, horses didn’t become extinct with the advent of automobiles, nor did they disappear from the streets overnight. But no one can deny that the rate of technological change has accelerated over the last century, as has it’s adoption. While print books still account for the majority of book sales, e-books are eroding their market share. And it will take far less time for ebooks to become the dominant medium than it took for the automobile to become ascendant. Last Friday the L.A. Times reported that since April 1, Amazon has sold more digital books than those printed on paper – and that doesn’t even include Kindle’s free books. Industry wide, ebook sales have tripled over the last year.
It only makes sense to prepare for the changing environment. Digital publishing certainly opens the door of opportunity to authors, especially those with backlists that would otherwise languish in the file-drawer. Whether it’s best to sell your e-rights to a publisher, or choose to self-publish is the next important question, and a discussion that many others have already covered thoroughly.
But either way, digital rights are going to become increasingly valuable, and something no author should ignore.