I’ve never been skiing, but I had one of those plastic discs when I was a kid and a steep backyard. For the three years we lived in Virginia, my brother and I would climb up the multi-tiered hill behind our house after school and slide down, our only means of steering or stopping a foot stuck out to drag.
I can’t help feeling that’s what’s going on in digital publishing now, and it’s a giddy feeling. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that paper book sales in all formats have been dropping while ebook sales have been growing rapidly year over year. People are reading ebooks on smart phones and dedicated ereaders, and every few months it seems a new tablet computer is announced.
Amazon’s announcement yesterday of the Kindle Fire ($199) and the Kindle Touch ($99), not to mention the new price-point for the non-touch Kindle ($79), has just added speed to an already accelerating ebook revolution.
Unlike my plastic disc, that had no steering or brakes, Amazon seems to be in control of its direction and speed. And whether you like the way Amazon does business, you can’t deny its success. Amazon is doing everything it can to define the environment, to gain control of the slopes.
What effect will this have on indie publishers? In the short term (which could still be several years) it will be great. More and more people will be looking for content and buying digital books. If you’ve written a good book and packaged it attractively, your sales should go up. A rising tide lifts all boats, etc. Longer term, though, if Amazon drives its competitors out of the market, a lack of competition in the outlets for digital books could allow Amazon to demand a higher discount rate. Competition is messy, but it’s good for innovation and prices.
Bezo’s competitors don’t particularly care if Amazon’s policies hurt indies’s income, but we should care about what happens to them, and hope they respond intellegently to the challenge Bezos has cast in their faces. We need them to keep the market churning.
Fortunately, while the big publishers may not like the growing shift to digital books, but they are not ignoring it. They’ve been buying the ebook rights in their contracts for years, and they’re bringing out their backlists as fast as they can. Some indie authors are unhappy about this, fearing they’ll get lost in growing inventory. I don’t see that being as big a problem as not having publishing companies around to push back against Amazon. I like that Amazon’s marketing is aiding the digital revolution. It’s just not good for one company alone to control the market unless they’re a public utility.
How does all this affect what I’m going to do? When I was eight and sledding with my brother, I wouldn’t start my run all the way at the top of the hill. (I was afraid of crashing into the house the way my brother did once.) I’m still cautious. I have steering and brakes now. But I’m still going for it. I’m going to get my books out as fast as I can, which means at the rate of two to three books a year until I can learn to write faster. I want to take advantage of this growing ebook environment. And I’m preparing mentally for that environment to change because we can be sure that it will. I’m thinking about how ebooks themselves are changing and considering including multi-media.
I’m learning to love this wild ride we’re on.