Jens wrote an excellent post about self-publishing via the intertron, go forth and read. Then come back.
The past ten years or so have seen a massive amount of conflict between the internet and traditional publishers of all sorts – record companies, book publishers, radio stations, comic strip syndicates, television studios, etc. In many ways it’s the same old feud that has always happened whenever new technology comes along, whether it’s FM radio, VHS, cassette recorders, whatever. The titans of the old industry can’t keep up with the times, and thus fade to obscurity if they can’t adjust. We’re seeing this with those pricks over at the RIAA right now. And, I suspect, we are seeing it with the current batch of book publishers, whose attempts to sell via the new e-readers may be doomed to become little more than a novelty rather than the revolution they should be. I will explain.
The current struggle we’re seeing between the internet and publishers is not one of old vs new industry, though; it is a gang of middle men versus the artists. Historically, that’s what publishers are – a group of editors, salespeople, and lawyers who pay the artist some amount of cash to produce content, which, until recently, only the publisher had the resources to promote and distribute.
There are lots of ways various artists are circumventing all of that. I doubt I need to go into how self-published creators are becoming successful. And in the process, they often get to keep their properties and their profits. This is common knowledge, right?
Theoretically, publishers serve a secondary purpose, that of a filter, right? These are supposed to be people who can recognize good content. I would say on the whole, though, they have failed us in that regard. Failed us terribly.
I thought this was particularly interesting from Jens:
Many ebooks produced by major companies sell, incredibly, in the $6-12 range. JA Konrath prices his at $2-3 and makes up for it with volume – volume and the amazing 70% royalties Amazon pays.
I’ve had this conversation with a few friends recently. I was looking at the prices of the books in Amazon’s Kindle store and was impressed by the prices, but not in a good way. It was no cheaper to buy the electronic books than it was to grab cheap paperbacks. And this isn’t even counting the cost of the device, which I consider ludicrous (maybe I’m just a cheap bastard, though). I get the (debatable) value gains of an e-book over a print copy, but I also understand that it costs the publisher less to put out that file than it does to print a few thousand copies (that may not sell) to send out to bookstore shelves. If iTunes can, with massive success for all parties involved, sell songs for a buck, there’s no reason a book publisher can’t sell a digital book for $2-3.
Is the Kindle (and related products) awesome? Absolutely. I can’t wait for someone to invent a nice big color version for my comic book addiction. But their business model and philosophy needs to catch up before people lose interest, shrug, and toss this luxury aside in favor of the next flash-in-the-pan gadget.
Content should not be considered a luxury, I guess is what I’m saying. Publishers should want an e-reader in everyone’s hands, and we writers should want that, too. E-readers should do for fiction what mp3 players have done for music. Make the pretty leather-bound edition of our novel the quaint luxury that I put on the shelf to impress visitors, not the digital ink.
Surely 100 million people buying books at $3 a piece is better than 3 million buying at $10 a piece? Not just for the companies, but for society as a whole?
Because, ultimately, things are evolving to where the artists no longer need these people who are attempting to control and bottleneck our content. In their panic, those people are probably going to screw things up for all of us.