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February 2011
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Considering the Future of Kindle Publishing

We can take it for granted today that the future of book publication revolves around the eBook.  Yes, I will acknowledge that it is unlikely to ever be the sole medium available to readers, but I would definitely say that it will be increasingly seen as the standard from here on out.  This was obvious even before Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) announced their recent comparison of paperback and Kindle book sales.  So, where does this leave the publishing industry?

In many ways instances, new authors had come to see the big publishing houses as unapproachable.  They had their big names that they were banking on and the chances of being the one new author in a hundred, or a thousand, to get a positive response was daunting.  People have said that more authors are springing up than ever before.  I don’t buy that.  People write and it’s only now that it’s been possible for even hobbyists to get their work out there.  That is what the move to digital book platforms like Amazon’s means for writers.  A chance to survive, or fail, on your own merits without the need of attracting a patron.  At least in theory.  You’re going from a traditional payment play to some form of micro-payment system where every person with a Kindle is a potential backer of your work.  Sure you lose security in the process, but you’d have only had that if you managed to break in in the first place.

It’s an interesting new environment that emphasizes different values than we might expect.  The downside of self-publishing, no matter how easy the actual process of book creation is, is self-promotion.  Not much of a chance that you’re going to be the next big thing if you can’t let people know that you wrote a book, that your book is about something they might be interested in, and, at a slightly later stage, that there are people who have read your book and enjoyed it. Word of mouth is useful, of course, but really this seems to turn writers into public figures to an unprecedented degree and would seem to cause success or failure to rest on the endurance and adaptability of the author rather than the strength of the work they have produced.

I’m going to admit that when I started writing this, I was taking a negative view on that.  It seems to cheapen the experience and draw value away from what I really believe to be the only thing that should matter when you’re deciding what to read: the Book.  But really, what’s new there?  The only difference now is that readers really have a chance to vote with their wallets.

If you have a nearly unlimited field of books to choose from, it can’t be worse than an industry that seems to have basically coasted along on a couple dozen big names for as long as anybody can remember, can it?  Yes, we’ll lose some great authors at the side of the road because they didn’t have the drive, personality, time, skills, or whatever, to be their own publicists, but there’s not much doubt in my mind that we’ve been losing far more than that before now than ever will be the case again.  So…gonna go with the Kindle platform and its attached self-publishing options as being a good thing in my opinion. The draw away from the big publishing houses should help more than it hurts, I hope.

Any thoughts from you guys?

9 comments to Considering the Future of Kindle Publishing

  • Does anyone honestly believe there’s the same cache to having an eBook out as there is to having a book in print?

    That’s all.

  • First, let me say that I have been in ebook publishing, in one position or another, for more than a decade. I have fought long and hard for ebooks as a viable alternative to print. I personally find the new evangelism for writers, regardless of their skills, to self-publish their work both frightening and sad.

    I find it frightening, because any writer knows their craft is like any other–it improves with learning and practice. Now, however, the moment someone adds “the end” to a manuscript, they’re hearing they can just hop over to Kindle/Smashwords/Insert ebook channel and become an instant author. They’re being given expectations that are simply not based in reality. They are also being told, by implication if not outright, that “good writers don’t need editors.” As a writer with more than half a century of working on my craft, I know that just isn’t true.

    And that is just one bit of misinformation the evangelists are spouting, misinformation that overlooks the fact that there was a successful ebook publishing industry long before Harlequin “invented” it and the mainstream fell over its feet trying to get caught up.

    What saddens me is when talented writers who, with the help of the above support from a publisher, could actually launch a career that could eventually take them to the level of the big names opt instead to self-publish. A small percentage will get luck–maybe half a percent? The rest will either give up or continue to self-publish book after book thinking surely the next one will be the breakthrough.

    Before undertaking the “independent” route, writers need to ask themselves what their real goal is: to be a writer, or to be a publisher. Because becoming the latter means adding another layer of work to squeeze into whatever time they now have to pursue their writing.

  • Capt4Chris

    As long as there’s a good review system so the cream an rise to the top, I very much like the idea of adding more authors to the pool!

  • Old Ant

    We’re in a short window of time when there are no gatekeepers to published work. I say it’s short because gatekeepers actually are necessary since there is a lot of substandard writing out there. It is possible that the print publishing houses and agents will step back in and provide gatekeeping again, or it’s possible that an industry of reviewers will step into that position and their recommendations will be what sorts the wheat from the chaff. But a system where the good is not somehow pre-separated from the bad is not really sustainable. Readers don’t quite like having the decision placed entirely on their own shoulders. In other words, they don’t have to time to waste reading everything to see what’s good, so they take someone else’s opinion first.

    Aside from the gate-keeper status, established publishers also perform two obvious (and probably many non-obvious) necessary functions. The first is editorial. I have seen some well-established authors I love write excesses in their books when they do not have a strict editorial supervision. Not every author needs strict editorial oversight, but nearly all early authors do, and quite a few experienced authors benefit from it. That is a service that should not be ignored. The other service is promotion. With the glut of books, one has to rise above the fray and stand out somehow. Established publishers have entire departments devoted to doing this full time. If a self-published author tried to do what these departments did, they author would not have the time to write the next book.

    So my suggestion is to hire yourself a good editor to look over your work, and get out there now. My guess is that the gates will begin to start closing sometime within the next five years.

  • JDK1962

    I’m kind of with Capt4Chris on this, but more pessimistic about that cream rising thing. Ebooks will replicate the Internet on a smaller scale…the barrier to publishing (be it web page or ebook) becomes smaller and smaller, but then so does the signal-to-noise ratio.

    Publishers, editors, and reviewers serve as useful gatekeepers. I’ll be interested to see what might emerge to augment that function, but the function won’t go away. If anything, the need will become greater and greater, to screen out the self-published dross. Yeah, I’m a bit of a literary snob. Sorry.

  • Anonymous Indie Author

    I’m sure the power going into the hands of the writer is “frightening and sad” to an industry vet, but in my experience, an amazing number of indie authors are every bit as good as your brand name authors, and the ebooks they publish just as polished. As always, a writer’s success depends upon one thing. The products he or she produces. If it is good, people will read it, and they will tell their friends and leave positive reviews. Do you truly think any halfway intelligent person cannot contract an artist to produce their covers and an editor to check the spelling and grammar of their document? The book industry needs a good shakeup, because you people in the ivory tower have been sniffing your own farts so long it smells like roses to you. See ya on the unemployment line!

  • Sandy

    I’m a reader so I have no stake in this argument either way. I do, however, think it’s funny that a publisher finds indies ‘frightening and sad’ – LOL. Methinks he protests a bit much. I just got my Kindle a few months ago and at first I was willing to pay higher prices for ebooks. That is no longer the case as I find more and more indie authors to choose from at $5 or less. I believe cream will rise to the top regardless. I use Amazon reviews as a resource and play the gatekeeper myself. I don’t need publishers telling me what to purchase as a lot of times I don’t like their picks anyway.

  • Benhamish

    The gates aren’t going to close, they will get wider and more narrow. Wider in the sense that more people will be able to publish anywhere and narrow in the sense that the public will be able to more accurately define their own reading niches.

    There are many many people out in the nets who want to help make ebooks the best that they can possibly be. Are you one of them Old Ant? Do you want to put in the time to edit and gatekeep with the only incentive being the thanks of a job well done? That is what is needed, everyone to become the editors, everyone to become the gatekeepers. Leaving it in the hands of those who held the job in the past, not a good idea.

    It would be trivial to create incentives for the public to become the editors and the gatekeepers, just give them a cut of sales. That list of Kindle books in the sidebar, looks like a list of bestselling Kindle books, obviously placed by the blog author because that is what is popular on the main Kindle site, But it could just as easily be replaced with books that the blog author has a personal “stake” in. Besides simple monetary affiliate things.

    It usually still comes down to popularity though, popularity of the site, number of visitors etc..

    Marketing budgets might come into play in the future as they do now. But I believe that a small group of dedicated individuals working with no budget will exert far more influence than any number of millions of dollars that the gatekeepers of the past have spent to promote their wares.

    Just my two cents, please spend it where it will do the most good or give it back.

  • The old guard will almost surely not be open to the changing face of publishing any more than they were to changes happening in music. Once they door is open.. you can either evolve with the times or die out like the dinosaurs.

    I thinks it’s a great equalizer when an author (or musician) can get their work out there and reap the benefits of their work. With that being said they will be forced to wear all the business hats and won’t be able to focus on “just writing” (or making music). This is where the larger companies come in, allowing to focus specifically on your craft while they focus on the marketing and promotion aspects.

    I’m happy that a lot of people are pursuing their passions as they are no longer out of reach.

    BTW: USA Today published an excellent article that should be use as inspiration for aspiring authors

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