This isn’t a new topic, but it also doesn’t seem to be going away. There are some very loud people convinced that the Kindle spells the end of the book and they’re quite willing to say so. In a very, very limited way, they’re right. The problem is that they’re missing the point.
You see, books have come a long way already over the years. It doesn’t matter if you decide to cite oral tradition, serialized texts, or pretty much anything else as the origination point for the modern concept of the book, it’s not possible to deny that the book as we know it is an evolution from something else. The transition to the medium we know and love today, which is itself distinct from the books produced prior to the printing press for example, has allowed for more variety and enjoyment to emerge than ever before. The Kindle, and other eReaders like it, is simply the next stage in the ongoing progression. It takes the established situation and makes it more efficient to deliver, less restrictive in terms of publication, and more generally accessible overall.
In a way, this is the heart of the problem. The publishing industry isn’t built around the text. In the end, it doesn’t matter if they are selling the most amazing piece of literature ever written or the latest exploitation of the vampire romance novel phenomenon so long as people are buying. The industry makes its money by selling the book as a physical object and offering the person or people who produced the information inside a cut of the profit. If you take away the paper, their model seems less sustainable.
If anybody sitting at home can do the work to get a novel written, polished, and put up for sale with no need for a middle-man and at a higher percentage than the publishing houses are prone to offering, then what is the point of courting them? What we need to see now is some initiative on the part of these companies. What are they bringing to the table? It isn’t enough to cite history and what they’ve done before. If the Kindle is supposed to be single-handedly destroying publishing as we know it, you have to assume that it has more to do with what the public considers to be worth their money than it does with Jeff Bezos being an evil genius bent on taking over the world.
If they are going to stay afloat, people need to be informed about what advantages there are in going with a publisher. The doors need to open up a bit. If this isn’t enough, then it isn’t a sign that somebody is out to get them, it’s a sign that publishers simply aren’t providing authors with decent value anymore. The industry isn’t changing on a whim, it’s changing because things like the Kindle platform are making it possible for authors and readers to avoid the red tape and pointless markups that are left over from a time when successful publishing was literally impossible without an impressive backer. We’re moving on.