Strange New World

Like many other writers, I’m trying to make some sense of what the future holds for the publishing world as e-books become more and more important.

If you haven’t sampled some of the thinking, check out these three sources for starters:

  • Jon Konrath feeling a lot less concerned about piracy than I am
  • Mike Stackpole, whose blog is must reading for his insights 
  • Tom Dupree, commenting from a publisher’s perspective

Even if you’d rather be reading about the craft of writing over the business of writing, things will potentially be changing far too fast and far too radically to think you can bury your head in the sand and pretend it’s still 1995.

It’s learn or get left behind.


  1. Lee

    I wouldn’t be concerned about piracy (of course that’s easy for me to say, as a non-writer). Getting people to read your work is much harder (and much more important) than getting people to not read your work.

    In my opinion, having reasonable pricing will do more toward stopping piracy than, say, legal action against pirate sites. Sure, there are some hard-core pirates that will do anything to avoid paying, but you would never, under any circumstances, convert them into paying customers. Most people *want* to be legal, as long as doing so is not too difficult, expensive, or time-consuming.

  2. admin

    First off, I agree about the difficulty in getting people to read your work. However, I don’t view “reading your work” as the key threshold; the key threshold is “reading your work and paying for it.”

    What has happened to the music industry is sobering. Sales peaked in 1999 at $16.4 billion in current dollars. Then Napster came along and everything changed. In 2009, sales (adjusted for inflation) were half of what they were in 1999.

    A musician can compensate, at least to some degree, by touring. A writer doesn’t have that option.

    So I am concerned that conventional publishing is in trouble because even though it’s a lot healthier now than most people think, it’s not the cash cow that music was in 1999. In its current state, book publishing can’t withstand the piracy broadside that the music industry has taken.

    Writers who adapt and are in a position to do so will actually thrive. Konrath’s ability to go directly to his readers with very low priced books (since he has none of a conventional publisher’s expenses) is a windfall for him.

    I love the fact that some favorite writers of mine are making available short stories on Kindle that have long been out of print. I grab them at 49 cents and 99 cents. That can become a considerable income stream for those writers and a boon for their fans.

    The picture is a lot murkier for writers who have not yet built a considerable audience. (Ahem, such as myself.) The strange new world could be wonderful or could be bleak. But it certainly will be different.

  3. Lee

    One advantage that the publishing industry has to the music industry is that the music industry can serve as an excellent example of what *not* to do. In my opinion, the reason for the hit to the music industry profits are due to more than just simple loss to piracy: so much effort was spent on a) trying to sue the Napsters and other pirates out of business, which is ultimately a losing proposition and b) developing proprietary formats that were a huge waste of time and money once an open format, mp3s, became the norm.

    Which is why I was so disappointed in the Amazon Kindle. I can certainly understand that Amazon would want to benefit from all the R&D that went into building such an amazing device, but the fact that: a) you didn’t actually own the files that you bought and paid for; b) Kindle books could not be read on other platforms (except those, like the iPhone, that Amazon blesses) and c) Kindle books cannot be shared with other people; disheartened me to no end. Once a shared format that is the equivalent of the mp3 comes into use, I cannot imagine that the Kindle format will remain viable, and I would think that the publishers that embrace this will have a huge advantage over those that stubbornly cling to the older, less convenient, and failing distribution methods.

    But I would imagine that a writer like yourself who is looking to build a career and an audience could do a lot worse than looking at what bands that are just starting out and are trying to do and copying them.

    Certainly having a blog is a great start, and seems like a good way to get some of the “product” — in this case, your words — in front of a potential reader. Now you just have to produce work of enough quality to keep people coming back, and eventually willing to shell out cash (or the PayPal equivalent) for more. USCHO is another great way to do that, of course, with the added benefit of getting paid for your effort.

  4. admin

    I’d actually disagree regarding the Kindle. I love mine. Except that I’m having trouble getting it back from my daughter, who borrowed it for a recent trip and also loves it. 🙂

    Do I own the files I purchase? Essentially yes except that I can’t share them with friends/customers. Given what happened to the music industry, it’s a no-brainer that Amazon would try to protect itself against abuse. When I make my purchase, I know about this limitation and I’m cool with it.

    If there’s a reasonable technology to put a cap on the sharing of a file (say to four or five friends but not to four or five thousand customers), then allowing shared files would be the way to go. But I’m not aware of such a possibility.

    I am completely comfortable buying things for my Kindle knowing that I can’t pass those purchases on to others, except for sharing the Kindle itself, which I’ve done with Nicole.

    Actually, I understand that there’s a Kindle app for the iPad so purchases can be read there too.

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