Okay, just calm down. Really. It’s going to be okay.
Well, let me clarify that. The future is going to be okay for writers. Probably for readers as well. But man, for writers, the future is golden.
Of course I’m talking about e-books. Who isn’t talking about e-books these days, right? The insular world of publishing insiders and web connected authors (which, let’s be honest is not a very acurate representation of the publishing industry or the world at large) is all abuzz about the settlements with Amazon and publishers and the DOJ and some other stuff I don’t need to go into detail about.
There are a bunch of stories and I think we’re all reading the same ones so I won’t bother linking here. But the jist is this: for the immediate future at least the price of e-books will be going down again to around $9.99. How long this will last exactly is anyone’s guess, but it’s just one aspect of what I feel is the largest issue facing the publishing industry today. BOOKS ARE TOO DAMN EXPENSIVE. We can argue round and round about the worth of books and the devaluation of books blah blah blah, but $25 (or now near $30) is too damn expensive for a new book and $15 (or more) is too expensive for an ebook. The price in books is going to come down one way another whether publishers like it or not. And this is where we get into the selfish aspect of this post.
I don’t have any problems with the traditional publishing industry. I don’t think they intentionally screw authors or have any sort of diabolical schemes to do any damage. I think it’s full of dedicated, talented people who love books but are in an extremely bloated and flawed industry that needs to be fixed. Unfortunately, part of that solution is going to be stripped down publishing houses with far fewer employees. Big publishers have managed to keep the price of ebooks artificial high for a while now which has allowed them to do some minor adapting, but eventually the price of ebooks is going to drop and publishers are going to have to find a way to survive on $9.99 (or thereabouts) ebooks. Those who can’t will go out of business, but others will step in to fill their shoes.
I’m not naive enough to think Amazon is the great savior (or the great villain) of traditional publishing, they are a business and will do whatever is in their best interest. Right now, being cool to writers and doing neat things with ebooks is in their best interest. Once that stops being in Amazon’s best interest, they will likely become less author friendly. But then the field will be ripe for a different player to meet that need.
Many bookstores will also most likely go out of business and that will be sad too because I have friends who are booksellers. But I also have friends who were auto workers who lost their jobs and friends who were newspaper reporters who lost their jobs and friends who were sales people who lost their jobs. And builders, and managers, and scientists and, well, you get the point. I can’t expect a bloated and flawed industry to stick around and stay that way just to keep my friends employeed. My friends are smart and they’ll figure out a way to survive.
But I am not a bookseller. Or a librarian. Or an editor. I am a writer. And the future for me looks great. We as writers are living in a time right now when we can write whatever we want and find a way to get it to readers. Whatever we want. Really. Sure, certain topics and genres and authors are going to be more popular than others and we’re not all going to get filfthy rich, but for the first time in a while we should be able to get a decent amount of readers and survive.
Even taking ebooks out of the picture, the broader publishing landscape and new technology has given a greater edge to smaller publishers. Smart, engaged young people are finding ways to publish books they love and make money doing it. Some authors are great do it yourself professionals who can handle all of the aspects of publishing and distributing their own work and they will reap the benefits of their hardwork. But even authors like myself who can do some, but not all, of the work themselves should be able to find savvy partners to front cash and provide support for good work. Whether that is a NYC publisher giving me an advance and marketing support or a small press giving me a say and the flexibility to experiment will depend on the book and the situation. It will probably be a mix of both. But as a writer, I don’t care. I just can rest happy knowing that if I write a great book I can find a way to get it to readers and probably make some money from it.
So take heart writers, the future is on our side. Learn your trade, write good books (and short stories and novellas, and weird hybrid creations) make interesting (and helpful) friends, stay aware, and be ready to go where the future takes us.