By Stewart King, author of Download: The Killer E-Book.
The one story that brings home to me just how much the publishing landscape is being changed is that the next Encyclopaedia Britannica will only be published in a digital format.
I don't actually believe that books will vanish from the earth or that good publishers will become surplus to requirements. But I do believe that everyone in the industry has to acknowledge that a great deal of material is now vying for position on people's virtual shelves and that the process of selling a book has now changed irrevocably.
In the UK this year 25% of the e-books sold were by authors without publishing deals.
It's certainly an exciting time for ambitious writers who can publish themselves and find out if what they've created can find a readership. More and more authors are engineering their own success stories in this way.
But it's the reader that is becoming increasingly powerful. Digital charts reflect what people are selecting rather than what they're being told to select and it's their tastes that will dictate which writers/publishers are successful in this brave new literary world.
What's occurring now mirrors what happened in the music industry. The balance of power is shifting and, in a business where a large population depends on a monopoly that is being rapidly stripped away, everyone has to rethink their position and, above all, relevance.
Every day articles and blogs reflect the excitement and trepidation that people within the industry feel about the change. And, of course, there are horror stories aplenty.
What if a disgruntled syndicate of publishers got together to plot against the new age of cheap uploaded content? What if they laced a curse into a digital book? It seemed like a good stating point for a story but rather than write it as a novel I decided to dish-up the idea up in a short bite that could be read on a Kindle in a couple of minutes. It seemed like a double irony.
I published this horror/thriller story through a brave new digital imprint, Endeavour Press. It probably took less than a week from its conception via edit and proofread to seeing it being healthily downloaded. This is one of the advantages of this sort of publishing
I'm also selling it away cheaply on Amazon with a few sample chapters from my other novellas. This is another 21st century device. There are worries that this sort of practice is unsustainable in the long run. We know that a digital book is cheaper to produce than a paper one but, aside from the writer, everyone who works on a book needs to earn a living and the price of it must reflect the amount of talents involved as well as the indefinable value of intellectual property.
Nobody knows how long the current situation will last. The music industry has settled down but because technology's goalposts are not just moving but constantly turning into something else entirely, the way to survive actually seems to be through constant invention and reinvention rather than bloody digital revenge.
Stewart King is the author of Download: The Killer E-Book.
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