Much like the recording industry, the publishing industry is beginning to notice that the physical book is no longer a pre-requisite when it comes to being a “published” author. Not only is it completely possible to write and distribute a book without ever involving a piece of paper but it can be done for little or no hard costs.
Of course, there are still lots of bookstores out there (although I hear Borders is in some trouble) and Amazon continues to ship millions of books out a year. There are a number of reasons for this, including the lack of a cheap, functional and fully-supported ebook reader. Let’s face it, there is nothing out there right now that is as easy and convenient as your basic paperback novel.
The few options out there, the Kindle and it’s ilk, are endlessly problematic. Not only are they expensive but they don’t actually provide you with actual books. Cory Doctorow points to a piece in Gizmodo:
“hardware ebook readers (Kindle, Sony Reader) run on stores that only license — instead of selling — books to you, even though they encourage you to think of the books as a purchase, saying things like “buy it now for the Kindle!” Books that you own can be loaned, re-sold and given away, and the ongoing health of the book trade and reading itself relies on this — how many of your favorite writers did you discover at a used bookstore, or when a friend passed you a copy of a book?”
The dilemma is that if I own a hardcopy of a book I can only loan it out to one person at a time. If I have all rights to a digital book I can, in theory, loan it out an infinite number of times simultaneously. The same is true for music I own. Is it fair for me to buy one copy of a book and then suddenly turn around and give it away to anyone who asks? Probably not.
Still, I want to be able to move that ebook from one device to another just as I do with my music. Information must be portable for it to be useful in the digital age. So far, there is not a clean solution to these issues.
When we talk about the music industry I often hear argument such as the fact that bands make money playing live and that the recorded music acts as an ad for the live gigs. This is not an unsound argument but it is hard to find a corollary within the writing world.
One thing we are starting to see in paid product placement within books, especially in YA fiction and “chick lit.” Perhaps there will be a growing ad-supported writing industry that can spring up – much like many bloggers support themselves with ads perhaps writers can publish exclusively online and benefit for the same sort of traffic/ad revenue.
The good news is that there are a lot of new ways out there for writers to reach their audiences without ever once submitting a manuscript or receiving a rejection letter.