Saturday, April 17, 2010

The End of Publishing

The book, above, is a limited edition (1,000 copies printed) edition of the Rev. John Russell's memoirs, written by E.W.L. Davies and printed in 1902, complete with illustrations by N.H.J. Baird, and "coloured by hand."

The cover is embossed in gold.

I brought it along with me to coffee this morning. I took the picture and loaded it from my laptop at Starbucks.

On the way over, National Public Radio had a story about a fellow who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, which was turned down by multiple publishers before it was published by Bellevue Literary Press, which is run out of a couple of rooms at Bellevue Hospital (yes, the place with the nut ward), in New York City.

It seems every other publisher had turned It down. Not commercial enough. The folks at Bellevue thought that was crazy talk. How ironic!


Last night I stopped at Barnes and Noble to drink more Starbucks coffee and cruise the racks. I got two paperback novels, but not before stopping at the desk of the guy selling the Barnes and Noble version of an e-book reader.

Barnes and Noble is selling e-book readers.

Clearly, you do not need to be a genius to see that paper publishing is not long for this world.

Ten years, tops.

I already get my newspaper from my cell phone and my computer.

And with e-book readers, who needs book stores?

Certainly no writer needs a publisher skimming off $19 out of every $20.

In the Next Economy, books will cost $10, the author will get $9, and the file-sharing site will get a dollar. There will be no publisher at all.

And there will be no loss.

Publishers never sold books anyway; they placed them in stores. In the era of Amazon, book stores are going broke faster than tobacco shops in the 1990s.

Anyone can see the Next Economy is already here.

Look at music. Who goes to record stores anymore? You order online and get your recommendations online, and the music is downloaded to your computer, or your I-pod. No more skipping songs, cascading CDs, and ripped audio tape.

How about movies? First there was video tape, and then cable TV, and now NetFlix. Next will be "online all the time, and on demand."

Some folks already have it.

Books are clearly next.

The market for e-book readers is exploding. In a world in which cheap paperback novels cost $15, the demand for a $150 reader will not be contained for long.

Of course, every new technology has its ups and down. A shakeout in e-book readers has yet to occur; the wave of inflated expectations is still building.

But how deep will the "trough of disillusionment" really be?

Not very, I think.

The current I-Pad is not the machine that will win the race, but the next generation along this same curve will probably be the tipping point.

It's not like an e-reader has to do a lot to beat a paper book.

For one thing, a million great books are already out there for FREE (including the book featured at the top of this post).

E-books do not rot, mold, crowd shelves, or cost a fortune to move across town.

Plus they are cheaper than their paper equivalents; a lot cheaper over time.

And what will e-books do for publishers and book stores?

The fellow at Barnes and Noble selling e-book readers tried to make the case that publishers and books stores will still exist in the future. His thesis: that consumers need publishers and book stores to tell us, the consumer, what to read.

I call bullshit.

In the Next Economy we will not need priests to tell us what to read.

Book titles will be loaded directly up to file servers, the same as i-Tunes.

Consumers themselves will rank them up or down. Blogs and social marketing sites will tell niche communities what's hot and what's not.

Of course, the real choke point will always remain.

Very few people can write well.

Even fewer people have something to say.

Even fewer have something new to say.

Even fewer can leap the hurdles of production; the unending hunt for typos, the sanding of sentences, and the tyranny of pagination.

But paper, printing and publishing priests?

In ten years, we will look back on them as an anachronism, right up there with snail mail and the fax.

Listen up children, when I was a kid, we had printed books. On paper. Can you imagine?


Miki said...

Hmmmmm. I'm still at wait and see for a reasonably priced reader, but I'll pop for one in the future, no doubt. The iPad? Nope - don't see the point. I have a much more functional laptop and more portable iTouch, thank you very much.

The (not-yet-real) Rolltop? O.M.G.

K9-CRAZY said...

For $1.99 I purchased an app called "Free Books" for my iPod Touch. It gives me access to 23,469 classic books, a library in my pocket.
While not perfect it's a pretty sweet deal for a quick read. There will always be some books you want in your printed library though.

Pro - I can read in the dark.
Con - the battery eventually runs out.

HTTrainer said...

A man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over a man who can't read them.
Mark Twain

whether it is on paper or on a reader the future **does not ** read.

Doug said...

My wife and oldest son both have ebook readers. They love them. Every time they finish a book - they just download the next (and I get an e receipt).

There is no "down time" going to the book store, it's instant. I'll be in the market soon. Though I admit, it think it is sad. I like my books, my collection, sitting on the shelves. I like the feel, and smell.

But when you need to take multiple books on a trip - One ebook makes much more sense.

The Dog House said...

I will continue to purchase books, damn near every book that remotely interests me, until there are no more books left to purchase.

Say what you want about ease of use, portability, storage, price, etc.

Nothing is quite the same as curling up with a good book

sassanik said...

I am the proud owner of a Pocketbook 360 ebook reader. I switched entirely over to ebooks about 2 years ago when I got my first ebook reader. People talk about how they will miss being able to hold a paperbook, trust me they will get over it fast. I have over 700 books in my computer library! The sheer amount of space that computer storage saves me makes me love my ebook reader!

If you would like more information about ebook readers a great site is:

Barnes and Noble bought out Fictionwise this year, which is one of the top online retailers of ebooks. B&N can see some of its future on the way.

I still see a market for paper and hardback books for things like childrens books and anything that has a lot of pictures in it.

The big publishers are being drug kicking and screaming into the new century and they are not happy about it.

The major publishing houses are going to lose most of the publishing pie at this rate because they are being too greedy, they like making the most amount of money they can off books. They even claim that ebooks are not cheaper to make than regular paperback. Now who is deluded there?

Anyway I will stop now. Ebooks are wonderful and the new ebook readers that are coming out are dropping in price, you can get a decent one for $200, I think once they can get the price to $150 or less it will have a wider acceptance.

Amanda S said...

Patrick, I agree with most of your argument but I think that you under-estimate the role of good editor to the creation of great books.

Donald McCaig said...

I agree with Amanda. That said, of the major trade publishers, only Norton isn't part of a media conglomerate and editors at the conglomerates are wildly overworked - some "edit" a hundred books a year - and promoted by their ability to spot next year's NYT best seller.

A hopeful note is the expansion of small specialty presses (Gray Wolf), niche presses within the conglomerates and university presses expanding beyond "scholarly" publishing. For the most part, that's where the editors are.

For the writer, this hopeful note is muted by lousy pay. One can't wait tables forever.

It may be my geezerhood but I am less sanguine about e-publishing than Patrick seems to be.

Who wrote Vista and OSX? Oh, that's right, they were "knowledge workers". What is the hourly rate for a "knowledge worker"?

PBurns said...


And editor is different than a publisher. It's like comparing lumber and paint. No one is paying $19 out of $20 to an editor, any more than they are paying $500,000 to paint a house.

I think if you read this post, the word editor is not mentioned.

As for the "knowledge workers" that made Vista, etc. they make (on average) over $107,000 a year (see >> ) while the average book editor makes about half that ( see >> ).

As Don notes, the average "publisher's editor" is spending only few days on your book. Two weeks of tiem (or a few thousands dollars of salary time) would be an extreme investment. And for this a publisher makes 95%? Not in the future they won't!


Marie said...

Well as a vintage book seller it will be sad to see books go the way of the dodo bird. There's something about turning a page, or the heft of a book that for me, is very satisfying.

I've been an avid reader since childhood. I haven't looked into an e-reader and probably won't until I can't find what I want to read in regular book form.

I guess they call it progress.