Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Will Self-Published E-books Replace Publishers?

Apple has just reported that it has sold 1 million iPads in 28 days. And in that time it has sold 1.5 million e-books. In light of all the recent competition in selling e-books--will they one day replace print books? And, in an even larger picture, will the immediate gratificaton of self-publishing in e-form replace the need for editing and publishers?

A response from Jeff Gerke, editor of Marcher Lord Press:

It seems that digital media and the thrill of the iPad is not concerning print book publishers only. This morning I was reading my new Popular Science magazine (yes, I'm a geek; proud of it) and found an interesting advertisement/message on a two-page spread.

It was an ad arguing the legitimacy of print magazines even in the digital age. One quote I liked: "The Internet grabs you. Magazines embrace you. The Internet is impulsive. Magazines are immersive."

But here was the key bit: "A new medium doesn't necessarily replace an existing one. Just as movies didn't kill radio. Just as TV didn't kill movies. An established medium can continue to flourish so long as it continues to offer a unique experience."

It's so true. The Internet is instant but often rash and raw; magazines (and, even more so: books) are usually more mature in their thought, more considered. One might be the immediate pulse taken at the patient's bedside but the other is the fuller picture created when all the tests have come back. There is an ADHD feel to the Internet: it's happening now and oh, that headline is so ten minutes ago. Whereas magazines and books tend to feel more level-headed.

Now, someone could argue that the Internet and digital media/iPad content are not the same. Some digital content has been through the same editorial rigors as print magazines and books, after all. All true.

But I am speaking to the concern that e-publishing--especially that uncensored, YouTube model in which every yokel with a modem is a publisher--is this awful threat to our style of writing and to print books in general. So long as people still value reasoned, vetted commentary (or story) over the instant response of the blogosphere, there will be a place for the more thoughtful media and its model.

That's not to say we shouldn't embrace e-publishing. I think we should. I like what Charlie Peacock said as keynoter at Mount Hermon this year. He said we need to stop thinking of the print book as the primary product of publishing and instead think of an intellectual property (our story) as a source or treasure and come up with 30 different forms and delivery mechanisms by which we can get our stories to the people. If they want it on iPad or iPhone or iBubble (iMade that one up), we should give it to them that way. But the point remains that our style of slow, thoughtful craftsmanship will always be valued even as people sometimes enjoy the "flash fiction" feel of the Internet. Both have their place.


Kathy Cassel said...

I'd still rather have a print book. I'm wayyyyy behind on technology.

Timothy Fish said...

Jeff makes a good point. When people use the Internet, they are often searching for an answer to a narrow question, but books provide the answer to a broad question. A person might search the Internet for how to replace a light switch, but a book would be a better choice if he wanted to know how to build a house. A good book not only addresses the question we are looking for, but it also teaches us things we didn’t even know we needed to consider.

To some degree, the same is true of novels. I’ve seen a lot of first pages and queries on the Internet lately. People seem to have the patients to read these, but I haven’t seen many people ready full chapters or short stories on the Internet. And yet, give people a book and they’ll read that first page and keep right on going. On the Internet they may have just wanted to know what the book was about, but in the longer form of a novel they want to know about those things that we didn’t even mention on the Internet.

Unknown said...

Right, Timothy--most internet readers don't have the patience for longer reads. The only exception I know of is a homeschool website that I'm part of, Apricotpie. Several of us have novel serializations going on right now, and everyone seems to be reading and enjoying them.
I wonder why that's different?

Sam Batterman said...

I'm always amazed that conversations about eBooks and going direct to the digital form of our stories brings up questions about skipping editors and publishers.

If an author is skipping editing they are putting out junk. Period. If a publisher is putting out terrible quality they will suffer in the market.

The market will decide what is junk and what isn't - just like Amazon does with both published and self-published. It's just another form of the story - like an audio book. Publishers that don't embrace this new but inevitable model are simply toast and I'm afraid many will be the big Christian publishing houses.

Sheila Deeth said...

There's room and place for both. But I do wonder if the rise of e-self-publishing won't make it even harder for beginners to get a foot in the real publishing door. The best will always rise to the top and get noticed, but the good won't rise without good salesmanship, and the size of the e-pub pool might discourage spending time learning to sell.

Nancy J. Rich said...

This too is the future of story reading we all must accept because people are busier, more mobile, and do not want to carry something big or fallible. We must be able to fit in their purse or pocket to get our stories out.
I do not believe we should fire publishers & agents so we can self-publish, there is still a cost most of us cannot afford. Publishers & agents keep literary standards high so the public doesn't have to lower their standards for great storytelling.
We should never use technology as a means to an end, but as a tool and an avenue to keep readers entertained and encouraged.
Nancy J. Rich

Southern-fried Fiction said...

What I picked up here is in the title. Except for non-fiction, I'm leery of self-published books. It's such a rare exception to find a good novel that's been self-published. At Novel Journey & its sister site, Novel Reviews, we were asked numerous times to consider a self-published book. To find that gem, one would have to schlog their way through hundreds of poorly written ones. I haven't the time nor the inclination when there are so many good ones published traditionally.

So do I think self-published e-boks will be any different? Sorry, but no. Anyone with a buck can publish a book. THat does NOT make then a good novelist.

Again, this is about fiction, and it's my opinion only.

Crystal Mazzuca said...

Well said! No one reads just to read. We love the story! Be it book or e-book (I have a Sony Reader that I LOVE), we're all about quality.