Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Steal My Thunder, but the E-Book Writing is on the Wall

I spent last weekend and Monday in heavy geek mode. I had my head down, formatting my financial thriller, Mad Money, to e-book format and preparing my personal web site and my own online world -- Twitter, Facebook, et al -- for the arrival of my carefully birthed electronic baby.

While I was so deeply occupied, I missed a story I would normally have covered. One that was either due to add to Mad Money’s thunder or detract from it. Or maybe what it really does -- for me -- is justifies all the work I’ve lavished on this project: maybe the course I’m setting is the right one. Maybe I’m not actually insane.

While I was coming to conclusions and deciding between page breaks or no page breaks and if the body text of my novel should be rag-rag or justified, bestselling authors Barry Eisler (bekow right) and JA Konrath (below left) were coming to agreement: reaffirming in public things both had clearly decided on their own.

Eisler, whose star has been rising, has recently walked away from a half million dollar publishing deal with St. Martin’s Press in favor of taking the advice of his 11-year-old daughter and going it on his own. Eisler, best known as the creator of the John Rain series, and Konrath, who has made a name for himself beating bushes and turning over rocks that weren’t even previously there, spent part of their weekend discussing the future of the book. They did it, appropriately enough, in public, in a Google docs conversation now available on both of their blogs. It’s a 13,000 word conversation that includes, as Eisler says, “the history and mechanics of the publishing industry as it exists today, analyzes the way the digital revolution reflects recent events in Egypt and the Maghreb, and considers a completely inappropriate YouTube video featuring a randy monkey and an unlucky frog. It clocks in at 13,000 words, and reveals some pretty startling things.”

In those 13,000 words they closely examine a topic that both are clearly passionate about: books and publishing. Some of what they say truly is new and startling. But some of it states what many of us are already feeling in our hearts. Here’s a snippet:
Eisler: Apple sold 15 million iPads in 2010, and the iPad2 just went on sale. And Amazon sold eight million Kindle books in 2010--more digital books, in fact, than paperbacks. Meanwhile, Borders is shuttering 224 stores. So I think it’s safe to say the trends I just mentioned are continuing. And the trends reinforce each other: the Borders in your neighborhood closes, so you try a low-priced digital reader, and you love the lower cost of digital books, the immediate delivery, the adjustable font, etc... and you never go back to paper. The reverse isn’t happening: people aren’t leaving digital for paper. There’s a ratchet effect in favor of digital.

Konrath: In the history of technology, when people begin to embrace the new media tech, it winds up dominating the marketplace. CDs over vinyl and tapes, DVD over VHS. The Internet over newspapers. Even Priceline over travel agents--

Eisler: Yes! Sorry to interrupt, but this is something that interests me so much. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard saying, “But paper isn’t going to disappear.” That isn’t the point! If you ask the wrong question, the right answer to that question isn’t going to help you. So the question isn’t, “Will paper disappear?” Of course it won’t, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that paper is being marginalized. Did firearms eliminate the bow and arrow? No--some enthusiasts still hunt with a bow. Did the automobile eliminate the horse and buggy? No--I can still get a buggy ride around Central Park if I want.

Now, some new technologies really have completely displaced their forebears. For example, there’s no such thing as eight-track tape anymore. And yet some people still do listen to their music on vinyl, despite the advent of mp3 technology. The question, then, is what advantages does the previous technology retain over the new technology? If the answer is “none,” then the previous technology will become extinct, like eight-track. If the answer is “some,” then the question is, how big a market will the old technology continue to command based on those advantages?

Konrath: You’re talking about niche markets.

Eisler: Exactly.

Konrath: We’ve discussed this before. Paper won’t disappear, but that’s not the point. The point is, paper will become a niche while digital will become the norm.

Eisler: Agreed. Lots of people, and I’m one of them, love the way a book feels. I used to like the way books smelled, too, before publishers started using cheap paper. And you can see books on your shelf, etc... those are real advantages, but they’re only niche advantages. Think candles vs electric lights. There are still people making a living today selling candles, and that’s because there’s nothing like candlelight--but what matters is that the advent of the electric light changed the candle business into a niche. Originally, candlemakers were in the lighting business; today, they’re in the candlelight business. The latter is tiny by comparison to the former. Similarly, today publishers are in the book business; tomorrow, they’ll be in the paper book business. The difference is the difference between a mass market and a niche.

Konrath: I also love print books. I have 5000 of them. But print is just a delivery system. It gets a story from the writer to the reader. For centuries, publishers controlled this system, because they did the printing, and they were plugged into distribution. But with retailers like Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, the story can get to the reader in a faster, cheaper way.
You can read the full conversation in several ways including Eisler’s blog, Konrath’s blog and by downloading it for free on Smashwords or at low cost on Amazon.

Meanwhile, my own adventure with e-books -- just begun -- will continue. How can it not with winds like these fanning the flames?



Blogger Cheryl Tardif said...

Congratulations, Linda, on joining the ebook wave. :-) I am sure you'll find it exciting, as I have.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling author

Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 8:08:00 PM PDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home