|The iPad and its Creator|
I want to thank the Rotary of Concord, California for inviting me and to have the opportunity to discuss the current state of writers and their relationship to the publishing industry.
There are revolutions everywhere, some are serious such as the Arab Spring and others, like the Occupy Movement, are well, just silly and dysfunctional. We have technological revolutions, changes in the solar power industry, transportation, and even political revolutions. It’s so easy to say “There’s a revolution going on,” that the claim is probably even attached to a new brand of potato chips. The term is overused and as a result loses its meaning. But, there is a revolution going on in publishing and it is not over by a long shot.
We are the early days of a revolution that started twenty years ago with the desk top computer. It is a revolution that began around 1440 with movable type and the eventual mass production of books and printed information that barely changed even with the invention of the radio. And for 560 years almost nothing changed except for the production technologies to get the written word to the marketplace. But today’s revolution is different, very different.
We are going through a remarkable and transcendent revolution today in almost all forms of publishing. We are all aware of the general issues surrounding and the collapse of Borders and other national bookstores. Changes in communication technology, the rumor that no one reads anymore, bad business plans, and other excuses have been expressed, but the real reason is yet to be determined. But, during the last five years, due to both the economy and technology, the publishing industry found that it is now faced with a serious challenge in both how books and magazines are created as well as how they are sold and distributed. This is leading to a basic and fundamental change in how we acquire information as well as how we read for pleasure. While it is safe to say we will always have paper books it is also safe to say the consumer will have many, many, new and varied options on how they acquire information, read books, sell books, and pass on the news.
And it starts with this:
This tablet, and its sisters and brothers, the Kindle, the Nook, Sony’s e-Reader, and many other devices including your own phone, are as dramatic and dangerous to the written word as the invention of movable type, Xerox, television, movies, and even the telephone. It is changing society whether we like it or not.
Opting out is not an option.
Just as a point of information I will call all books that are read on one of these devices an ebook (and I won’t confuse you with the ongoing war over which type of ebook is the best), and a new word that has popped up and one that I find pejorative and annoying, the pbook – this is obviously the traditional paper version. Gutenberg is probably rolling around in his grave.
There are two basic forms of book publishing now. The old traditional form with its six or seven major publishing houses such as Random House and Scribner’s, mostly located in New York City, and the subversive and behind closed doors and hiding in basements and lofts version of publishing called Independent self-publishing, Indies for short.
I am one of these.
The simplistic and traditional old school of publishing was the process of an author writing his book and then finding an agent who is supposed to represent the author’s rights. Then, through the agent, a publisher is found, (which, let me tell you, is the subject of another and much longer and different presentation), then the book is vetted, edited, corrected, formatted for production, produced, marketed, printed, warehoused, distributed and hopefully bought. In the end the author, especially the unproven one, maybe gets five cents on the dollar. The publishers, distributors, and stores get the rest – sometimes the agent makes more than the author. At every level there are gatekeepers and managers that protect this archaic system.
But, with the creation of these tablets, readers and other similar devices and with new and creative software, people like me, can write and produce a book for substantially less than the Big Houses, market their product to the world with a click of a mouse, and keep upwards of 70 to 80 percent of the revenue. And their product is indistinguishable from the books and magazines published by the BIG Houses.
While these big publishers have access to all these same tools they are like supertankers trying to come about in a storm, they are confused and challenged by these changes to an industry they once tightly controlled. But they are not alone, even many of these Indie publishers don’t understand what’s going on and are as confused as the Big Houses. But today, and please understand, that even though many would like to put the genie back in the bottle – it’s impossible.
Here are some simple numbers on what’s happened during the last eight years:
In the United States in 2009 – 290,000 new book titles and editions were published, and going back a few years to 2005 in England 205,000 titles where published. Bowker, a company that has control over most book ISBNs through that little code number that identifies each book published, estimates that in 2010, the overall number of both traditional and non-traditional publications exploded to over 3 million books. In just the area of non-traditional publishing – where they have conveniently placed most Indie publishers, that number went from 21,936 to, and this is no exaggeration, to 2,776,260 registered publications.
This is 100 times more books presented to the public in less than five years, many written and produced by people like you and me. And there are many more that are offered without the requisite Identification.
What is in the future remains to be seen. As a comparison, traditional Big House publishers in 2005 issued 274,500 books and in 2010 they published 316,480, an increase of about 6 percent. Since 2002 the Big House publisher’s volume increased about 47%, but non-traditional writers and publishers increased to an incredible 8,406%. Now you know why the big houses are in trouble and are now looking over their collective shoulders. The customer now has many, many, other sources to look to and find their personal entertainment through the written word.
Currently, the two big dogs in the publishing world are Amazon and a small but incredible important company called Smashwords. The average consumer sees Amazon as a good place to buy books and millions of other products, but it is also a major supporter of independent publishers by helping them to post their books, give them an author’s page and platform, help them to market their books and, and all this is for free. But they also make sure that they control the book’s distribution as an ebook through the required use of their Kindle or Kindle software – but, you can download this software and load it on an iPad and even an Android device – it’s that easy. It is at the point of sale that they make their money. And Smashwords, a local Northern California Company, has agreements with Apple, Sony, Barnes and Noble, and others to distribute your ebook directly to these distributors through their site and its one stop distribution. The downloading is fairly simple and easy – within minutes you are up and running and you are now a published author.
Of course none of this necessarily produces a quality product. You can hang that colorful artwork of your five year old on the refrigerator, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will someday hang in the Louvre. It is the absolute responsibility of the independent author and the writer to insure a quality product. The cover art must be competitive – I again refer to your five year old artwork, the language, sentence structure, spelling, and all those other things you ignored in high school English have to be executed as best as possible. You never perform brain surgery on yourself and we writers should never be our own editors. And you often get what you pay for. All the vetting of these editing experts falls on you. You are now, as an Indie author and defacto publisher, not just a writer and storyteller, but you have become an editor, a creative genius, a marking maven, a world-wide distributor, and watcher of every penny.
I also have to mention that another change is developing in the printed side of this Independent publishing industry. I don’t want you think that paper books are going away – but they are changing. Many Indies now print to a very recent development out of the copier industry called Print On Demand or POD. This is simply the process of directly printing one book at a time on a large copier that also prints the color cover and then binds the book together. You can order one copy or a thousand, while individually more expensive than big high-speed traditional book printers, the savings is in time, volume (a 100 books instead of a thousand), and flexibility. Up until recently this was only black and white printing, but now there are color PODs out there – the world is changing and changing fast.
I love to tell stories and this is why I write.
It’s also why I still have a day job.
I noted that over three million books were published in 2010 and the vast majority where in English and many were ebooks. This revolutionary process is now opening up the market to great story tellers from all parts of the world and in every language and culture, and with the new translation software who knows where the next Tom Clancy or Dan Brown will come from. But to make a decent living from just writing is almost impossible. Sure there are the great stories of Clancy’s career starting on Ronald Regan holding up The Hunt for Red October, and J.K. Rowling, who wrote Harry Potter, slaving away in a coffee shop with a baby on her lap and a hundred rejection slips, but every writer believes that they will write the next great story that will find their voice, and an audience, and make millions. I’d guess that there are maybe a few hundred, out the hundreds of thousands writers, who can afford to live off their royalty checks. But as the old curmudgeon and director, John Huston, wrote in the screenplay of Dashiell Hammett’s famous book The Maltese Falcon, “It’s the stuff dreams are made of.” But, then again, that line was lifted from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. And everyone assumed, at the time, that Hammett wrote the book after the movie. Even then the writer didn’t get proper credit.
I’d love to answer questions - my readers can post a comment below.