Tuesday, July 20, 2010

growing pains

Not surprising, there's much hulabaloo going on about how ebook sales have surpassed hardcover sales on Amazon. What annoys me is the bashing of traditional publishing from those authors who have had great success with Kindle, and those in the traditional publishing industry who are bashing Amazon as the great Corporate Monster (along with Steve Jobs) out to kill publishing (and literature) as we know it. (And am I the only one that finds it problematic that the major publishers are reduced to the "Big 6"?) And then you've got some uninformed (and quite frankly, idiotic) consumers giving 1-star ratings to Kindle books simply because they're priced over $9.99, others trashing books priced under $1.99, and some who refuse to buy indie books priced over $1.99.

How's a writer supposed to make sense out of all of this?

The truth is this: There are some things that traditional publishing still does very well, and there are things that e-publishing does very well. The market is going through a price upheaval, however, as the result of low-priced ebooks. Of course a Kindle version of a book priced at $9.99 is going to sell more than a hardcover priced at $25.00. But that book is still selling. Isn't that a good thing? And isn't it possible that, thanks to that lower price, more readers are going to buy that book sooner than waiting for it to come out on paperback? Can't that be a good thing?

Then again, what do I know?

I'm not naive to think that Amazon hasn't been cut-throat with their competition--they're hated for a reason--but lamenting how things used to be and lambasting what is now isn't going to bring those times back. Call me idealistic, but I think the industry needs to come up with win-win scenarios for everyone involved. Not publishers-win, Amazon loses; or Amazon wins, publishers lose; or consumers win, author loses; etc. Everyone can benefit from new models of pricing, of distribution, of promotion, of royalty rates, of consumer and professional reviews, etc. The challenge is to come up with those all inclusive models.

Perhaps the biggest pill to swallow in all of this is that thanks to e-publishing, writing is no longer exclusive. Anyone can publish a book. That is perhaps the best and worst part of this new paradigm. What once got lost in the agents' slush pile has risen to the top of the Kindle Best-seller list (in some cases). The cream rises to the top, but that's a lot of muck the reader has to wade through in the meantime.

Perhaps what is most lamentable (is that a word?) from the writer's point of view is that the writer can no longer just write. They need to be competitive with fancy websites, appealing blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, fancy gimmicks, contests, and giveaways. They need to have all this established before they send in their first query letter. It's the Catch-22 of the aspiring hairdresser, who can't get work without a clientele following, and can't get a following if s/he has nowhere to work. I spend more time maintaining my brand than writing my novels. What happens to the gifted writer who also happens to be shy? What happens to the introverted writer who only wants to write? I know some of them. And I feel badly. They deserve as much attention as I do, w/out being required to jump through extroverted hoops.

My idealistic hope? This wave will ride itself out. I don't mean to suggest that e-publishing is a fad. But hopefully, a new model will prevail, a win-win model (yes, I am an eternal optimist), and agents, editors, small presses and large corporations, indies, PODs, bookstores owners, and even writers will be able to keep doing the work they love and want to do.

Because isn't that what this bashing is really all about? Doesn't it always come down to the fear of becoming obsolete?

Think about it. The indie author has become empowered by e-publishing, and doesn't want to lose that power. The agent has, conversely, lost some of their power and doesn't want to lose any more. The traditional author is complaining that s/he worked really hard to be noticed, only to be shown up by the indie who sells thousands of downloads at 99 cents. Likewise, the dollar amount of author advances are going down. Amazon, Apple, and the Big-6 are in their own power struggles. Indie bookstores don't want to close for good. Neither do Borders or Barnes&Noble.

No one wants to disappear.


Anne R. Allen said...

Thoughtful post. You make excellent points. We're all on a rollercoaster here and nobody knows what's around the next hairpin turn. But the ereader revolution does give writers more hope than we had a few years ago, I think. I've got a discussion on this subject going on my blog and I'll link to this.

Elisa said...

Thanks so much, Anne. (I thought I was kinda rambling!) We need to continue the civil discourse (emphasis on "civil" in the hopes of coming up w/ some good ideas.


Soma Chakrabarti said...

Completely from a reader’s point of view: I’ve discovered some stunning e-books (specifically Kindle-books) written by independent authors at extremely low prices. These books would have never been available to us, hadn’t these authors taken this “non-traditional” route and hadn’t Amazon or similar booksellers made them e-available. In fact, I felt ashamed of myself for buying several outstanding books (including those of Elisa’s) at just 99 cents each, and not paying more. On the other hand, there is nothing more joyful than holding a thoughtfully designed, beautifully formatted, well-written “real” book in hand. Now what do I do? Do I give up watching some well-cinematographed, well-acted Hollywood movies because I love watching thought-provoking indie-movies? E-publishing is just making the traditional big publishers or sellers think in different directions, and hopefully, all sides will accept the difficulties faced by the other sides realistically and gracefully.

Elisa said...

Well said, Soma!

And that's just it -- there's no reason why you can't enjoy BOTH. I haven't given up buying print books (and I'm w/ you, love the feel, smell, weight of it in my hands); but I equally enjoy my Kindle for different reasons. Anything that gives me pleasure as a reader is welcome to me.


Terri said...

I'm a lover of both formats, too. I have over 400 books on my Kindle (and several on my PC), but I have many more on my bookshelves. The Kindle is really great for "on the run" reading, when I'm at my son's sports practice, or when I get to work early enough to kill a few minutes. My absolute favorite books usually end up on the bookshelf, even if they started out on the Kindle, because they just seem more permanent when they're sitting there. Sounds a little silly, but that's the way I feel!

Elisa said...

Not silly at all, Terri. I totally get that. There are books I'd read on Kindle (or audio) that I wouldn't read in print, and vice-versa. And there are books that mean so much I need them to cradle and cherish.