Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Like Eileen, I'm not yet back in my regular schedule and by the time I remembered it was Tuesday last night, it was midnight and I was exhausted. Exhausted at midnight... That's one thing from being off my regular schedule I hope to keep... No more 4:00 am bedtimes for me. We'll see how long that lasts... :)

Anyway, sorry for the very late post.

The past few years, I felt like the overall vibe at the RWA National conference was apocalypse preparedness. And no, I don't mean writing in that genre, I mean the general "the sky is falling!" vibe.

I've read a lot of articles/essays that point out that at almost any time in the past century, many people were predicting that publishing was about to die and that authors perpetually reminisce about the good old days. And maybe it has become consistently worse, decade after decade, but I'm not certain I believe that. And even if it has, well, unless you have a time machine there's no sense worrying about a time that has past.

These days the blogosphere is  filled with doomsday theorists. People predicting the end of agents, the end of traditional publishers, the end of midlist aurhors, the end of bookstores, the end of the printed book.... And at last year's National conference all the talk at the published authors workshops was about decreasing print runs, shrinking shelf space, dropping advances... doom, doom, doom.

And it's certainly true that things are changing right now. Rapidly. And change is scary. No doubt about it.

But, while I'm no expert and really have no solid stats to back this up, I feel as if right now, the people in publishing who have the most reasons to be optimistic, not terrified, is authors.

Why are print runs going down? Why is shelf space shrinking? Not because people aren't reading. It's because of the huge expotential growth of e-books.

And if advances have gone down or stayed steady it's likely because of all the uncertainty. Publishers are likely less willing to take huge risks or make big investments up front when they are in the process of going through rapid change themselves. And probably their budgets are a little tighter because of the expenses involved in evolving their businesses....

BUT... if sales of e-books are growing exponentially, I do not see how this can be anything but a good thing for authors. I know that romance readers are ahead of the curve on the e-book trend, but based on what I heard last week, e-books are rapidly becoming dominant in that genre. And most other genres, paricuarly those sold in mass-market format are sure to follow. And while e-books are a great replacement for mass market books, I think books sold in the more expensive trade and hardcover formats will see a big increase in e-book sales, too, if readers are reluctant to put out the higher price for an unknown-to-them author. I know people (including myself) who've bought two copies of books--both e-book and hardcover--for recent favorites. The possibility of getting two royalties from the same reader. Awesome.

Yes, brick and mortar bookstores are struggling and are stocking fewer copies of new books and fewer backlist books... but suddenly, all these authors whose backlists were hard (or impossible) to get, have their backlists up for sale again as e-books. And this could be huge. An unexpected royalty gift for multi-published authors.

Sure, there are still some things to work out in terms of finding a fair way to pay royalties on e-books. And while I'm not saying we as authors shouldn't be pushing our agents to get us more there... I think stressing over it too much right now is short term thinking. Look at the horizon. E-books means more books available. More reading. More sales. More royalties.

Everyone I know who has a kindle or other e-reader has bought and read MORE books since they bought their device, not fewer... More books sold. Um... Am I missing something? How is that not good for authors?

The rise of e-books possibly sucks for brick-and-mortar-only stores and I hope most can find a way to specialize and survive, because I love book stores... but I honestly think this is a great time to be an author.


(I've been asked to write on this topic on another blog and plan to mine the comments here to improve my essay. :)


Eileen said...

I think you're right. Wasn't it Steph who said that last year everyone was saying that e-books were going to kill publishing and that this year everyone was saying that e-books are revitalizing publishing?

It is scary. We don't know how this will work and the piracy issue is going to make everyone crazy. I don't think storytelling will ever die. It will always be around. It's too important in helping us frame how we view ourselves and our world. It is, however, going to evolve and we're going to have to evolve with it or find something else to do with the weird imaginary people in our heads.

Maureen McGowan said...

I liked one thing I heard about piracy at the conference... Might have been Robert Gotlieb... Not sure. But whoever it was said that one thing publishing can learn from the music industry is that if you don't provide a product it invites pirates. But that once there's a legit way to buy, most people will do that instead of downloading illegally...

Napster => iTunes

Maureen McGowan said...

That model would indicate that the more e-books are easily available for purchase, the less piracy there will be, or the less significant it will be, and it'll end up being mostly in countries where the books aren't legally available.

An optimistic view of it for sure. But makes some sense to me.

Sinead M said...

I've read some other optimistic posts as well, which are great. One in particular said that it seems the industry is more likely right now to take risks in terms of the books it's willing to publish and as a reader, that can only benefit me.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think for the last three years publishing houses and agents wanted to pretend it wasn't happening - that things would get back to normal any minute now and there was so much derision about ebooks - but this year they figured out how to at least start harnessing it.

Steve Berry at that opening speakers thing said that every time the technology has changed things have only gotten better for the written word. He was very right.

And I think there's only so long New York can hold onto 25% of net for royalties - sometime probably in the next five years if not sooner - they'll pay more and control will head back over to new york.

And I think right now to some extent the money publishers are making on ebooks it's free freaking money! And all these house with eprints - those guidelines are so wide open - this is where the fun stuff will happen - 1910 Zombie romances etc...

Maureen McGowan said...

Yay! A future for my 1910 set Zombie romance. ;)

Stephanie Doyle said...

I agree with you all of you.

Different books, more books, more opportunities for authors. More freedom.

Maybe... less money? I think that is to be determined.

But at the end of the day readers will find good stories they want to read and writers will always be around to provide them.

At a cost. Because people deserve to paid for their talent and work.

Anonymous said...

Maureen - I had to chuckle cuz it sounds like the same argument I've heard for years about legalizing marijuana - lol!

I noticed that the tweets coming from RWA11 did seem quite positive, which was nice.

And I read somewhere that with so many publishing options, there's no one right way to do it - and, perhaps, we should support the different ways that authors are publishing these days - not everybody will thrive in the self-pub environment and not everybody will thrive in a traditional publishing environment and everything in-between. I thought that was quite eye-opening.

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