Big changes are happening in the publishing industry. Technology is moving rapidly and where once an author was beholden to the publishing houses and literary agents, they can now ‘go it alone’ and self publish by e-book or using print on demand companies.
The idea of e-books has been around for a long while but it’s only in the last twenty or so years that they have really taken off. Probably only in the last five years that they have become of service to new authors.
One of the initial ideas was to put every book ever published into e-book form by scanning old copies into a huge database. Books that are no longer in the public domain are available for free. The Gutenberg Project, founded by Michael Hart, is dedicated to making these books available to anyone who wishes to visit their website. So now, instead of shelves accumulating dusty books, people can carry a library around with them in their pocket.
Not everyone takes to this idea. Many who have never touched an e-book reader declare they prefer to feel a paper book, to turn the pages and smell them. They don’t mention sneezing when the dust gets up their noses. But I have come across many converts in the last year or so.
It’s not only old books that are being offered as e-books. New books can be had, too.
No longer is a budding author bound by ties to an agent, if they are lucky enough to get one to sponsor them. No longer do publishing companies dictate what the public wants. It is sometimes said that everyone has a book in them – and now everyone can offer that book to the world.
Not that publishing an e-book is likely to bring fame and fortune. Writing the book is the easy part. Getting people to read it is where the work begins. Promotion through whatever means possible is the key. Social networking sites are full of people trying to ‘flog their wares’. E-books by independent authors are usually cheap – or free. They are even cheaper than the shops like The Works who buy up the rights to books and flood their shops with piles of book going at three for a tenner, with little or no money going to the author.
Does quality diminish with quantity? Possibly. Some authors take more care than others when preparing their work. But if you find a diligent author who has worked hard on their manuscript before submitting it, then you can find some real gems. But if you haven’t paid a great deal does it matter if you don’t like that book? Before now I have gone into a bookshop and paid a great deal of money to discover that, really, I don’t like what I have bought. Likewise, I have looked at books and thought to myself, ‘why has that even been published when others that are far better have been rejected?’
The other form of new publishing I mentioned is Print on Demand. Again, this was started as a way of printing ‘out of print’ books, but has moved on to provide the independent author a means of getting their book published without the need for a big name publisher or even a vanity publisher. This does come at a cost, but not as great a cost as vanity publishing, and maybe hasn’t got the real kudos of having a publisher. But it does mean that your precious story is available at a reasonable price to anyone who goes along to somewhere like Amazon and orders it. It also means that massive print runs that end up being pulped don’t happen. It means that no one has really lost out if the book doesn’t sell; apart from the author, of course, who hangs their head and wonders why their masterpiece hasn’t set the world alight.
Will these innovations change the face of publishing? Not immediately. But as more people turn to e-books, and cheap e-books at that, ideas may have to change. Some publishers are fighting back by putting their books out as e-books, too. But usually they are priced at the same rate as paperbacks. Why this is when they don’t have any printing costs, I don’t know. Maybe they have paid the author a huge amount of money for the rights and have to re-coup that to make a profit. No one from a major publishing company has ever offered to handle any of my books so I can’t comment on that.