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Friday, February 19, 2010

The E-Book Future

I'd like to link to an excellent essay about the future of digital publishing here. Jason Epstein makes a number of excellent points, of which perhaps the most salient is that this process is inevitable. No amount of wishing will make digital books disappear, so publishers had better figure out how they're going to deal with it. It's a scary prospect to see your entire business turned upside down, but if you don't ride the wave of change it will drown you. Traditional publishers have to figure out what value they add to the author; they have to have a good answer when the author asks "Why don't I publish it myself and keep all the money?"

I see two main answers to that question. One is editorial; many (perhaps most) authors need some amount of editing in order to be their best. Sometimes the editor has little to do, other times they're almost writing the whole book. Mostly, that's invisible to those outside of the process. I'm sure there are many authors who feel that they don't need any editing, when in reality they do... and once they go without editing, the difference will be apparent to readers and they'll vote with their dollars. (Personally, I think Steven King writes great 400 page novels... but once he got famous, he could have his novels be any length he wanted, so now they're mostly far longer. And compare the first Star Wars trilogy to the second... the difference being that with the first three movies, someone was editing what George Lucas was doing, and it didn't look like anyone was doing that in the second trilogy.)

Of course, the second answer is marketing. Which is already where a lot of authors have a grievance with traditional publishers, since the marketing support seems capricious or whimsical unless you're at the very top of their charts. Authors that can handle their own marketing and editing (perhaps with the assistance of others hired for that purpose) will have no need of publishers... so publishers had better get busy proving their value in the new era that's arriving swiftly.

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