Saturday, August 15, 2009

But Is It Good For Authors?

On the surface, the surge in the popularity of e-books and the proliferation of devices on which their content can be read seems like a boon to authors. At first blush the benefits seem too good to be true.

Books will never go out of print, a term that will have to be revised. In fact, all books that have been out of print, via Google’s vast undertaking, will be reincarnated. Everything ever written and published will be available to everyone who is tethered to cyberspace, which means the bulk of the literate world.

Moreover, everyone who creates content, whether it bears the indicia of a traditional publishing house or is self-produced, will be able to enter the world library, easily accessible to the eye-balls and minds of every literate person on the planet. Soon, very soon, the availability of e-books will permeate every electronic device across the full spectrum of gadgetry from laptops to cell phones to e-book devices to whatever new technology bursts upon the scene.

Thus the bound paper book as we have known it over the centuries will no longer dominate the business of printing, distributing, wholesaling and retailing content. That cannot be good news for the best selling author, book stores and traditional publishers and it may or may not be good news for the average author who has managed to eke out a living writing content of every category in fiction, non-fiction, and self help for every age and demographic.

It will seem like good news for the writer who will finally be able to have his work available for access by the multitudes. At last, the traditional gatekeepers to the world of publication will be demolished. All fences will be down. Anyone who believes their work should be read by others will have this opportunity for mass dissemination.

Unfortunately, the economic reality for the author and publisher is still illusive. The marketing challenge will be enormous. The day is coming when the marketing universe will shift almost completely to the Internet. Print media as we know it is in its death throes. Television and the Internet are swiftly merging. Availability of entertainment media is proliferating to infinity.

From the point of view of the individual author who cherishes the exclusivity of his lengthy copyright, who has labored with fierce determination to compose original content which he or she hopes is meaningful, important and for the ages, the outlook is somewhat cloudy. In fact, downright discouraging.

Considering that the marketplace will be glutted with perhaps centuries of out of print books with hundreds of thousands added by the vast army of wannabe writers from every corner of the planet, how will it be possible to rise above the cacophony to be heard, noticed and ultimately read? Worse, how can an author’s work expect to be monetized in an environment in which reading matter is mostly offered free of charge.

There is, of course, an opportunity to advertise in various ways on websites where eyeballs will temporarily reside, but the fickleness of an amorphous public will require a complete rethinking of advertising strategies. The cost per thousand measure used for years by advertising agencies is swiftly becoming irrelevant as a measure of real penetration.

How then will the individual author’s work be noticed, huckstered, promoted and monetized? I have been wrestling with that problem ever since I had the notion to digitize my then published novels more than a dozen years ago. Frankly, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that digital books disseminated over the Internet was the future and that original work could be protected through the life of its copyright and forever in the public domain via cyberspace.

Being ahead of one’s time has its psychic satisfactions, but the pace of creation will quickly outrun it. Surely, someone will figure out how to rise above the chatter and find the illusive key to the marketing dilemma. We all know that word of mouth is the only sure fire method of wide dissemination. But what happens when everyone is working their mouths at the same time?

It is obviously a boon to have one’s work available. You might even be able to forward it to vast multitudes. Much of these offerings will land in spam files. Publishers determined to stay in business will hurl fusillades of advertising at hundreds of websites hoping to score sales. They will go on a niche hunt, much like trout fisherman pick the right fly to match the ever changing insect hatch to lure their prey.

The on-line bookstores will be happy to take your money to place your material front and center and allow reviews, both biased and unbiased to analyze your effort. Lots of books will be sold somehow at much lower prices than the traditional paper book. Price points will be vastly changed.

It is still too early to tell what works and what doesn’t in today’s transitional environment. The phase out from the printed to the electronic book is just beginning and will take time to make the shift. The fact is that the book industry is entering a dark tunnel. There might be light at the end, but the chances are it will be greatly diffused with niche bright spots here and there.

At this moment in time many authors should be delighted that their books will be available for readers. That is certainly good news. To be “back in print” is a lot better than oblivion. At least the author will have a fighting chance for recognition, if not fame and fortune.

Dream on.

No comments: