Whoa—look at that! Here it comes and it’s moving fast! (No, not Christmas, but that holiday will surely be involved again this year.) I’m talking about the e-book revolution, flying straight at us.
True, e-books have been hovering around for years and in several incarnations. I first saw one about fifteen years ago and it was on an autographed floppy disc. There followed a few dedicated e-readers that tried to get the niche off the ground but human readers weren’t quite ready for the change—maybe those electronic gizmos weren’t either. I looked at wikipedia.com and found this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_e-book_readers It lists a surprising number of existing e-readers that most of us have probably never even heard of, and some extinct ones as well.
Online publishers like Elora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing, and many others have offered e-books and POD books, and traditional publishers offered their own authors’ books as one more format, like audio books, in addition to printed books.
Then the Kindle came along. At the beginning, I wasn’t excited about it. The price was prohibitive, $359 for the Kindle 2, and knowing better than to be the first kid on the block to own any new technology, I stayed on the sidelines to watch the parade. By Christmas of 2009, the price had dropped to $259. Just recently, a new generation was announced (the one on backorder to me) with two prices, $189 for the 3-G/Wi-Fi, and $139 for Wi-Fi alone. These have a new color option—graphite—as well as white, and an improved display, which Amazon claims to be 50 percent better over its previous models.
Added to the mix are the Nook from Barnes & Noble, Sony’s Reader, and the iPad from Apple which is also a computer. Then there are apps for smart phones, PDAs, and a lot of other devices.
This years-old technology is finally an overnight sensation.
What this means to the future of traditional print publishing is a hotly debated topic and since I left my crystal ball in the back of a closet, I’m going to stay out of it. Prognostication is a hit-and-miss practice in most cases. Personally, I don’t think this digital revolution will be the end of printed books. Even wild horses will not drag a lot of people to an e-reader, and for justifiable reasons. They love the feel, the scent, the paper, and the experience of reading a physical book. They are true bibliophiles. (For my part and with very few exceptions, I’ve never liked audio books.) And some books, such as cookbooks, or any material that is graphics-intensive, will not yet lend themselves to a dull black-and-white image. As time passes and e-readers continue to evolve, that will probably change.
But here’s something I know for certain, and it’s the most exciting part of it all. Readers have been complaining for a long time about the limited sorts of fiction available via traditional publishing. One post I saw on a blog somewhere went so far as to say that rather than actually giving readers what they want, publishers convince readers that this is what they want. For marketing and financial reasons, publishers buy trend-intensive work from writers. All those vampire and erotica novels? Yes, there has been a strong demand for them, but not only them. This new literary epoch will let authors with good, strong stories about a variety things have the chance to take their work straight to the consumer, stories that have been or would have been rejected by agents and publishers as non-commercial. It won’t cost the writer much at all, the work can be reasonably priced, and everyone wins.
Sure the downside is that I can’t do booksignings for a digital book and can’t meet my readers that way. I used to be able to walk into any big-box bookstore in the country to sign stock, give my name to the person at the cash register, and enjoy instant recognition. Those were wonderful experiences. And I’m not saying I will never do it again.
But for the time being, this is working so well for me, I think I’ll stick with it. And to meet my readers, well, I’m guessing some enterprising individuals will come up with conferences where this can happen.
Oh, I’m looking forward to the end of the month! That’s when my Kindle, my magic carpet ride to the future of books, is due to ship. What wonders I’m going to see . . .