I attended the international mystery writers’ conference, Killer Nashville, held this August (2011) in Nashville, Tennessee. Under the guidance of founder Clay Stafford and management of Executive Director Beth Terrell, Killer Nashville has become a wonderful educational event and a valuable networking opportunity for both published and aspiring mystery authors.
One of the closing sessions addressed the “Future of Publishing.” The dais of about ten people included authors, editors, agents, and publishers. One of the panelists was the renowned author, Donald Bain, who I understand has recently decided to enter the publishing business. I think he is doing so because he sees the opportunities being created by the creative destruction of the traditional agent/publisher model. At any rate, he was the quietest person on the panel; thus, proving he was the smartest!
The other author on the stage had just self-published and had done so by offering her ebook for 99¢ on Amazon. She had bypassed the agent/publisher route. Her book has sold in the thousands. Keep in mind that the traditional self-published book, in printed form, usually tops out at about a 100 books. Her experience was quickly dismissed by several of the panelists, evidencing that they did not have a clue as to the devastation about to befall them.
One young agent explained that self-publishing and ebooks were weak competitors of the printed book. A publisher explained that self-published books were not subject to the quality control of an independent entity. Several of the panelists apparently believe that the publisher’s colophon or imprint was a critical factor in the decision of a typical reader to purchase a particular book.
One member on the dais explained that book sales were all about word of mouth and readers would not know where to look for an ebook—apparently unaware that word of mouth plays an equal role in the success of printed and digital books. The irony, of course, is that it is the Internet, the Web, the blog world, Amazon, and social media that have facilitated “word of mouth” to an entirely new level.
Another explained that people just prefer printed books—“They like the feel of turning pages,” etc. Aren’t we supposed to be usually competent observers of people? Look around you for goodness sakes. The people who read books are constantly changing. There is always a new generation of them waiting in the wings. Those teenagers in the mall with, iPods, iPhone and iPad appendages are your next batch of readers. They will bring with them new expectations, new skills, and new preferences. I don’t think a preference for the “feel of turning pages” is going to be a key factor in the future of publishing!
The session was moderated by Clay Stafford. Clay is a bestselling author, a filmmaker, an actor, an accomplished speaker; however, he confessed during the session that he had no idea where to even begin to download an ebook. There was appropriate laughter from the attendees and a suggestion that he find a teenager to show him how. Clay, with all due respect, it is time to learn how!
I felt sorry for some of those panelists, especially those with most of their career still in front of them. Each is talented and capable in their field, or they would not have been on the dais. They are choosing not to recognize the obvious, or they lack the instinct and vision necessary for long-term career and business survival.
Printed books are not going away in the foreseeable future; and you can expect the agent/publisher model, while under increasing economic pressure, to hang on for quite a while longer. However, the transition is under way—self-publishing is on the rise and ebooks will become the dominant reader preference. What is happening in the book world will leave the change resistant behind while creating new opportunities for others. It is a matter of seeing and grasping the bass ring—or just spending your time going around in circles until the ride is over.