Just a quick note to observe that e-books have officially outsold print books for the first time. Publishers still aren’t catching-on that the future has arrived, but this should make them take notice. E-book readers still have some growing to do: textbooks, in particular, have complicated formats that most readers can’t reproduce, nor do e-readers have the resolution for images that educational and technical books require. But that will change. Tablets like the iPad and Zoom, and the upcoming HP TouchPad, are already filling that gap – though at an unsustainable price-point for a purely e-reading consumer base.
The need for better display technology aside, publishers need better marketing and sales models to achieve volume sales that will bring the price of content down. The expense of production and distribution is obviously less for e-books, but the marketing approach needs to be streamlined as well. Amazon has recently introduced an advertising-subsidized Kindle that uses the device’s “wallpaper” functionality to present the consumer with ads for new releases. It doesn’t make much sense to advertise electronic media in print. Publishers must become more Internet savvy if they are going to survive the changes that are coming in the industry.
Some of those changes present a direct threat to traditional publishing. Right now an author can produce their own e-book content and sell it directly via Amazon.com. Third-party services are appearing that provide editing, proofreading, and marketing for independent authors. I for one will shed no tears if this trend continues and drives traditional publishers out of business. For too long publishers have held authors in thrall with one-sided contracts and minimal royalty schedules. Now the power in this relationship is switching to the author’s side.
There is much more potential for independent e-book publishing to derail the traditional publishing industry than for independent music publishing to do-in the mainstream music publishers. It takes infrastructure in the form of equipment, personnel, and cash to produce a professional recording. This isn’t true of book publishing: anyone with a computer, an Internet connection, and some free software for packaging their work into a distributable e-book can now self-publish.
So publishers are on notice: we don’t really need you anymore. As the future of books unfolds, you may get left in the margins unless you learn to get with the program. You need us!