Since Edith is locked in deadline fever, I’m posting a classic from 2007:
The advent of Amazon’s Kindle wireless e-book reader swept across my writer lists just before Thanksgiving. Much discussion of the future of publishing ensued with everyone, as usual, taking their own particular viewpoints and running with them to the detriment of all other perspectives. It’s a bit like watching the blind men
examining the elephant.
So being of a contrarian nature, I thought I’d wander through the history of books and publishing to see where we’ve been, before I tried to imagine what lies ahead. I had some funny notion that I could spend a few quiet post-holiday hours perusing the internet and putting together a blog that might show historical cycles. Silly me. I should have known book lovers would produce enough material on book history to fill several libraries. For a chronological listing of book history, try http://www.xs4all.nl/~knops/timetab.html
There are even complete scholarly magazines devoted to the subject at http://www.sharpweb.org/bookhist.html, but I’m not interested enough to join. Sorry.
But what I did notice was that with each new technological development in printing, there followed a new break-through in illustrations. I suppose I could dig deeper and attempt to figure out what kind of books followed each break-through, but the Bible is now and always has been the biggest bestseller. Finding anything else requires more research than I have time for. If you really want to work at it, there is (of course!) a website to start your research at http://www.kb.nl/bho/
But if I want to extrapolate from past history on just this one point, it only makes sense that once e-books and e-readers become as commonplace as i-Pods and MP3 players, that publishers will once again attempt to add content with illustrations. But now we have the technology to add moving pictures and music as well as audio readers. I’ve been trying to persuade my publishers for years that we need to go back to illustrations, but it’s much too costly in print. Right
now, I wish I had a talent for art because a writer who can produce his own illustrations and videos could be a hot commodity in a few years.
Personally, I believe e-books will just be added to our libraries of other print forms for many years to come, but they will start shaping the market shortly. In a few years, it should be possible to buy all our backlists on demand through e-books (provided authors let some publisher have the rights to them), which I count as a good thing. But to balance it out, I suspect there will be a gazillion new books hitting the virtual shelves in e-book format to dilute an already saturated market, thereby reducing an author’s ability to sell many books with an original release. Reader pockets can only stretch so far. Which means prices will have to come down, unless the quality of content goes up. That’s where the illustrations and “extras” count—if publishers are smart. Of course, that leads me to wonder if publishers won’t just take the easy road, release a gazillion backlisted books, and sit back and watch the market die, but I’m trying not to go there. (I see Jane over at Dear Author has already been working this out in current day terms, if you want to follow the link to her blog.)