In which San Francisco-based literary agent Nathan Bransford gives us all a reason to feel a little less gloomy about the future of publishing.
For the second installment of positivity week: the future.
You don’t hear very much optimism about the future these days, what with the stock market looking like the Grand Canyon and the Bachelor breaking hearts on national television (except my heart — I loved every minute).
We’re just over the horizon from the digital age of books. It will be a major transition. It is going to cause some heartache and displacement and layoffs, as it is already. We’re seeing old models break and die. And right now in the world of books, the shrinking shelf space due to closing bookstores (not to mention closing wallets) isn’t yet being replenished by the new possibilities that are afforded by the digital marketplace. Right now there are still all sorts of bottlenecks in the system that are resulting in good books not being published (or under-published) and all sorts of stress. Plus, change is scary.
(And yes, I know that paragraph may violate the terms of positivity week. Don’t worry, I’m getting to the good stuff.)
Don’t fret over your beloved paper books: they will always be around in some form. But here’s why we, as lover of books, should embrace the coming eBook future: distribution will no longer hold writers back.
Writers from the beginning of time have been faced with one essential physical challenge: you had to get the books to the people. Thus, you either owned a printing press or you had to find a publisher (who owned you). Without the publishers: there was no way to reach an audience.
This physical barrier has already eroded somewhat with POD and self-publishing, but as anyone who has self-published knows: good luck getting your self-published book into a bookstore. You may be able to print your own book these days, but without a publisher’s backing or pre-existing fame it’s ridiculously hard to find an audience.
In sum: throughout the past two hundred years, someone could write a perfectly good book, but there was one big barrier standing in between the author and their readers: publishers. As much as I’d like to think the publishing industry is always right, well, it’s not.
But here’s what’s going to happen in the digital era: anyone will be able to publish their book, and there will be no distribution barrier. The same eBook stores that stock Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown will stock, well, you. Readers will be the ones who decide what becomes popular. There will be no intermediary. It will be just as easy to buy a book by you as it will be to buy the HARRY POTTER of the future. Your book will be just a few keystrokes away from everyone with an internet connection (and their tablet/eReader/iPhone/gizmo/whatchamacallit of the future).