Everyone has been busy hailing the rise of ebooks and the breaking down of conventional publishing models. As a publisher the benefits of ebooks were obvious, removing traditional printing costs and cutting distribution costs to next to nothing. As a writer I - like many, many others - was excited at the new opportunities opening up for authors to sell their work through an increasing range of options, not just the traditional publishing houses that were already swamped with submissions. Even more exciting was the opportunity to 'cut out the middle man/ woman' and engage directly with your readers, using all the free e-commerce gadgetry to sell-through from your own website.
Yes sirree, we were all going to get rich and famous. But the downside of this explosion in opportunity has become all too evident over the last year or so. Increased channels of production and sales means the traditional gatekeepers have been sidelined and we are literally drowning in a sea of content. Unless you have a frakload of money, or are a gifted social networker who just happens to have a once-in-a-lifetime stroke of good fortune, it's nigh on impossible to get your work seen, let alone bought.
Books and writing have fallen prey to the curse of the modern world. They've become just another consumer channel. Okay they already were, but moving into the digital space and being robbed of their physicality - the paper book you fondled off the bookshop shelf - they are now competing head to head against apps, videos, games, music and all the other shiny things the 21st C provides. And just looking at the ebook market alone, the number of books being published has exploded because of all the things we were celebrating a couple of years ago. A lot of these books are released when they are far from ready. And a lot are just plain bad and would never have been published under the old models. How then do we find (or promote) the gems to be read and treasured forever? If I knew that, I'd be the next Mark Zuckerberg.
This from Ted Heller:
Now, I happen to know a few people at magazines and newspapers; I’ve had novels published and I have an agent. But what is this experience like for Jane and John Q. Self-Publishing Author way out there in South Podunk, who don’t know anybody at all and who have zero connections? My heart goes out to them. I know why I do it (I enjoy the piss out of writing, I believe I might be good at it, I don’t know how to do anything else, and I was laid off from my last job). I cannot explain how I do it, but I really don’t know how those other people — the 99 Percent of Writerdom — can do this. Where do they find the time and the stomach?The market hasn't just fragmented with the publishing diaspora, it's smashed into a million pieces. It's a headless beast with attention deficit disorder.The traditional publishing houses are still there, but doing it a lot tougher than they were five years ago. To a casual observer looking at the shelves and shelves of books in their local Readings or Dymocks, it might look like nothing's changed. But the forces I and others describe are just gathering pace. Ebook reader ownership was only about 10% last year, but it's probably nudging 20% now and is set to rise rapidly over the next couple of years, and that means the changes we're seeing in buying behaviour and expectations from readers of ebooks (especially the price-point expectation) will eventually become the norm. When that happens the traditional channels will collapse, the 'bestseller blockbuster' may well become a thing of the past and we will enter the boutique era where the reader can get anything they want but the numbers sold of individual works will be far below what they are now - and they aren't that good at present anyway (with a few minor exceptions).
Those who want to write will still write. But you can forget that dream of six figure advances and national tours. The individual writer's world is about to get smaller as the collection of 'things that get published' stretches far beyond anyone's horizon.