The book industry is changing. Radically at that. No one will debate that point.
However, the question is whether or not this is a bad thing that spells the end of the book. I for one think that while the book and publishing world is going to be quite different, it does not necessarily have to be bad.
People still read quite a lot online and in books. People will always read.
My thoughts were spurred by this episode of On the Media that is a must-listen for every writer and publisher: Book It.
Too many books, not enough profits. That is the lament of many publishers these days. Plus, there’s the fear and loathing engendered by e-books. So, what is the state of the book industry and what can we expect in the coming years?
How books are written, published, and distributed may well change. In fact, the book as a sold commodity may become very, very rare. With the internet, readers have come to expect news to be free. I think that with so much file-sharing, they are beginning to expect that most music will be free or at least can be found for free. Books may well be next.
The difference will come with the kinds of ideas and stories within books, the design of the books themselves, and the desire of readers to have a copy of the book at their finger-tips after paying for it.
We’ve already been moving in this direction in many ways. I no longer feel a need to have a library of Bibles and dictionaries on theology since I can access them respectively online and from a CD-ROM. Some books are just a lot of fun to read and may have more value at a live event where the author performs and present the book in a fresh way, perhaps selling copies or perhaps giving the book away as an ebook and living off the performance profits. Nonfiction authors may have to live off their seminar fees, giving away ebook versions of their ideas.
And really, folks can already find most books for free at the local library, so there isn’t too far a leap into the world of free online ebooks. Just as a person will only purchase an exceptional or particularly relevant book after reading it for free in the library, we will soon expect to read most books online for free and then only purchase them if they truly grab us.
This is a different model for sure, and there will always be some remnant of the book industry since folks will always want to have certain invaluable books at the ready, but the scale of the industry will change, the paths to profit will diversify, and many authors outside of the bestsellers list will need to dig deep into their own wells of creativity and utilize the networks available to them.
Though some authors can still be just authors, the majority of authors will need to become speakers, performers, presenters, bloggers, podcasters, videographers, and who knows what else. The opportunities are out there. People are still reading books on paper and on screen. The only question is whether authors are willing to adapt to the changing times.