Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Book Publishing in the Technological Age

E-Book and Older Relatives
I just watched an interesting PBS documentary called “Out of Print” that examines the changes the publishing and writing world have undergone due to the advent of digital technology.

POD or print-on-demand publishing is the rule nowadays. Just as an on demand water heater only produces hot water when you need it, on demand printing synchonizes the book with the order. No more huge piles of remainders or, on the other side, coming up short on orders. It’s a more cost-effective choice.

The question of format is now a main concern in the publishing field. Printed books are just a small share of a market that has expanded to include e-books as well as other electronic formats that are easy and cheap to reproduce.

Self-publishing is another option that currently has come into its own. The documentary interviewed a lawyer and part-time writer, Darcie Chan who self-published her novel,”The Mill River Recluse” and sold it for 99 cents in order to get a maximum readership. She expected to maybe sell a couple hundred copies, if she was lucky. She wound up making the New York Times Bestseller List and her second novel is being picked up by Random House. And, though these stories are the exception and not the rule, she is not alone.

One downside of digital publishing is only format obsolescence. Another is the simple question of whether the digital work will hold up physically for future generations. Now, it’s hard to even find floppy disk readers, imagine locating them in the future. They have followed the path of vinyl records, where only a few vintage fanatics still have record players.

Another problem, authors, journalists and bloggers have a lot more difficulty now getting paid for their work. Exposure is good but especially for young writers starting out, this lack of pay will mean that almost all of them will have to work day jobs.

The positive side is that more people, especially folks who represent minorities in ethnicity, orientation and opinion can get exposure. Technology is more egalitarian because its access, at this point, has not been restricted.

So, it’s a mixed bag. But like all the new inventions and developments of the Technological Age, ready-or-not, here it is. And, as we have done with everything that has come before, for better or for worse, we will deal with it.