By C.J. West
Last month I moderated the e-books panel at Bouchercon in San Francisco. The Gang asked me to stop in and share my reflections and I’m delighted to visit.
It became clear during my research that e-books address the most serious problems facing the publishing industry. Returns? Check. Shelf life? Check. Selection? Check. The big surprise came when I downloaded work from each of the panelists. I expected the books to come quickly, but I didn’t expect to enjoy reading on an electronic device. I staunchly supported paper books until I tried an e-reader. Now I’m a convert. I bought my Kindle at Target yesterday.
The question in my mind after this panel is not so much whether there will be a revolution, because it is coming. The question is: what kind of a revolution will it be?
Are e-books an economic revolution?
The economic arguments for e-books are strong. The marginal cost (what it costs to produce one more book) are miniscule compared to print books and the implications for distribution are many. Consider a third-world school in need of textbooks. If the publisher can cut cost 95% by switching from hardcover to e-book format, they can afford to be generous with donations. In fact, it may be cost effective to donate the e-readers and e-books rather than offer hardcovers for multiple subjects.
There is another swirl in the economic wind. Authors earn 70% royalties on e-books distributed directly through Amazon. Because authors get most of the purchase price, many more authors will earn a comfortable living when the e-book market matures. That means no day job and more time to create.
Is this a class revolt?
E-book only authors tend to be younger and more hip than their Dead Tree Book (DTB) counterparts, but they aren’t the only beneficiaries of the revolution. I went to Barnes & Noble to shop for the authors on my panel. Of the seven authors, the store carried books for only one. It is even less likely you’d find our books in a supermarket or a Walmart, but the playing field for e-books is conspicuously level. All seven of us have e-books available for download and this erodes the advantages of the mega bestselling authors. I predict that midlisters who embrace e-books and go independent will be among the biggest winners in this revolution.
E-books are also a proving ground for new talent. One of the panelists, Boyd Morrison, published The Ark on Kindle after being rejected by 25 traditional publishers. The Ark sold so well on Kindle that Boyd signed with Simon & Schuster. The Ark has received excellent placement and has been translated into several languages. Boyd’s success will encourage new writers to follow his path and publishers to scour e-books for the next Boyd Morrison.
Are e-books a creative revolution?
I’ve heard Tim Hallinan call e-books a creative revolution and I’m a believer. The simplicity and low cost of e-book distribution allow authors to publish books they want to write. This applies to new authors breaking into the market and established authors who want to try a new genre or a story publishers don’t find commercially viable.
This discussion sparked a firestorm during our panel. One author blanched when his sale of e-books on Amazon was called self-publishing. The term self-publishing ignites heated debate over the quality of the work and who has the right to bring books to market. Whatever your opinion on gatekeepers, the digital levy has been breached and the tsunami of electronic titles is out there waiting for you to dive in.
How do you view the revolution?
Have you used an e-reader? If not, what’s stopping you?
Footnote: After this post was written, two important pieces of e-book news were reported. PW reported e-book sales spiked 150% in September as compared to a 40% decline in hardcover sales. The NY Times also reported that it will begin a bestseller list for e-books in January. If you're an author not involved with e-books yet, here is your wake-up call.
CJ West is the author of 5 thrillers. His latest, The End of Marking Time has been called “a modern 1984 meets Prison Break.” CJ interviews thriller authors monthly on Blog Talk Radio. His first novel, Sin & Vengeance is in development for feature film by Beantown Productions, LLC. (http://www.sinandvengeance.com/)
The End of Marking Time on Amazon Kindle
Sin & Vengeance on Amazon Kindle