Last Call in the Great E-Book Debate
I’ve written quite a lot in recent weeks about e-b0oks and self-publishing and La Revolucion! (Links abound at the end of the article for those who are painfully interested and didn’t catch them the first time.)
It’s funny. I don’t even own an e-reader. The dang things are expensive. And e-books aren’t really that cheap – unless you want to read $0.99 or $2.99 e-books by no-name self-published folks (which is what this is all about, I guess), whereas I mostly want to read books by authors whose names I know and recognize, whose books I am assured to like. As I mentioned when I wrote about my “to-read list” (here, here, and relatedly here), I’m not so overflowing with time that I can waste it on an e-book that I may or may not enjoy. That’s right: the limiting factor isn’t the few bucks an e-book might save. It’s the time to read them all.
So e-books might be marginally cheaper: but to recoup the cost of an e-reader I’d have to read so many books, and from where I stand there’s simply no way I’ll ever have time to read that many books. I foresee that I am doomed to die and pass from this mortal life with a to-read list that still piled high. I’ve blogged about this problem before, with respect to the e-book revolution.
So, in some ways, as I talk about e-books it’s a tad hypocritical, or self-serving, or whatever. I don’t own an e-reader, and I’m not likely to in the short-term at least unless one mysteriously ends up in my lap at no cost to me. Do I want one? Oh yes. I am a geek, after all. Gadget lust runs in my veins. But I’m a practical geek.
My interest in e-books and the related digital self-publishing revolution relates mainly to my interest in building a hypothetical career as an author. (I say hypothetical because it remains to be seen whether I have the chops for it.) Is self-publishing the right path for me? That’s a question I’ve struggled to answer – even as I acknowledge that it’s not a question I need to answer for a good long while to come. Write first. Worry about publishing later.
Given the facts on the ground, as it were – that being that I have yet no novel to worry about publishing – it would probably behoove me to shut my yap about digital self-publishing, for the time being, wouldn’t it?
Maybe so. I don’t plan to stop learning about it, though.
But given my interests, as a reader, and my hopes for my career… I’m not sure I can see myself ever being satisfied with the digital self-publishing path. How could I self-publish when I don’t really have the time of day for other authors who have self-published? It’s nothing against them, you see, but as I said above I have so much I want to read that’s been traditionally published that digging through the self-publishing bargain bins to find the real gems (and I’m sure there are many wonderful gems) just doesn’t appeal to me. If I were to enter that world, as an author, I’d feel obligated to participate as a reader as well… and right now that’s not something I can do. Time does not permit.
So, for today, I’ve got just two more links about digital self-publishing that I want to share.
First: author Paul Jessop reveals another dirty little secret of the digital self-publishing world: “Amazon is a gatekeeper“.
Give the article a read. He’s mostly right, of course.
I will say that Paul is wrong that traditional publishers are not gatekeepers (and that they’re not “trying to keep people out, they’re trying to get people in”). That’s patently just… false. Agents, editors, slush readers… those who will talk about what they do will say that they get so many submissions that they’re looking for reasons, from word-one, to reject a manuscript. Not, as it is, because the story is bad or because they’re trying to oppress an author, but because they have limited time and limited space in the magazine or publishing schedule or whatever, and they need to maximize the value of the resources they have. So maybe they’d love to let more people in. But they can’t… because they don’t have enough playground equipment for all the kiddies that want to come play. So that little bit of his post is just an eensy bit condescending. But the thing is? I don’t blame the gatekeepers for keeping the gate. That’s their job. And if they do it well… it can be a thing of beauty.
The word “gatekeeper” gets thrown around a lot, in a pejorative sense, by the people who are interested in self-publishing. But there’s nothing wrong with having checks-and-balances on the limited resources of a publisher, to make sure that those resources are being used to bring out the best possible stories. It’s a flawed system, sure… stinkers sometimes make it through, and gems are kept out. But the problem emphatically is not that there’s a system in the first place. The problem is that sometimes the system as-is is not always optimally efficient.
Meanwhile, the fans of self-publishing like to pretend that Amazon is some pure utopia of democracy. If there’s an audience out there for you, you’ll find it on Amazon.
Which is hogwash.
Amazon does not exist to connect you to an audience. Amazon exists to make money. They make money using algorithms. If you find an audience on Amazon it’s not because of some pure golden democracy. It’s because a computer algorithm saw fit to put your work in front of the eyes of some reader somewhere.
There’s nothing wrong with that, either. Both systems are ways for authors to try to reach an audience. Each has pros and cons. Each has flaws. Each is part-and-parcel with business that’s trying to make money by connecting readers with the stories they want to read. It would be just a little disingenuous to characterize one as merely some perfect reader utopia and the other only as a greedy business out to make money at all costs, when in fact both have aspects of both.
Meanwhile, successful self-published author Bob Mayer muses about changes coming down the pipe in the industry that could hurt him if he doesn’t change his business model. The short version of his take-away: things in the digital self-publishing world are continuing to change. And as they change, traditional publishers are poised to re-dominate the market. Though he’s successful now, he sees a certain amount of writing on the wall, as more and more successful digital self-publishers turn to traditional publishers, or agents-cum-digital-publishers, or the new Amazon imprint… this trend is clearly happening for a reason.
So, there’s that.
And then there’s this post by Catherynne Valente: “Little e and Big B: Books and EBooks and Love and War“, wherein she appeals for a shift in the discussion away from the technical details of e-books and back toward the love of books. It’s a beautiful little post. Valente does have a way with words.
Which brings me to where I began with today’s post.
I’ve talked a lot about e-books lately. But really: I don’t know a thing about e-books, anyway.
It’s time I got back to talking about something I actually do know a thing or two about: Fantasy, Speculative fiction, books, and my own attempts at writing them. There will be time enough to worry about publishing models and all that, later.