The Future of Writing
The future is always different. For writing and publishing, along with the rest of the world.
But this change we’re undergoing right now, from print on paper content that has been vetted by layers of gatekeepers, to ebooks from everyone who thinks they can write, represents a major change. The publishing industry cannot hide from it, however much they seem to wish it would go away.
I’m not sure if we’re mid-bumpy-crossing-of-a-threshold, or have come back full circle to something closer to the original storytelling. At its very basic, you’ve got the person telling the story—and the people hearing the story.
Whether it’s verbal, or printed, or on an electronic device, that’s it. Period.
Everyone else, every thing else, involved is . . . subject to change.
But some publishers are trying to keep their place in the chain from storyteller to reader. And they are certain that their place is to determine what material gets published.
We took an odd turn at some point. The people in charge of those expensive presses, who had to risk money to print books in anticipation of sales that would show a profit, started thinking of themselves as the irreplaceable and all important cog. And being so important, it was obvious that they would produce important, tasteful and profitable books. They would pick and choose.
Which worked fine, while they kept their eye on the desires of the readers. When they started thinking they could influence the readers, by giving them only the right type of books, the odd turn stopped being odd and got proper! A much worse thing than merely odd. But they knew best.
Oh, yes, vast over simplification, and probably not as accurate as I think it is.
But the big publishers started forgetting some important parts about being a major publisher. They hunted for blockbusters, and neglected the solid reliable mid list authors who had brought in steady small profits and kept the company afloat for decades.
The neglect didn’t matter, they thought. It wasn’t like those writers had any recourse. It wasn’t like the slush pile wasn’t full of three times as many manuscripts as they could ever publish (and ten times as much rubbish that didn’t even count.)
If this blockbuster turned out to just be a bust . . . no one got fired over it. They had another one ready to go next month. Surely this one would take off, new name, young, attractive, just ethnic enough to show their PC credentials, the right politics, writing with the right ideas in the background. Or foreground.
Trying to jump from huge seller to huge seller, they saw no need to keep writers with slowly climbing sales, saw no problems in the evolving system of the mega chain stores ordering to net and the short shelf life of the mid list books.
They decided the writers weren’t important.
Which was really unfortunate, because the Industrial Age has already yielded ground to the Information Age, the Electronics Age, the Age of the Internet. Heaven only knows what posterity will call us. Other than fools, perhaps.
Heavy industry will be with us for a long time. The publishing industry . . . is fast approaching sink or swim, and can barely figure out how to dog paddle.
From a historical standpoint, this transition in the publishing industry is tearing past with incredible speed. For those of us stuck in the middle of it, it’s a long, slow, roller coaster from somewhere hot down below, with the gatekeepers in a frenzy to keep control and maintain their gatekeeper status. Or at a bare minimum, to be able to blame someone else for falling sales. We get one crisis after another. It seems like they’ll never end.
Those of us who looked ahead, leaped across the tech threshold with glee. Oh, some trepidation, a bit of stress and angst, but . . .
Traditional publishing tripped over that threshold. They are flailing about, trying to find their footing, clinging to the old and seeking ways to stay on top in the new age. You’d think, what with some of the stuff they’ve published that they’d be ready for the future. I guess they thought it would remain insubstantial fiction.
And on the far side of this new place, the horizon is murky. We peer, and wonder what new possibilities are out there. Trad pubs seem to think there be monsters, and stick their feet in and try to not budge away from that threshold with the comfortable old ways behind them. After all, it might not be too late to turn back! Maybe if they can make ebooks expensive . . .
I’m not turning back. I’m trying to get my binoculars to focus.
So . . . what do I see, off in the mist?
I see some ebook sellers expanding, and some contracting, or even closing. Amazon is acting like Target and Walmart. I expect them to be competing for decades, at everything, including ebooks.
I see more writers with their own website stores, and writers banding together to have more available on a single website, for browsers to look over. This will _probably_ remain a small market _unless_ Amazon goes belly up.
I see more POD in stores, probably through distributors that specialize in combing the available Indie and small press works to deliver tasty packets to bookstores. Yes. New gatekeepers. But just by being new, they will be trying to cater to readers, rather then try to lure them into reading the “right” books. After all, if the stores can’t sell the books a distributor pushes, they’ll find a new distributor with a better understanding of the market. These distributors may branch out to online ebook sales. Or perhaps they will branch out _from_ ebook sales. A very handy service that removes most of the dross, for the readers.
I suspect used book stores will be doing well for centuries.
I see a cheap storage medium for ebooks, that can be packaged and sold in stores. Perhaps something printable on a card bearing the cover art, with a download tab that wears out after perhaps ten uses. Anything more flimsy would have too many first use failures, anything more sturdy would have to cost too much, for the authors to get a reasonable amount of money for the number of downloads from each card sold.
Audiobooks are a growing market. I expect it to continue to grow, and text-to-speech software to continue to improve.
Oh, speaking of POD, I expect improvements in the production, and in the options. And the price. I expect the _purchaser_ to be able to select the size, the paper, and the binding that they want. To be able to order the book in their favorite font, in a font size they find readable.
I expect those writers and those publishers who hang back and try to avoid change to wither away. I expect the ones who learn the new tech and dare to lead the way to prosper, both individual writers and companies.
I expect experimentation and innovation.
I expect what I never expected.
And if you want an example of just how strange I think the future could be, try something from my alter ego . . .