My personal project for our seminar, located on the website we created here looks at the changing nature of the author due to digital publishing. I immensely enjoyed researching and talking about this subject, specifically with the the two classmates who were doing their project on a similar topic.
The Death of the Author, or a Phoenix Rising from the Ashes?
With the increase in popularity of electronic editions, starting first in the scholarly filed and then moving into the commercial, it’s not surprising that research is looking into e-books and online writing communities. While reading and talking with people over the course of this seminar, I have compared this growing trend with the music industry a lot, and wondered what this would mean for books and authors. What do e-books and e-publishing mean, not just for bookstores and publishers, but for authors too? Like musicians before them, authors are looking at a new era for their work. Change. Is it good or bad?
With the creation of e-books and e-readers such as Kindle and the iPad, reading is taking on a new form, and evolving with the times. And unfortunately, change has consequences. Borders in America, a chain-book store has recently filed for bankruptcy, and two Waterstones in Ireland have closed. You can argue that this is a consequence of the recession, but the fact is, people are buying books, just not in the traditional sense. Is this the future for book stores? Are they a dying breed?
In 2009, for the first time ever, Amazon.com announced that on Christmas Day more people purchased Kindle editions of books than physical copies. Kindle, as many of us know, offers a wide library of choice, with over 390,000 online books, growing all the time. You have an ease of access and an availability that you don’t have with a physical book, unless you have a Mary Poppins-esque bag.
Statistics have shown that consumers who purchase an e-reader buy more books. Amazon reports that Kindle owners buy, on average, 3.1 times as many books on the site as other customers. Not only is it portable, offers variety at a moment’s notice with ease, but it’s also more cost effective. Many Kindle editions are free to get, and e-books in general are cheaper than physical books. Pirating; “You wouldn’t steal a handbag..” We’ve all seen those DVD warning videos, but most of us do it. But with the increase in e-books, the chances that illegal downloading of the latest teen-vampire-craze-novel is very high. Like the music business before it, will the authors have to struggle because their books aren’t being bought, they’re being torrented?
Statistics are hard to come by, as many publishers are reluctant to discuss the subject for fear of encouraging more illegal downloads. But digital theft poses a big headache already for the slumping publishing industry, and will probably continue, as it relies increasingly on electronic reading devices and e-books to stimulate sales.
What can authors do? Some authors, like J.K. Rowling, have point blank refused to move with the digital wave, and not put their books on the altar of the Kindle god yet. This can stem from a mixture of fear of piracy along with a desire to see readers experience their books in print; the question that this brings up is, are they losing out on a budding new demographic of readers? However, some authors are embracing this new wave of reading, and their doing this in many varied ways. Many authors now have blogs, Twitter, Facebook, guestbooks on their websites.. Like the musicians before them they are reaching out to their digital demographic and drawing them in, showing they are not afraid of new technology, or of piracy.
An example that comes to mind would be Stephenie Meyer, who, when a copy of a manuscript for her new book was illegally released online, didn’t freak out, but instead, put a link to it on her website, free and available to anyone, so they wouldn’t have to try and find illegal copies of it. Not only did she make it available, she even read blog posts and emails about the book from readers, and is now taking them into consideration while writing.
Other authors like Scott Lynch put up on their websites .pdf’s of their work that are only available for e-readers or to be read on the computer, never to see the light of printed paper, if you will. By putting this material online doesn’t leave it to the book bandits, as it’s free anyway, and it widens the consumer base by giving readers a free sample.
Others have completely embraced the digital arena, with a comic, FreakAngels, being published weekly for free online, with the physical editions coming out months after the online copies have been around. The authors, Warren Ellis and Paul Dufflield, have completely embraced their digital fans, adding a forum to the comic site that they visit regularly, but also regularly commend their “real life” fans, who only buy the physical copies.
The fact that there are still people who, though this comic is available free online, only buy the physical copies, shows that, even if it’s free, doesn’t mean people will take it. By creating a following online, this will evidentially feed into the publishers as people buy physical editions, and then feeds back into people again with the creation of more and more online materials. The pleasure of buying a book and holding it in your hands isn’t dead with this new medium, and many authors know this from the amount who Tweet and blog regularly.
The digital wave is rising for books, just as it has for music and movies in the past, but it doesn’t mean books are a dying breed. Books are still being written, published, bought and read; both in the traditional sense and with the new wave. E-book technology offers so many positives for both the author and the consumer that any revenue lost to piracy may just be a necessary evil.
A funny, in-depth and informative video on e-books, located here [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jW6mdzTcrI ]
A very interesting look at the trend of e-books last year (2010), located here [ http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/ebooks_ereaders_top_trends_2010.php ]
Alan Liu, as well as many others, discuss e-books in the New York Times blog “Room for Debate” located here [http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/does-the-brain-like-e-books/ ]
Computer world has regularly updated articles, giving continuous coverage of e-books and e-readers, located here [http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9142084/Continuing_coverage_E_books_and_e_readers ]