Can the Digital Market Expand Reader Choice?
Short answer is yes, but…
In wake of the recent controversy regarding Harlequin and it’s partnership with Author Solutions, it was clear to me that the advance paying model of traditional publishing is viewed as the only path for serioius authors. Look at the language, for example, of the SFWA “advance paying” or the guidelines of the RWA which does not recognize publishers who do not pay a $1,000 advance or greater. To a large extent, those that are in power at these writing organizations are published through the traditional way – advance and royalties.
The advance/royalties is the least risky path for an author. The author puts out nothing but her own hard work. Her expenses can include improving her craft through lessons and research. Post publication, the author can (and should) put forth her own marketing efforts which can be as cheap as a few bookmarks or as expensive as funding her own author tour, purchasing a book trailer, running contests. The traditional path to publication, however, is available only to a small few.
In order to sell, you must comply with the guidelines that the advance paying arms of publishing have demeed to be the parameters for a saleable book. In romance, that generally is hetereosexual love relationships between Anglo Saxon individuals with a word count of under 100,000. (with a few exceptions).
So while the traditional advance/royalty model is the least risky for authors, its open to only a limited few within a limited framework. Publishers are buying books that they can sell to bookstore buyers and distribution partners.
The benefit of digital reseller market is that the filter is not the bookstore buyer or the distribution buyer because there is no artificial limitation set physical boundaries. The digital bookshelf is infinite and endless.
This is both a boon and a curse. It’s a boon because it means that more books of a greater variety will be available to the reader. It’s a curse because that means more books a reader must filter through to find new reads. Quality will vary wildly. But the fact is that there is a number of books out in the marketplace that are of low quality, poorly edited, with horrible covers, that aren’t worth your time or your money. When I looked at the free list of books that All Romance eBooks were promoting during the holidays (probably because those publishers participated), it confirmed what I thought already: the dross is already here and in large number.
What does that mean? It means that despite the terrible books published out there, we are still finding good digital books to read. This is one reason that in digital publishing, the publisher brand name is so important. We’ve come to trust that certain digital publishers have standards even if we don’t agree with the publisher tastes.
The fact is that if the digital marketplace does indeed pull in $500 million in 2010 as Forrester Research predicts, then individuals who want to make money will come to the market and those people will realize that making money off digital publishing means providing a decent product.
A large and vibrant digital market does not mean the elimination of publishers. It merely changes the model. In the future, we may have a consortium of authors selling their books similar to what CJ Cherryh, Jane Fancher, and Lynn Abbey are doing with Closed Circle. It might be an editor based brand that we follow. For example, Anne Sowards edits Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews, among others. Or Cindy Hwang edits Meljean Brook, Nalini Singh, and Christine Feehan. It might be something that we haven’t even envisioned yet.
There will be filters because filters will be a way to make money and only good filtering systems will make money. Metadata will become far more important. Resellers like Amazon, Fictionwise, Barnes and Noble will have to increase the way a consumer interacts with the metadata by more powerful searching functions (i.e., the consumer will want to find all 4-5 star rated books with keywords “alpha male” “paranormal” “strong hero” “unusual settings” released in the last two months).
I think that this year is the start of a new wave of publishing that will bring readers more variety and more choice. I’m certainly excited.