New data from the BookStats survey reveals good news for the world of publishing, selling, and buying books: With the continuing explosive rise of ebooks, many more books are being sold than in previous years, and — despite the doom and gloom messages in the media about the decline of print, publishers (on the whole) saw a $1 billion increase in net revenues in 2012.
Someone asked me a while ago what the rise of ebooks means to me. That made me sit back and think a moment, because it means a lot to me. And not just what you’d expect. Here are the answers I came up with. I’ll talk about what it means for writers and what it means for readers. (That second one is the big story. Scroll down for it.)
For Writers: All Bets Are Off
For the first time in quite a while, writers have options. A writer with a fantastic story, some marketing chutzpah, and the self-discipline of an old workhorse can take a decent shot at self-publishing, and that’s been good for a number of novelists. It’s a long shot, but thanks to the rapid growth of the e-book market and the ease of connecting writers and readers via the Internet, it’s far more feasible than it has been in the past.
Another thing that’s exciting to me is the new species of publishers emerging. Some of the small presses are not only entrepreneurial but also give their writers a fair deal, which is something that hasn’t really been the norm among large publishing houses since the 1950s.
And there are the Amazon imprints – Montlake, Thomas & Mercer, 47North, and the others. These not only offer a fair deal but a very powerful marketing engine, and they’re run by innovative people who invest in the author-editor relationship. They’re bringing good work out and they put their weight behind it – not just behind one or two titles they’re banking everything on, they put their weight behind all their books. I’m impressed by that.
All of this means that a good writer has a better shot at making a living than has been the case in quite a few decades.
That’s a good thing.
For Readers: For the First Time
Books Are Just as Available in the Country As In the City
But what the e-book market and the digital publishing phenomenon really means to me is bigger than that. Much bigger.
Let me tell you a story. I grew up country. We had a library in town a twenty-minute drive from our pasture, and that library could have fit inside a school bus, though I have fond memories of it. For years the nearest bookstore was housed in a dark old warehouse forty minutes north. Once a month my mother would drive up there in the station wagon with me in the passenger seat and we’d go hunting for books.
But you have to understand that back then gas was seventy cents to the gallon where we lived. It sure isn’t that now. If you live as far back from the city as I did as a boy, in this economy, you probably aren’t going to be paying for gas to drive forty minutes to the bookstore. And if you have kids or hold two jobs, you just won’t have time.
But for eighty dollars you can buy an e-reader. You don’t have to drive to the city to a store to pick it up; they’ll ship it to you. Then you can get the classics for free; it will probably take about an hour to download three or four hundred of them. Then you can get the dollar deals. Then you can splurge on a few higher-priced books that you have always wanted to read. A little over an hour and let’s say a hundred and twenty dollars, and you own a library.
If you didn’t grow up where I did, you may not understand what this means, but it’s worth hearing. I know a lot of people with e-readers who are reading voraciously, who had very little access to books previously. When I was a boy, before we found that warehouse, we had just the books my mother had brought out of her father’s house and stored in a dead, heavyweight 1960s refrigerator that she had repurposed as a bookcase. As a child, I wasn’t even allowed to read anything other than picture books at the library until my parents faced off with the librarian behind a closed door and left him shaking and pale.
Now, an hour and a hundred twenty, and you own a library.
The number of rural people who are reading regularly is growing fast. And that’s what digital publishing really means.