I personally think we're a long way from an e-book only world, but with news of the kindle, Sony reader, and writers like Joe Konrath hyping their kindle adventures, I'd like to know how people would envision this world.

Clearly physical bookstores would no longer exist.

Would there be a need for publishers? If all books were equally placed within e-book stores, what role would publishers play other than simply vetting or putting their stamp of approval on books?

Do people think an e-book only world would be a good thing or bad thing for writers? For readers?

My own take, it would be a disaster for most writers. The e-book stores would be a dumping ground for the 100s of thousands of unpublished books that currently end up in places like iUniverse. With 100s of thousands of books flooding the kindle store and other e-book stores, mostly only books from established bestsellers would be bought, much more so than even today, with the midlist dead. Now independent bookstores handsell and recommend books from lesser known writers that they've discovered, and this gives midlist writers a chance to break out, but how would that happen if these bookstores didn't exist? And how would reviewers pick books to review if publishers no longer existed?? I think reviewers would have no choice but to stick with the recognized names.

Far from the paradise that writers like Joe Konrath are currently paint this, I think if this future did come about it would kill the careers of writers like Joe, myself and anyone else who hadn't already made it to the upper echelon.

Like to hear what other people think.

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Well, I certainly don't know anything. I never thought CDs would replace vinyl. I never thought downloading songs would replace CDs.

If the printed book disappears and the only way I can read books is with some kind of reader, I'll get a reader. What I love is reading books, I'm not too concerned what the format is.
I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree. You seem to think that it would be business as usual with just books read in a different format, while my thoughts are it would be the death of the midlist, with only the most recognizable names being able to be found within this massive sea of ebook that will flood these e stores.
Well, given that I'll only ever be midlist, yeah, I'm hoping it continues ;) I may have to take more control of my books, the way Konrath has.

But really, I'm looking at it from the demand side, not supply. As long as there's a market it will be served. If people want to read books but are having trouble finding ones they like in an endless sea of self-published e-books, I have enough faith in the greed of the business community that a way will be found to fulfill the demand.

If you think that people will just say, "Wow, there's too many books, it's just too hard to find one I like, I'm just going to watch TV," then I guess that could happen even more than it's happening now. But readers are already a cranky niche market, but a pretty smart one, so they may continue to find books.

I also think the endless sea will become manageable. Amazon, Google, lots of places will be able to narrow down your search. Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc. Some authors may still be able to find a thousand or two thousand people to buy their books (which is all us midlisters can find to do it now).

What narrows down the choices in the endless sea now is that some publishers spend more money to get some books in front of you. I'm not even sure that's the best possible system, but it's the one we have.
Isn't that basically how it is now?

I think the printed book will disappear. Sure, we don't think it will, but that is because we are nostalgic for printed books. We grew up in a world where there was only the printed book. But what about the next generation, and the generation after that? Kids are going to be born into a world where ebooks are commonplace, the internet is ubiquitous, not to mention whatever other advances come along the way. Those kids are going to grow up without that special feeling for printed books we all have.

I think a lot of us are in denial and trying to will the industry to remain static because we don't like the changes we see coming. But future generations won't look at those changes the same way. Eventually, the printed book will die.
All this talk made me think of one of my favourite movies, Diner. The scene where Daniel Stern gets so mad at Ellen Barkin for playing his records and not putting them away in the right order. When I first saw the movie I was nodding along to him but now I see it from her point of view.

And, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, we can watch the scene right now:

It might be the death of the bestseller as we know it. It may mean though that everything will be "midlist" to no-list.

But if we lose brick-and-mortar bookstores, we lose a lot.
If we lose the people who run indie stores, we lose a lot. If they can find a way to move online along with the books, we lose very little.

I like to shop at Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto (where I live) but lately I've been buying more books through their newsletter and website. If they close the store and just run a mail-order business through the website that would be okay. They could still have book launches and readings at other venues. It wouls dave them some money and free up a little of their time as they wouldn't have to stand in a store sixty or eighty hours a week.

This is a community as much as it is a business. It may be more resilient than we think.

As for the death of bestseller, it may hapen. I've got a job on a TV show now. It used to be network TV shows were like bestsellers and cable shows were more like small press books, but now the ratings are narrowing (and other areas of revenue have opened up like DVD and online sales) and the differences aren't as clear. Most people in TV have accepted the fact that the days when half or a third of the people in the country are watching the same TV show are over.

Oh, they still want as big an audience as they can get, but more and more it's all niche programming to narrower demographic groups.
I'd personally welcome the death of the bestseller. We have a very lopsided system of rewards here, and as we've all pointed out, since the publishers only push the bestsellers, more and more people buy just a handful of titles. That does serious damage to other good authors. I'm not sure, though, that putting the bestsellers in e-format will achieve this. They'll still get their publicity.

Another aspect of the cheaper format is that publishers will pay even smaller advances and agents won't want to take the trouble to sell new novels.
I just wonder if there would even be a role for publishers in an e-book only world. The bestsellers are going to sell regardless--and I'm sure that something equivalent to book packagers would pop up to copy editing, formatting, cover art, etc.--so what added value would publishers provide these bestselling authors in this hypothetical new world?
I've noticed that this topic seems to come up over and over on writers' websites -- probably because it represents writers' worst fears. However, like most 'worst fears,' I'm starting to think that e-publishing (and all its adherents) isn't the threat that we all worry it is.

I'm old enough to remember when home video became popular. The movie business made many of the same noises we're making now about e-publishing: it'll kill the movie business, film as an art will suffer, etc. Instead, what's happened is that 'straight to video' has become a shorthand phrase for 'crap' -- not *always* true, but true more often than not. I wonder if the same might not be true of e-publishing. It might become a sort of filter where lower-quality writing tends to congeal, and that could be a good thing, for publishers and writers. Being published in traditional form by a traditional publisher would gain more cachet. If traditional publishing was seen as putting out a high-end 'boutique' product, it seems to me that they'd want to publish more than ever, and charge more money for what they published. Far from wanting to stick with known names, publishers would then have an impetus to discover the next obscure 'boutique' writer and get him/her signed before s/he was snatched up by somebody else. It's like organic wine. There's that one little vineyard in Nowhere, California that only a few people know about. The wine sells for twice that of your standard-issue vintage, but it's worth it, and people are clamoring to buy it.

Maybe I'm a blue-eyed optimist, but I just don't think that 'virtual' books will ever replace real, physical books, because we as humans will always be real, physical objects. I think we'll always want to experience other real, physical objects, and, in fact, I think that at some point there will be a backlash against 'virtual' everything. Maybe not a revolution, per se, but a general tiredness with the novelty of virtual gadgets like Kindle. I'm already seeing this on the internet -- a few years ago, it was a genuinely useful place where you could look things up and find information. It's getting less and less useful as more and more stuff gets put up there. No longer can you count on getting a reliable hit first time out of the box on your search engine. You have to pore through a lot of crap now to find the reliable stuff. There are only certain places on the 'net that I look for things anymore. Everything else is run by advertisers and is of questionable value.

In other words, once something become ubiquitous, it seems to me that the human mind develops finer filters, and if the publishing world were smart, it could take advantage of this.

Well, if we apply past experiences with the sales accruing to certain best-selling authors, I have little faith in average readers developing finer filters.

Promotion works, but in our world only national advertising will do. The public buys brands they recognize.
I think the force that moved music and photos to a mostly-digital realm is the same one that will move books into new modes of production -- instant gratification.

E-books are going to fulfill part of this desire, but POD printing on kiosks has the potential to fulfill it, as well. Already, most books are printed on short-run presses or via POD (Publisher's Weekly just released a report on this, a historic change). POD kiosks keep improving, and may arrive big-time in 3-5 years. Imagine ordering a book like you order digital photos that you pick up later at the Osco or Walgreens. Bookstores would benefit from having special orders fulfilled in minutes, not days, and consumers would have all sorts of choices.

E-books are going to continue to improve, as well. This week, I'll get my second Kindle, the DX. I've loved the first one, and I've read many books on it. However, these devices aren't just for books -- blogs, magazines, and other content works great on them. The inherent usefulness of e-readers will increase adoption once prices really fall. That should be in the next 3-5 years, as well.

My prediction is that bookstores will shift more into general merchandisers with special access to POD technology that lets them fill orders quickly; that e-readers will consume more of the book market; and that consumers will have more choices, we'll see more "surprise" best-sellers, and more writers will surface.

To John's point (and possibly of general interest), Bowker just released a slideshow about 2008 book purchasing habits. Online awareness and online reviews dominate marketing of books. Consumer's preference for this type of marketing and awareness will also contribute to the drive for immediate gratification, I think.


(P.S. Slide 19 seems mislabeled, but maybe I'm just thick.)


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