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 The e-book stores would be a dumping ground for the 100s of thousands of unpublished books that currently end up in places like iUniverse.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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Interesting set of articles on the future of digital authorship.
Like Dave, I think it's important not to believe that technological change necessarily represents progress.

Ideally, technologies such as e-readers and print on demand could serve adjuncts rather than replacements, offering access, for example, to books that might otherwise go out of print, or to scholarly limited editions.

It is beyond belief that e-readers could sell so well when the technology is still proprietary and so few books are available.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
Last time I looked Amazon offered 250,000 titles on Kindle.
IJ, For the hell of it, I checked out to see if they had Maltese Falcon. Nope--they didn't have nay of his novels (although they had Gores prequel), but they had a bunch of public domain Hammett novellas, longer shorts that I guess have fallen into the public domain. I think a lot of that 250,000 is public domain stuff, although clearly some publishers are making their books available for Kindle. I know mine has decided that until better security is provided they're not going to.
I very much liked the Sony reader, but only 200,000 titles were available. When the numbers approach the complete contents of the Library of Congress -- and the technology is such that all books are available on any company's readers and I can be sure that my reader will not be rendered obsolete by a new model in a year -- I'll think about buying one.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
Peter, my fear with bookstores struggling now as it is that it might not take much to provide a tipping point to put out of business. What if Kindle erodes 5% of their business--would that be enough to knock them out? 10%?
We'll never see the end of printed books. Just like those who predicted 8-track, then cassette, then digital was going to wipe out vinyl records, what in fact we are seeing is a modest revival. (as, oddly enough, we are seeing Polaroid talking about re-producing film photograph again).

What constantly surprises me is that the majority of people are social creatures. Bookstores, libraries, etc. are havens for us. True, there are indivduals who will prefer an e-reader and/or ordering through Amazon. But the majority of people will prefer to go to their favorite books stores and libraries to browse through the shelves and to be with people.
I doubt that physical books will entirely disappear anytime soon--not for a generation or two, at least--too many people still like them. What's likely to happen is that publishers will produce smaller print runs, figuring (rightly) that a growing percentage of readers will prefer the digital format. On the plus side, royalty structures will change--authors should by rights get a siginifcantly bigger cut of ebook sales, since publisher's costs are so much lower. Ebooks solve a lot of problems for publishers--rising production costs, brutal discount structures dictated by big sellers, over-prints aggravated by unpredictable returns, etc. The negatives are equally significant: ebooks introduce new risks, primarily in the form of potential electronic piracy, against which there's likely to be little in the way of legal or technological defense. For authors there's the added risk, as several have already said here, of having one's work utterly obscured by vast blizzards of unvetted self-published books. I'm presonally of two minds: sure, I'd like to sell some eBooks; every little bit helps. But my guess is that it won't be long before the ebook pirates take notice and start distributing every published ebook title for free over the internet the day after it's released. That's when the real trouble starts for the publishing biz, IMO.
I don't know, it's not like books aren't already available for free.
Is this your "libraries are just like file-sharing" argument again, John?
It's clear you've already formed your opinion, so my answer to your question won't make any difference.

There's just no substantial evidence, that I've seen, to suggest that piracy is the bogeyman it's made out to be, that it is a significant cause of the various industries' woes. But there is evidence to suggest otherwise, and I have documented some of it on my previous blog posts here if you want to check them out. The only argument I see from the other side is "look at the music industry" as if piracy is automatically to blame for lost sales. Yet the video game industry's sales are up this year, so explain that one.

The fear of book piracy, in my opinion, is baseless. It's particularly absurd for midlist crime writers to fear this. Midlist authors are constantly complaining about low sales as it is, and the struggle to be noticed among a sea of authors. So what are they worried about book piracy for? Nobody even is aware of them, apparently, so who's going to be bootlegging your work. Plus, crime fiction is read mostly by older women, and that is not the demographic that pirates things on the internet. So again, who's going to be pirating your work?

If piracy is such a detriment to artists, then everyone should be able to name five artists who have been hurt by it, off the top of their heads. It's such a huge problem, but where are the victims? People say the industry is hurting, but what does that mean? Who is hurting? Yes, sales are down, but how do we know it is because of piracy? How significant is the impact of piracy? Nobody's got evidence, data for this. Except the RIAA and MPAA which the latter admitted exaggerated its claims, and neither disclose how they obtained their data.

Cory Doctorow, Paulo Coelho, Trent Reznor and Radiohead. There's four artists off the top of my head who have benefited from giving away their work. Can you name four who have been hurt by it?

If there is substantial evidence that piracy is hurting artists, then let's have it. Otherwise this all just seems like fearmongering to me.
I don't have access to the Rolling Stones' financial records, so I couldn't tell you whether, in all, their incomes have gone up or down in the last fifteen years or so. I do know that the recording industry as a whole has suffered mightily, and that in general bands have had to develop other sources of revenue to make up for the loss of income across the board from selling recorded music. Unlike (most) writers, popular bands can make significant money from performance; I would guess, though, that since the advent of file sharing concert ticket prices have generally gone up and tours have been extended to make up for that lost revenue. I'm curious, since you're such a big advocate of electronic piracy, how you imagine writers will make up for the losses they're bound to incur as a result of file sharing?

As for midlist writers not being affected, or the business of older women not being avid electronic pirates: whatever hurts the industry in general also hurts me. If my publisher makes less money, then they're less likely to take a chance on my next book, less likely to promote said book, and less likely to hand over the up-front money I need to keep food on the table while I write it. These things seem obvious to me, but I guess my perspective is somewhat different than yours.


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