It seems now that most are in agreement that an ebook wave is coming. It’s no longer dismissed as it was even a year ago, but now many of the predictions are loaded with doom. Yet as with any other paradigm shift, there is massive opportunity. Yes, those who resist may get swept under, but those who embrace it can benefit.
Here’s a few predictions on why this transition will, in the end, be good for scribblers:
People will still read books. I’ve heard that people won’t read anymore when their “book” also sends text messages, plays Tetris, and (heaven forbid!) rings. My hunch is the percent of people who read is just as high today as it was in the days of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and the days of Hemingway and Steinbeck. Most people don’t, some do. My 11-year old niece spends some time on her Nintendo DS, and some time with her favorite authors. She’s a reader. Back in the 18th century, if you didn’t like novels you didn’t spend your time reading, you spent it gossiping. Now, gossip has moved online. And the readers, read. Plus, as the level of disposable income continues to grow in places like India, the number of readers that a digital book can reach will explode.
This isn’t going to happen overnight. While ebooks sales will eventually be higher than paper book sales–once ereaders become essentially free, like cell phones are today–this is not going to happen quickly. Readers tend to harbor Luddite proclivities. Books will continue to be printed. They may get more expensive, but that’s nothing new. Remember the $1.99 paperback? (Yeah, I don’t either.) People who love the look, feel, smell, and touch of books (and there are droves of them) are going to keep buying paper books for a very long time. My hunch is the paper book will never disappear completely, but will instead become a premium, collector’s item for classics and newer ebooks that have proven themselves worthy of paper.
Pirates will stay at sea. Pirating for novels at least won’t be a huge problem. Yes, there will be free pirated versions of every book available from the millisecond the first edition appears. Yes, some otherwise law-abiding folks will download them for free. But readers tend to be an older crowd, and they have more disposable income. Music pirating took off on college campuses. College students are notoriously poor and busy reading what they’re told to read, and drinking. They have little time and inclination to pirate other books. (Though getting a book on a required reading list will no longer be a boon for sales.) Most readers out there are more than willing to pay for books. They demand two things. One, no wait. Two, no price gouging. If publishers make their ebooks available at the same time as their paper counterparts, and price them fairly, all will be good. Whether fair is $9.99 or $14.99 doesn’t matter, the market will figure it out soon enough.
More writers will get published. Small publishers will emerge that focus exclusively on ebooks, as will imprints for all of the majors. These will bring books meant for a mass audience to market quicker and cheaper, just like the paperback pulps did when they were first created. Publishers will see this as a testing ground, a quick and dirty experiment to see what resonates with readers. And writers who get nowhere with the publishing world will have direct access to the reading community. Most will drown in the sea of slush, but a few will sail over it. Everyone gets a bite at the apple. Think your book is the best vampire/werewolf/mummy teenage ménage à trois the world has never seen? Publish it. Market it. See what happens. At the very least, those who fall flat will stop submitting and be one less query for publishers to worry about.