Most of the transformation from print to digital, he said, has been in fiction; nonfiction has increased from acim of the total. Marshall then painted the vision of how nonfiction will look in the near future, as “enhanced” books including audio, video, self-assessments, and community portals where readers can talk with the writer and other readers. There might be games in the book or animation in the preface with the author’s voice-over.
Most of the book won’t live in the tablet either. It will “live in the clouds,” in a grand file beamed down from a database available any time from anywhere. The user can buy any section or chapter they want, paying through a meter. And the data can be dynamically changed, updated, or added to (as can articles) as facts emerge or change.
This will transform the authors’ role. They will publish digitally first, then think print later. The barriers and excuses will be gone. “If it makes sense, print it,” Marshall said.
The “power of free” then becomes possible with the digital book. The writer can capture market share by giving away the first book (or the first chapters), then charge as the fan base develops. An e-list becomes the authors’ selling center.
Since e-books in the future will be multimedia, the writer will be responsible for the text and the embedded media components. Writers will find partners from film, audio, and art to create the best format.
David encouraged the participants to read his “Tools of Change Conference Call Report” from February, 2011, available at scribd.com.
From that report, the changes on the publishing horizon are almost overwhelming. Particularly interesting in the report are Wired Magazine’s Kevin Kelley’s six trends that book publishers need to address in order to stay competitive and eight ways to make it easy to pay but hard to copy. Brian O’Leary (Magellan Media) compares the old paradigm to the new and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) gives a chilling author’s perspective. In fact, all 12 pages paint a brave New Publishing World in which today’s major houses, and Coker’s self-publishers, hardly fit.
Perhaps David Marshall’s summary of that report best expresses the sense he shared with clarity, conviction, and excitement at the ASJA gathering:
“All ‘heck’ is breaking out in the digital publishing space. E-books are just the first wave of many waves of digital innovation. Early pronouncements from some pundits that enhanced eâbooks are more interesting to publishers than consumers misses the point. As the market for pure text products, even in digital form, moves to free, publishers must innovate to provide new layers of consumer value, or perish. Products such as The Elements (185,000 sold) show the portent of the industry.
Unfortunately, most publishers will not be able to profitably transform themselves into companies such as Touch Press, Open Road Media, or Callaway, and some of the stiffest competition to traditional publishers will likely come from VC-funded ‘born digital’ start-ups. I sat at a conference lunch table (recently) under the banner, ‘What’s the difference between book and software publishing?’ That is an apt reflection of how these two industries are quickly merging. (Berrett-Koehler’s) collaborative partnership business model is more important now than ever before. We (too) must re-invent ourselves to stay relevant.”
The big houses are more likely just to absorb the e-books
In a conversation after the ASJA gathering, Peter Beren commented “I remember more than 30 years ago when we used the same rhetoric and vigor that Mark Coker used today, but then we proclaimed that you didn’t have to publish in New York, that West Coast publishing was the new frontier of creativity!”
Coker had just called for writers to re-embrace freedom of speech, and prophesized the end of mainstream publishers as we know them.
Peter is a literary agent; a columnist for the San Francisco Publishing Examiner; a publishing consultant to authors, self-publishers, and independent publishers, and a literary agent with 30 years experience in book publishing. Among his six published books are The Writers Legal Companion (with Brad Bunnin) and California the Beautiful.
“I just can’t believe that e-books are the self-publishing keys to the kingdom. Mark’s rhetoric is as extreme as ours was. Particularly if it gives the idea that a writer can self-publish and by-pass the traditional publishers and achieve the same result in terms of readers and earnings. If the person does that, and only distributes to electronic platforms/channels, it is very difficult for a reader to know a work exists and how to get it. E-books are a great secondary sales channel and they can add to the authors’ earnings in a considerable way but right now the entire channel accounts for only about 13% of total sales.