There is word today that e-book publisher Smashwords is partnering with Sony to make Smashwords-published titles available on Sony’s e-book portal (and, by obvious extension, to Sony’s line of e-book readers). With Smashwords’ earlier announcement of a distribution deal making e-book titles available through Barnes & Nobles’ retail stores, it’s clear that the barriers to entry for independent authors in every market are falling by the wayside.
As a writer who wants to reach as many readers as I possibly can, and do so on their terms by supporting the format and technology that each individual is most comfortable with, it seems to me that I am very close to being able to do just that. I understand that there are a lot of issues to be worked out including compatibility problems, standards issues, proprietary attempts to own markets, etc., etc., etc., but from my point of view as a writer I don’t think I need to worry about these issues except to the extent that I need to understand the current offerings in order to exploit them.
Put another way, what I need as an author are sufficient parallel publishing options that allow me to satisfy any particular reader’s requirements. While I can’t predict which users will want which versions of my work, or which segments will be the largest, I can define the end products I will need in order to meet any request. Happily, these end products are available in the market today, and will only become cheaper as market forces drive prices down and force competitors to become more market friendly. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Amazon.)
If I imagine the constellation of all possible future readers of my work, here’s what I come up with:
- Online readers who read hosted text directly from a site.
- E-book readers who download files to a mobile device (Kindle, Sony, iPhone, etc.).
- Book readers who want a good-quality paper-based book.
- Book readers (family, devoted fans) who want an archival or upscale book.
As I type this, knowing relatively little about the whole spectrum of publishing offerings available today, I still know for a fact that I can meet the needs of any online, e-book or book reader who wants to read my work. I can put my work on web sites, I can make it available in any downloadable file format, I can have books printed on demand (POD), I can make my work available through mainstream retail channels, I can make it available through device sellers like Sony or Amazon, and if I have the demand I can find myself a snazzy upscale printer who can print me a book that any author would be proud of.
From the point of view of a given publisher, all of this is madness. And you can see this in the comments and actions of traditional book publishers, who are holding back e-book versions of books in order to avoid cannibalizing hardback or softcover sales at the bookstores. For an industry that has suddenly gone from dominant (sole) market player to segment-oriented player that probably makes sense, because book publishers sell books as physical objects. Content is secondary, if it’s important at all.
But I’m not trying to sell physical books, or newspapers, or ads on TV. I’m not in the object-selling business or the ad-selling business. As a writer, I am in the content-selling business, and that’s why parallel publishing makes complete sense for me. I want every possible way to reach every individual reader, and I don’t care at all whether one category of sales cannibalizes another category of sales because they’re all my sales.
In fact, I’m eager to provide my readers with information that lets them make informed choices about the various publishing options I’ll be offering, including pricing, and how pricing affects my profits. Why?
First, I want readers to support me, not the publishing intermediaries. If they know that ProviderX nets me M dollars, while ProviderY nets me M+1 dollars, they may choose to use ProviderY simply because they know more money will be going in my pocket. Second, price pressure is the only leverage independent authors have in trying to compel solution providers to become more efficient and competitive. And I need that competition to avoid being taken hostage by proprietary solutions which profit the solution provider the most. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Apple. And no, I don’t believe you’re capable of sitting out the e-reader wars.)
None of this says anything about whether my content or anyone else’s content can be monetized. I genuinely don’t know if I can make a living selling my content to readers. What I do know is that I don’t have much overhead, I’m not dependent on a given format or technology, and for the first time in my life I don’t have anyone standing between me and an audience. If there’s a gamble to be taken in all this, and there certainly is, as a content creator I still think my odds are better than they’ve been at any time in history.
— Mark Barrett