I sat on a panel at WorldCon this year on whether the future belongs to ebooks. It was almost an exact repeat of the panel I sat on 10 years ago. I was the only one who was one hundred per cent pro ebooks. The entire panel resulted in a diatribe from other panelists against ebooks. The same gripes. The same arguments. The same “nothing replaces the feel of a real book.” One panelist bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t freely copy ebooks like he did music. Another said that whoever got published in ebook format was a stupid moron. Obviously he hadn’t bothered finding out about my own published work. It was as if I’d gone back in time. It was disheartening, to say the least.
Not that I wanted to wear rose-colored glasses and glorify ebooks. I’ll say it again: the ebook is only a format, just like paper or audio. No one has ever made such a fuss about audio books. I’d love for someone to tell me why.
There are several problems with ebooks, the biggest, in my opinion, being the variety of proprietary formats that confuse and befuddle non-initiates. With a paper book, you pick it off the shelf, open it, start reading. With an ebook, you need a device (at minimum a computer) then need to know and buy the proper format, upload it to your device. Then you can start reading.
eBooks cut out many of the traditional middlemen, such as distributors and bookstores. They certainly cut out the printers. Hence systemic resistance to ebooks.
I could continue on, but these are all mechanics and procedures that will iron themselves out in time.
Despite the detractors, the world is thankfully changing. I was amazed, no, flabbergasted, when I read Mike Shatzkin’s post this morning, What advice do you give a writer?. In it, he makes glorious statements such as:
But most books, even those published by legitimate publishers, don’t sell large numbers of copies. And it is increasingly the case that the self-publishing of various kinds is the best way to get on the publishers’ radar screens and it has the additional benefit of beginning to build an audience and a response loop that are essential components of any successful writer’s platform. […] That means that blogs and self-published books using ebook and print-on-demand models are now part of the overall commercial structure of publishing. They are not something separate and inferior, as “vanity publishing” was in the past.
Statements like that would never even have been made two years ago. I firmly believe that blogging, and the way people have been noticed through them, as well as Twitter, have changed the way we communicate, the way we view the written word. It also is changing, according to Shatzkin, the way even traditional publishers and agents are looking for fresh voices:
In fact, when we discussed with a leading agent a panel we’re planning for our January Digital Book World conference called “Stalking the Wild Blogger: Scouting Blogs and Self-Published Content for Fresh Voices”, which is about agents and editors finding authors through blogs and self-published books, he said that is now something that “every agent does.” He explained: “it is now the standard way to find new clients.”
That means that blogs and self-published books using ebook and print-on-demand models are now part of the overall commercial structure of publishing. They are not something separate and inferior, as “vanity publishing” was in the past.
The post heartened me. I’ve been touting the power of ebooks for more than 10 years and most often my voice was lost in the void. Maybe now that others with the influence to change the landscape are talking the same language, the world will change faster.