The Slipstream

A degree of the surreal,

The not-entirely-real,

And the markedly anti-real.

Future trends

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These are scary times for writers and publishers. Whereas it’s never been easier to get published, conversely it’s never been harder to sell. This great divide is expanding exponentially. Take a look at the Al Gore demonstration at Mike Matas: A next-generation digital book. All of this seemed pretty whiz-bang a year ago. Now my smart phone can do most this.

The Great Divide Paradox is easily explained.

Major publishers are down-sizing, and guess who goes first? The B-list. With fewer staff, publishers are publishing fewer books. Perhaps only the best-sellers will enjoy print books from the majors with no or little mid-list. It does make you wonder where publishers will find the next generation of best selling authors. They’ll undoubtedly get some from best-selling self-publishers, such as the recent EL James (50 Shades of Grey) and of course this has been happening for a while – Matthew Reilly (Contest) springs to mind. And there will be a proliferation of these authors with the availability of, Lightning Source, etc. Even Dymocks has a platform for vanity press at I think the self-publisher has replaced the agent for assessing the slush pile for major publishers.

It’s an illusion that distribution is now easier than it has ever been. In fact, for print books, it’s never been worse. Many large publishers have slashed their sales or editing teams and one publisher has recently sacked its entire sales force. Booksellers will now have to scour the publishers’ website if they want to stock their shelves with books from THAT publisher. And don’t think for one moment the book sellers will be purchasing books by authors they’ve never heard of. They’ll be purchasing the frontline books like cook books, gardening books – anything with a proven track record.

It’s true that the ebook revolution has enabled global distribution. Anyone can publish their own book either in e-book or print-on-demand, upload it to numerous online booksellers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, etc. But the trouble is there’s a lot of noise out there and it’s hard to get heard. How is your book going to be seen? Authors more than ever will have to be their own marketing force.

Cory Doctorow has picked up a reputation as the writer who gives away e-book versions of his novels for free. He believes that by doing this he’s creating an audience his work wouldn’t normally have had. So far he’s had 700,000+ downloads of his novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – 30,000 of these came on the first day of release.

So brick and mortar booksellers are suffering from all of this, and not just from print on demand books and e-books, but online sellers like the UK’s Book Depositary – they offer free postage with a minimum order. And chain stores such as Big W, Target and Kmart buy books from publishers at such a big discount that they’re selling the books at the same price – as loss leaders – that independent stores are buying them at; and unless booksellers change their focus from the print book they will soon disappear. These department stores are selling about one third of books sold in Australia.

But there is a fight back for the printed book and magazine. Reading material such as magazines and newspapers will soon have digital watermarks embedded into images enabling readers to be directed toward digital resources offering further information. An obvious outcome here is for advertising. See a photo of someone in a magazine or newspaper wearing a piece of jewellery or a jacket that you like – run your smart phone over the image and it’ll take you directly to the online seller with a shopping cart. Pertinent to books, especially non-fiction, you’ll be directed to websites with all the extra information you could possibly want.

The science fiction part of me predicts virtual reality bookstores. Your avatar will head off to the bookshop where the bookseller will have all the relevant and perhaps not-so-relevant information on you. The more info you upload to your avatar the better the service you get from the store. An avatar bookseller will approach you and the conversation you have will be exactly as though you’re visiting your local shop where the sales staff know you quite intimately. You’ll purchase books in any language, on any subject, and basically have millions of choices. But like I said before, you’ll either need to break through the “noise”, or hope your avatar bookseller really is in tune with your metadata and point you directly to the books that you’ll almost definitely like. Otherwise there could be huge scope for error – you could wind up with 50 Shades of Grey while looking for Isobelle Carmody’s Greylands. People might even have fun. Say you upload the metadata of a psychopath. The bookseller avatar would understandably approach you very warily . . . book choices would be very interesting!

On a more serious note, a recent survey in the US concluded that the typical e-book user read 24 books in the past year, compared with the 15 books reported by typical non-e-book users. The survey also found that e-book users are more likely to buy their books rather than borrow them – all of which is good for the economy and certainly good news for writers.

Whereas e-books will miss out on spontaneity sales that brick and mortar shops enjoy, I see the new generation totally taking to the digital era. Currently we have compatibility problems, but Apple readers can now upload Kindle software and read Kindle titles, Kindle also works on the iPad, iPhone and computers. So I think compatibility across all major platforms will soon be the rule of thumb. After all, who wants to own the next Beta for books?

Under development are:

  • A next gen e-reader called The Page that is as thin as a sheet of paper, folds up and has an e-ink screen that can display text and images.
  • A bendable touchscreen display that is shatter and crack proof
  • A computer with a holographic screen you can fold up and wear on your wrist (this will be on the market in 2020, we’re assured!)
  • A solar-powered e-reader and a Braille e-reader for the visually impaired.

In conclusion, I pose a question. After viewing this sample app, tell me at which point does the “book” cease to be a book and become a game? An interesting term has arisen: “lean-in”, which is where the user is working with information on a screen, and “lean-back”, where they’re watching for entertainment. If books become too lean-back, will they have simply become movies?

I have known Paul Collins for a couple of decades now. I first saw his name and that of his partners’, fellow author Meredith Costain, on a letter requesting a story for a collection, but it was a few years before we met. Then later, he and Michael Prior put together the wonderful Quentaris series for Lothian, for which I wrote two books.

An enduring friendship ensued.

Paul is one of the most energetic, pro active people I have ever met and when he set up an independent publishing house a few years back, it was really no surprise. He was never a person to see a need and do nothing.

So Ford Street was born. That is doing well in such a climate is a credit to him and his small army of dedicated interns.
In fact Paul has done it all in his time – sold books, published them, collected stories, and of course, he writes.

He has over 140 books and well over 100 short stories to his credit! An impressive accounting by anyone’s measure. He is best known for The Quentaris Chronicles (The Spell of Undoing is Book #1 in the new series), which he co-edits with Michael Pryor, The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars and The World of Grrym trilogy in collaboration with Danny Willis.

Paul’s latest books are Trust Me Too which he edited, and Dyson’s Drop, book two in The Maximus Black Files. A trailer of the first book can be viewed at YouTube: Mole Hunt. You can visit Paul’s websites to see what else he has produced and what is up and coming at Paul Collin’s website, the Quentaris Chronicles website, and the Ford St Publishing website.

He has been short-listed for many awards and won the Aurealis, William Atheling and the inaugural Peter McNamara awards and the A Bertram Chandler Award for lifetime achievement in Australian science fiction.
He even has black belts in both ju jitsu and taekwondo – and he uses his knowledge to brilliant and sometimes chilling effect, in The Jelindel Chronicles and The Maximus Black Files.

So when I asked him for a guest post for the debate, I knew he would come up with something informed and meticulously researched that did not pull any punches.

109 Responses

  1. Vauny says:

    After watching that video, I don’t think it becomes a game at all, more like a digital pop-up book. Games are characterised by having goals where as that app seemed more like some interactive fun built into an ebook. And if we’re talking about lean-in and lean-back, most video games create a higher lean-in factor than books would because they require a higher level of concentration whereas books, I feel, encourage your mind to relax, even in a really exciting story.

    Although I can understand the publishers’ and book stores’ financial perspectives, I think rather than downsizing, they should be crating new departments and business models for digital content management. I would gladly buy an ebook from a regular book store in fact I would prefer it -you can have the enjoyment of browsing but the convenience of an ebook – but I’ve only seen one book store try to implement this and (I think) they shut it down too soon into the ebook era. I do find shopping on amazon impersonal and so I try too browse in bookstores first then go home, go onto their website and buy it. The problem is sometimes I forget in the space between shopping and home, having ebooks available in store would really fix this.

    • Emily Craven says:

      Vauny I agree with that assessment whole heartedly. For many readers, movies just can’t give us the same emotional kick and detail the original book, and you’ll hear many a person bemoan the fact that the book was better. Could you imagine trying to make an app that tried to cover the Obernewtyn chronicles?? It would be impossible! Or at least a lifetime project. The story is so rich and has so many facets I think a programmer wouldn’t know where to begin (right Min?).

      In terms of buying ebooks from local indie booksellers I would be more then happy! Point me there! Amazon like Google, is this looming conglomerate that I don’t entirely trust. But I know that almost any book I’m searching for will be on there, and have at least a review or two. I also know that for a new author, the price of a book with be what I consider reasonable and so that’s where I go. Give me an alternative and I would happily take it. I don’t like monopolies, it’s bad for business!

    • You can always read the reviews on Amazon and then try and source the book or eBook locally 🙂

    • That’s an interesting twist, Liam lol Alas, it seems to be the other way around. Drat!

    • Hi Emily,

      Indie ebooks: Pulp Fiction bookshop

      Plus Pages & Pages and Avid Reader, and many, many more indie bookstores are selling ebooks!

      Cheers, Alex

    • Vauny I agree totally. I remember in prague a while ago a video shop opened where there were just six or seven computers inset into the walls and you would go on and look at reviews and see clips and trailers, then choose the video before going to the counter to pay and get it. At first i thought it was weird and unappealing but we really adapted vert quickly and when it finally closed down, we never actually ended up joining another one because they all felt less efficient and appealing- yet another case of the way we co evolve with technology. I think bookshops should offer the possibility of browsing e book lists in exactly the same way as with books- I certainly would use that capacity if I was in a shop looking at books. I think they should be collecting reviews and hiring staff to guide customers in this brave new world of anything goes in cyber space. At the moment blog guides are really valuable, offering opinions and reviews and once you find one or two to align with, you feel you can trust their opinions. I feel the same about publishers. If they adapt and are flexible and creative surely they can retrain and use staff with all that expertise they have, in new and creative ways.

    • Emily Craven says:

      Oh Isobelle what a wonderful Idea! Now there is a practical way for book stores to forge ahead and implement e-books. Go forth brave indies, go forth!

    • I sometimes think booksellers are stuck in their ways. Offer them posters, merchandise, authors for signings, and you’ll meet a stonewall. I’ve done it. I emailed 300+ booksellers with the offer of free merchandise. ONE emailed to say he wanted seven Gary Crew posters because he lived locally. Now, if I were still a bookseller, I’d have jumped at free merchandise. And book signings — the authors come free. Even if the bookseller doesn’t sell one book, it has cost them literally nothing. Yet many won’t take up the offer. Book launches get customers into the store and are cheap to run, yet I only see a small number of booksellers embracing them. So I suspect the hope that booksellers will meet these challenging times and diversify and shift their game plan is pretty remote. Just saying 🙂

    • Emily Craven says:

      You are kidding? That is ridiculous. Another example of people complaining and then doing nothing about it!

    • anastasia gonis says:

      I agree that the self-publisher has replaced the agent due to the growing slush pile that is impossible to conquer and the increasing amount of writers surfacing each year. As a reviewer of over twenty years, I admit to having discovered great books by many talented people through self-publishing. These works would have been cast aside without ever being given a chance and I’m proud in many cases to have been the first person to review and therefore discover, these excellent pieces of writing. Although I always prefer the physical book rather than the electronic version, I hope that outstanding publishers like Ford St continue to retain the written word in its original form for those like myself that see the book as a creation; a work of art, and not only a form of entertainment.

    • Hi Vauny, MANY independent bookshops are now selling ebooks. Pulp Fiction (my favourite spec fic & crime store ) and Pages & Pages (+ many more shops) are selling via a platform called ReadCloud, and wonderful shops like Avid Reader and Readings are selling through Cheers, Alex

    • Jeanette says:

      I agree with Anastasia (in regards to her preference over a ‘physical’ book as opposed to an electronic version). I accept that the future pertains to ‘easy access/direct sales’ and if ebooks are selling at a better rate than physical books, there are clearly advantages to the system. However, my personal pleasure derived from reading the quintessential ‘novel’ is wholistic. I enjoy the ‘smell’ of a new (or old) book. I enjoy crisp, clean pages (or worn out pages as a result of multiple ‘thumbing’), perusing spines in over burdened bookshelves… However fascinating and well presented the literary content may be, there is undeniably a sense of wholeness (about the entire production) that entices me to read a phyiscal book. The choice of paper stock, cover, illustration …
      On the subject of illustration…
      Illustrators may be challenged to create original, time honoured works in an era where everything is tweaked, squeaked and ‘clicked’ to oblivion.
      There are diverse variations in the overall presentation of digital images, which vary greatly according to the quality of equipment through which they are viewed.
      Where do illustrators sit in the rapidly changing world of self publishing?
      Many illustrated works rely on physical matter to convey their message altruistically…
      It is my view that some equipment cannot capture that vitality on screen as well as a ‘quality controlled printer’ could, on recycled paper, with texture and gilded edges…
      Or not.
      My personal perspective is that a book is a sensual experience.
      It is a treasure that goes beyond the words enscribed within.
      It is a combination of textures, olfactory senses and visual splendor, bound lovingly in a hard (or soft) cover…
      Some are ragged edged, some are guilded, some are stored on a shelf or coffee table, some are aired and shared…
      But all physical books offer an entire, enticing package of pleasure that can be taken to bed, on the train, on the beach…
      I feel that the ‘ebook’ experience lacks that general ‘substance’.
      It can also lead students and readers along a cyber path of distraction simply because the reader is forced to use technology in order to access the book!
      Call me old fashioned, but I prefer a library filled with musty, leather bound books to a filing system filled with electronic tablets covered with sticky fingerprints…

    • Tharaha Richards says:

      I do know that in the US at Barnes & Noble you can buy tablet readers instore, register for a B&N account and access the store’s wifi free to download any books you purchase. It seems to be an effective way for a bookseller to encourage the buyer to purchase ebooks through the Bookshops online site.

      It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for Australian book shops.

  2. Emily Craven says:

    ” I think the self-publisher has replaced the agent for assessing the slush pile for major publishers.”

    I found the above comment quite interesting, because I would have said that it is the readers that have replaced the agent for assessing the slush pile. I’m still uncertain whether or not it’s a good thing. Would readers get tired of wading through the slush and just give up? My gut says no, but I know my own impatience couldn’t stand it long. Thinking back recently to how I have ‘discovered’ new authors I find that it is due to their interaction with my favourites authors, or my favourite authors pointing to a blog or article by them which then leads me to the new author’s book.

    This then brings up the question, do authors have a responsibility not only to promote their own work, but to promote the work of the books that they have discovered and loved. I feel the world would be a more kind and generous place if they did. I think creating a vibrant community of mutual recommendation is what is needed as digital gains popularity.

    • Emily, have you heard of US author Paul Griffin? I had the pleasure to hear a reading from his book Stay With Me. I hate readings, to be frank, but this one hooked me. If you like gritty realism (I know you prefer fantasy/SF lol) then take a look at this title. There, your words have prompted me to promote another writer 🙂

    • Emily Craven says:

      Oh Paul, how did I know you’d be the first to take it up? 😀 Though I do love fantasy/SF I also know that a good writer reads outside their genre. I shall search it out! In fact, just did and found a beautiful trailer with some wonderful comments beneath (That’s how you know it’s reached people).

      And just for balance I would like to say that Paul also has a brilliant trailer for the second Quentaris series that you all should watch too 🙂

    • Hey Emily, You wanna job in marketing? lol

    • Edwina says:

      Regarding newspapers – There still seems to be a high take-up of free newspapers. MX in Sydney (and also in Melbourne?) still seems very popular. I’d guesstimate 30%+ readership on an average busride home of an evening. About 30% reading old-style books, and the rest either reading their e-books, or more likely using their phones to work/play games/socialise. We’re living in interesting times.,

    • Emily Craven says:

      Sure do, you only have to ask Paul 😉

      Bet you have heaps of fun putting those trailers together!

    • Edwina says:

      In terms of a community that can recommend books – I’ve recently joined “Goodreads” and they seem to be doing just that. They also support authors in various ways.”
      Emily’s comments about authors having to promote themselves ties in with a new word I only came across last week “Authorprenuer” – Good one! But not all authors can/want to get out there and promote themselves.(In fact, writing used to be the hobby/profession of those who *didn’t* want to interact with society – DIY escapism.

    • Hi,

      I know a few people completely addicted to platforms* like Wattpad that allow authors to upload their works for readers to comment on. I don’t imagine I’m the only agent** to keep an eye on the very popular books placed up there to see if there’s a gem.

      Cheers, Alex

      *Read the terms & conditions before submitting your work anywhere. Wattpad is a good one, but there are some platforms that want to take a share of your income if you ever sell your work.

      **Only very new agent.

  3. “Whereas it’s never been easier to get published, conversely it’s never been harder to sell.”

    This is such an important point. It’s the same problem that musicians, software developers and clothing designers also face in an online, worldwide market. It can benefit those who create for a community in the Long Tail and sell to a niche market. But how do you find and connect with that community?

    The question of discoverability is one which app developers are constantly struggling with. There are so many apps, so few spaces available in top ranking charts and everyone is shouting out in social media trying to get potential customers to notice them.

    The idea that Emily refers to of authors promoting the work of other authors that they have discovered is an interesting one. Amongst indie app developer communities I participate in there are often discussions about how we can band together and promote each other’s apps. There are forums where we share information – ‘paying it forward’ – despite being in competition with each other.

    Emily, your comment also reminds me of the concept of the ‘Favor Bank’ in Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Zahir’ where a writer is introduced by another writer, making a deposit into their Favor Bank. These deposits and withdrawals create a net that connects people, expanding influence and awareness but relying upon doing the same for others. It’s an interesting idea.

    I think it’s easy to think of self-publishing as going it alone, but the self-publishers who are successful are the ones that have managed to connect with others.

    • Liam you make me want to look that book up- but the idea of authors recommending books opens the whole time poor problem most authors face. In any one day I have at least ten emails asking me to answer ten questions, and each feels it is a small thing and it is, but that takes hours if I do it seriously, and I do. Then there are other letters asking for pieces of writing or thoughts about this or that project or letters of recommendation and if on top of that, I have then to consciously scope out and recommend other authors, I would never write anything. I agree that the recommendation of an author (and anyone I like and think has good taste and intelligent judgement) counts, but I think, at least for authors, it can’t be required or expected or given more weight that the recommendations of anyone else,

    • Isobelle, that’s a very good point. I think there was an article in today’s Age app (from memory syndicated from OS – sigh) about how many of us struggle to clear our in boxes each day.
      There was a time in my life when I used to get daily requests to go hunting or collect firewood. I couldn’t handle all the requests and it made me quite stressed to the point where I just decided not to do it anymore. But I felt guilty about it. So I solved the problem by setting aside one day a week where if someone asked me for help I’d just go with it. That day turned out to be my favourite day of the week.
      I guess that’s a strange analogy and not very helpful. I still try and reply to all the emails I get, but I don’t receive any where near as many requests for help as you do!

    • Emily Craven says:

      OH but Isobelle you have recommended so many good authors to me even if you do not know it. There are times on facebook when you mention things you are reading, or fellow authors comment on your posts, or you tag them and comment on theirs. That’s how I came to read Michael Pryor’s work. In the same way Tamora Pierce just adds books she likes to a list on her website every six months or so and I’ve found many from that and her facebook posts that note books with great female heroines.

      But really it’s facebook that has brought this to my attention. Because it’s so easy to write the one liner; “just finished reading book xyz by John Doe and it was great.” and people will seek it out if they value your opinion.

      Another way I have bought new authors in recent years is if I find a copy line from one of my favourite authors on the cover. That’s how I found Alison Goodman’s Eon (via a byline from Tamora Pierce) or Frances Hardinge’s Fly by night (A by line from Garth Nix).

    • Emily I think it is great when we learn about writers in this idiosyncratic way, but i meant it would be hard if there was this expectation that writers ought to recommend one another. The fact is that all of those of us who love books rave and recommend the ones we loved and rant about those that disappointed us, in the degree to which we loved or did not love them. Word of mouth is the best advertising for a book and in a way one of the nicest things about social media is that it is an extension of that. In a funny way the Amazon recommendation engine is the same- if enough people buy a book, the engine begins to recommend it to people who have bought similar works.


      Isobelle I agree with you about Amazon recommendations being helpful. As a kindle user I seem to always be in a hurry and and when I want to download a book I just check out what their bestsellers are. I have been disappointed a few times though. I did read the Fifty shades of Grey books and now Amazon recommends soft core romance books to me!! My husband is very amused when he sees the title names….lol. The university library students I work with are more inclined to use an e-book for recreational reading and hard cover books for their prescribed text book reading. There is a place for all kinds publishing. University libraries have to be on the cutting edge of this technology to stay current and viable in the competitive market of tertiary education. I enjoyed Paul Collins view, he is spot on with all of his observations. 20 years ago they said that libraries would die out but we are still going strong!! Viva the printed word!!

    • I know some authors get around this annoying aspect of writing by telling would-be interviewers to get the answers from their FAQ page on their website. It’s perhaps cold and mechanical, but let’s face it, writing is a career. Imagine asking a plumber or a carpenter questions about their trade. Would they respond? I had one fan of The Jelindel Chronicles ask me a stack of questions about the series. She was writing a school project on the books. Had I written back with answers to her questions I’d have simply been writing her essay for her, saving her the days of research that she would otherwise have needed to spend; I’d have spent hours of my own time, too. I helped with what I could in a short space of time, providing a map, covers, etc. Then silence. And this is the other problem. I used to answer questions and spend valuable time — 50% of those seeking help didn’t bother replying. Perhaps it’s a generation thing, but I would always thank someone for helping me.

    • Emily Craven says:

      I hope it isn’t a generational thing… In fact let’s prove it. Thanks so much Paul for your awesome post and detailed comments!

    • Liam, your comment: “The idea that Emily refers to of authors promoting the work of other authors that they have discovered is an interesting one” reminds me of my speakers agency Creative Net. I ask authors who join to publicise Creative Net by posting its website on their site. A few authors have queried this practice. It’s like, “Why should I do this, as interested librarians will go to the agency and perhaps choose someone else?”. My reply is that with over 100 authors and illustrators posting the Creative Net URL, EVERYONE benefits from one another. It’s a community aspect, rather than a one-horse town scenario. Same applies for authors. If everyone helped one another, we share in a wealth that would otherwise be unobtainable.

    • Paul, we have encouraged a similar program in an indie app development collective. To some degree, it is about subscribing to certain principles and a code of ethics. I guess it’s also just branding. But in terms of cross-promoting – especially in the case of inexpensive products like apps or eBooks – I completely agree with you.

    • Emily Craven says:

      And people also don’t realise Paul that the more links to your site there are on the net, the more findable Creative Net is on the search engines, and hopefully, it comes up above all the other speaker agencies. That also increases the chances of your authors being picked.

      But also this ‘in it for myself’ mentality is not needed. There are billions of people in the world and hundreds of festivals and thousands of schools who want talks on a multitude of different topics. There is so much opportunity out there and the more we help others the more we help ourselves. We are all in competition but each of us have something the other doesn’t, our own voice, and a lot of the time, these voices compliment each other. A reader does just not read one author in their life time, they read hundreds of books from so many different authors. It’s within our interests to alert them to similar voices, for we are remembered as the authors who gave them what they wanted and they will come back to us because of that.

    • Paul I always recommend the agency I am working for if i am approached when I am doing something for them, as a point of honour. But also I think your idea of writers promoting an agency that deals well and fairly with them is perfectly sensible. If I can;t do what they want, someone else surely will!

  4. I agree with most of what you [Paul Collins] have written and add the following observations.

    By and large the music industry has covered many of the issues raised in this debate. Bands, write, record, refine/edit, promote, distribute and sell their own CDs and MP3s. The one major difference is that a band promotes itself by playing gigs, which I imagine are more plentiful that book readings.

    Many musicians have tried various promos, such as, buy the album and get a bonus album free. Or the Radiohead experiment where you could download their album legally and pay whatever you thought it was worth. The downside is the illegal downloads of music, currently while it is possible to download a pirate eBook most of the pirate ePUBS seem to be magazines and reference books.

    The music industry has always segmented itself into genres and to some extent so do books. But the music business has taken the segmentation to the maximum as a way of making themselves and their music easier to find. This no doubt helps the buyer quickly sort through a preview listening list and thus turn their wine bottle floating on the ocean into a raft of corks all about the reincarnation of the vampire priestess at the end of the 100 years’ war who has sustained herself in a self-imposed higher state of mind and a drip feed of blood and morphine.

    • Peter, You’d perhaps be surprised that there are more opportunities for writers than there are for musicians — I’m referring to Australia, here. Writers hold launches, signings in bookshops, give talks and workshops in municipal libraries and schools. Most of us earn more from these venues than we do from writing or illustrating books. Musicians have APRA (Australian Performing Rights Association for the uninitiated), book creators have both PLR (Public Lending Right) and ELR (Educational Lending Right). Of course, where all this is heading with the e-book revolution is anyone’s guess. I’d say, and I hate to be pessimistic, downhill. The idea of giving away something for free, is an interesting promotional exercise. It’s obviously worked for some. But there are always superlatives. Then again, I’d rather be the nice guy and give it away, rather than be the victim of a piracy racket. These guys should really get a job.

    • Paul, re: “free” that you refer to above.
      I think that’s such an interesting topic. Would love someone to post an entire article on it to encourage debate.
      I’m very interested in whether it can work for lesser known authors – I think it’s obvious that some well authors like Cory Doctorow and Seth Godin have made it work. But they have large Internet followings. They’re also in the US. I’m not sure that the model works so well in a smaller market like Australia either.
      I do think that “free” is a great strategy for established authors with a back catalogue. Especially if the free title is the first book in a series.

    • Emily Craven says:

      Your welcome to check these two articles out on my e-book blog in regards to the work ‘free’ and your work. Let the debate begin!

      My favourite though is

    • Free • Discounted • Exclusive

      Which path to take?

      Form my experience in theatre, music and art giving away something for free doesn’t work en masse. If it is free but there is a limited number, like tickets to an event then there seems to be more of a feeling of exclusivity.

      Similarly loss leaders are a great way to get people to your site WHERE the normal retail price is widely known.

      But by far the best and also the most expensive is marketing. Take Chanel No. 5 as a marketing example.

      Chanel No. 5 perfume has a cost breakdown of 1% ingredients, 3-5% packaging, 30% running costs and around 60% marketing.

    • Good analogy, Peter. It’s the recipe chain stores use to sell books. They’re not making much money, it’s more to draw people into the stores to buy other things. Much like pubs with counter meals. Even at cost, they can almost guarantee diners will purchase a bottle of wine or other drinks at hugely inflated prices. But in the book trade this has back-fired on publishers. Sure, they’re making money by selling truckloads of books on firm sale at 70% discount, but at great cost to the independent booksellers who can’t even buy the books from the publishers at the price the chain stores are selling them at. This is simply unsustainable. Once the booksellers disappear (rents are sky-rocketing as well!) we’ll be stuck with chain stores selling books and they don’t really know the first thing about them. We’re also being flooded with imported books that countries like the US are dumping on us as surplus books. So again, they’re dirt cheap. Most people buying books for their kids at Xmas don’t give two hoots whether the books are imported or are local. All they know is that one book is realistically priced at $26.95 and the other (imported) book is $6. Both look the same, but often the quality is markedly different. Again, the major publishers are at fault here because they’re the ones often importing these cheap books by the pallet load. I’d mention names, but I think we all know who they are. They’re ruining the Australian book industry block by block. The old style publishers and editors would never have countenanced these methods, but sadly it’s the marketing teams and bean counters in charge now. And it does backfire on them. One only has to look at Angus & Robertson to reflect on poor business ethics (they were notorious for charging over the RRP on books — the unsuspecting public was mostly unaware of this practice.

    • Liam contact Bill King – he has some very interesting things to say about the validity of free as a marketing device. Apparently it worked brilliantly as a way of kicking yourself into the recommendation engine on Amazon originally, but then things changed and it is working less well now… I think he will address that in his year in blog, when it goes up. But in any case he is very savvy about this.

    • Thanks Isobelle and Emily, I will follow up on those links.
      I do think that it is getting harder to use free as a successful strategy to convert to paid sales. There is also a strong case that so many authors and app developers making their products free undermines the paid market. That might be the case, but there isn’t much anyone can do about that.
      I think for smaller authors/developers it might depend on how important it is to get your products out to more readers/users vs. making actual sales. I’ve corresponded with a number of app developers who have had varying degrees of success with ‘free’ periods or ‘loss leaders’. Opinion seems to be leaning towards only using ‘free’ for short periods of time in conjunction with bigger online promotions.

    • Liam, I think the whole marketing game is very hit-and-miss. There will always be superlatives, people who stuff away for free and it makes them a stack in a round-about way. This works too for self-published authors. The superlatives sell a squillion and we remember those feel-good stories, but not so the many who simply wound up with a stack of books in their garage.

  5. Yes Paul I am a publisher member with CAL, APRA & AMCOS [collects public performance fees based on sampling, so theoretically we get part of the annual fee paid by shops, book trailers sites and we don’t need to do a public reading etc] AMCOS also represents me here and with overseas recipricol bodies. I sell mainly into the education market. In a boring moment in the early 2000s we figured that 2 to 5 million people have heard my work. I am not into personal appearances and prefer the work to sell itself.
    Of course it still leaves an odd taste in your mouth when someone comes up to you and says “I loved your music that was in the new dance work at Melb Uni”. My Work? Yeah there was a full credit in the program.

  6. Great post Paul.

    I think this is the best one yet! I love the opening, “Whereas it’s never been easier to get published, conversely it’s never been harder to sell.”

    Not sure I agree with bookshop avatars (Second Life is a bit of a wasteland after all) but I do think specialist selling with grow in importance.

    Meanwhile, have you seen this great idea from Angry Robot? Free ebook with every print book you purchase

    x Alex

    • Alex, Some years back Jack Dann invited me to write a story for Dreaming Again. If you have it in the shop take a look on my avatar slant in “Lure” :-). People become so attached to their second lives as avatars that some hacker decides to start killing them off, deconstructing them block by digital block — the avatars that is. People become so distraught they start committing suicide in droves. Hmm … that should be teaser enough lol.

  7. Meredith says:

    It’s really interesting to watch how quickly even very young children embrace new technology. At only 18 months, my great-nephew swiped and tapped away at the screen of an iPad, completely absorbed. But then he pushed it away and picked up a picture book from the table, inviting me to read it to him. What I learnt from this is that stories will endure, no matter how they are accessed.

    • Dee White says:

      Thanks for a very thought provoking piece, Paul.

      Meredith, I have to say I agree with you about stories enduring…and I think it’s interesting to note that teens don’t seem to be embracing the e-technology as much as I expected. I live in a house with two teen boys who are both very computer savvy and yet they prefer to read a ‘real’ book than an e-book. It’s as if they have compartmentalised that computers are for playing games on and not for reading.

      I know they’re not the only teens who respond this way to e-books. In my circle of contacts, I know more adults who read e-books than teens. Many of the adults seem to like e-books because they say they can make the text bigger – but teens don’t have these eyesight issues.

    • Tharaha Richards says:

      I agree with Dee. I do not know many teens who are choosing to use e-readers over hard-copy books. Even the adults who have converted to digital books, have done so for the convenience of having a slim device with multiple titles in their bag at all times. Most people I have spoken still prefer the physicality of holding a solid book, and turning the pages.

      It seems to me, that the additional digital lean-in material provided in the ipad story books, would distract the imagination from the world it is trying to build. I would definitely find that distracting.

  8. Michael Collins says:

    Very interesting reading, having been a printer for 45 years i have seen many changes in the industry, going mainly from Letterpress printing followed by Offset pinting being the norm and now the Digital age. I can say with fair authority that the printed sheet is fast becomimg a thing for historians, Newspapers and Magazine publishers are closing the world over as are Newsagencies, two closed locally in the last couple of months, thousands of printers have lost their jobs and many more to follow. Print is finished, E-Books, I Pads etc etc will be the only way to read in the future, Many years ago getting a Trade as a printer was almost a dream and only those with contacts could “get in”, now you would be the lowest of the lowest regarding pay rates and you still cannot “get in” because there are no jobs for them. I can see that in 100 years from now a likely headline on an E-News broadcast “Today a child found a BOOK in an attic…………expected to attain $1,000,000 at auction”, may be a bit far fetched, but………!

  9. Paul says:

    There’s a trailer on the Net where a kid is trying to activate the app in a print magazine lol. Kind of reminds me of the most excellent trailer It’s A Book! Check it out at:

  10. Rose Solomon says:

    They will not break the paper book! It seems they now admit this and most folk I have spoken to are glad. Nothing beats carrying a good book !

  11. I hope you’re right, Rose. I can honestly say as both a writer and a publisher that I hope I see my days out in a world of print books. E-books seem so impersonal. I’d not wager on your prediction, though lol.

  12. Robin Clark says:

    I thought it an article worth pondering on. As made public Macmillan set up a digital arm called momentum. However I still see a need for the bricks and mortar stores, I feel it will be another generation before your predictions come home to roost. There is still at the moment a need for bricks and mortar they are in some cases the cornerstone of a community. While on line selling is on the rise they don’t seem to be able to come close to the physical bookstore. Yes publishers are changing their lists and the structure of their lists in some cases this is not a bad thing. I can see your point about new authors but it has always been difficult to get an unknown author established sometimes it can take years to achieve. The short answer is that I see at this moment a place for both the digital and the physical copy of a book.

    • Robin, I see too that there will be a proliferation of books with the availability of, Lightning Source, etc. Even Dymocks has a platform for vanity press at And what better publisher than a bookseller chain? lol But I still think distribution is the killer. Sure, digital makes everything global, but with so much drek Out There who is ever going to find something that they really want? I think Australians are lagging way behind say the US for e-books, but we seem to be catching up exponentially.

  13. Sherree says:

    Hello everyone.

    Great topic and comments. I have to agree that it is difficult to break through the noise, but that’s life. Publishing has always been tough, writers have always had to work hard to get a name for themselves and establish a brand. Technology has forced change, most people don’t embrace change well, but it enables opportunities and creates innovation, evidenced by some of the comments posted. Authors, artists, programmers can develop so many things through technology to enhance books, 3D book covers, interactive bookmarks, and a whole host of things that make the reading experience more intense/enjoyable. Imagine having all your readers pronouncing your character’s name right the first time, building on the visual pictures your create with words with a sound. The possibilities are as big as your imagination. A publishing house can build a competitive edge on many fronts.

    To comment on the ‘free’ posts, like in business if something is for free, or cheaper than expectation, it holds no long term value. I personally think books need to be priced to meet consumer expectations, people are always prepared to pay for something good. All books should be in both formats, perhaps paper books can come with something that is not available in ebook, that consumers of that particular genre value… It would be interesting to see what readers do value in a survey.

  14. Great article Paul. I am with you on the app. The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore is similar. It’s amazing, and brilliant (yep, at the same time!). However, when shown to young kids, the story seems to come second to the interactivity. I think there has to somehow be a balance, where the reader becomes part of the story rather than just enjoying the extras.
    It is also so exciting to see kids excited about getting a book signed. I really hope that a digital book can never be signed, so that there is another reason for print books to exist.
    On the publicity side of things, I totally agree with you there too (great minds, right?). Authors need to get themselves and their books out there and in front of people, whether that be in person, via social media, videos, whatever. You have to stand out to be noticed in a world where anyone and everyone can publish a book. Then, once people notice you, your book has to be awesome enough for them to want more!!!

    • Adam, I hadn’t even thought about the signing aspect. Great point! Without mentioning names, some authors would have real time on their hands if they didn’t have to get writer’s cramp signing books for hours. One particular author could even throw away his rubber stamp. This opens up a whole new aspect of the e-book debate. Mind you, I’ve never had a queue of fans wanting my autograph anyway. But now you’ve mentioned the spectre of digitally signing e-books, someone, somewhere, will discover a way to do it!!!!!

  15. Michael Collins says:

    Yes Rose and Robin, i do see your point, but it is from an older generations point of view, i have 3 Daughters [and a wife] who only read books through Kindles, Wife for instance bought and read a large book every week, she now reads 2/3 on Kindle for half the price and has them in a neat bundle to re-read anytime in the future, i on the other hand have a Library stand which cost me 4 grand to build and holds 700 books, her hand held Kindle can hold more and cost peanuts, i tried on several occassions to sell some at 50c – $1 each and could not get a sniiff, and they are in perfect condition. But aside from the issue of the printed book, ALL print is headed the way of the Dinosaurs, apart from the odd digital business card etc, letterbox drops in the future will not exist either.

  16. Lauren Dianne says:

    As a young student studying communication and publishing, we are often submitted to the doomsday speeches about the death of print media. It is heartbreaking for some who, like me, grew up with a wealth of material to pursue, spending hours searching through books stores for the perfect book, whittling away days in bed with dusty, well loved books. While the eBook phenomenon has admittedly given both publishers and writers alike better opportunity, distribution etc, I cannot fathom where the appeal is in reading from a hard, cold screen.

    Additionally, I lament the loss of many great authors whose work will be overlooked as they are not well established or well known. After all, the great authors we all know and love had to start somewhere. I’m filled with the abject horror unique to avid bookworms that wonderful books will go unread, unseen, unknown due to the current fall in readership and sales. I find it incredibly aggravating to watch society become increasingly demanding, yet unwilling to pay for decent entertainment. When everything is free and instant, many are no longer drawn to bookstores when they know they can download it for free. And the books that do sell well are poorly written abominations thinly veiled as literature when they are, in fact, porn. I heard recently that 50 Shades of Grey has eclipsed the Harry Potter series as the fastest selling paper back in history. What a sad day for publishing indeed.

  17. Sue Bursztynski says:

    Self-published writers have the option of giving away their books for free, and do. Just check out Twitter some time, with some tweeter saying, “my ebook FREE on Amazon today only!” (and the rest of the time 99c). The best the rest of us can do is ask permission to put up a sample chapter on our web sites.

    Piracy is a serious problem. I have seen free downloads of at least a couple of my books offered and reported it to my publishers, but what can you do when it’s all online and the pirates are living elsewhere?

    I do agree that it’s the reader who becomes the slusher in a world where anyone can publish. Which is why I just don’t bother reading self-published work unless I know the author personally and they have proved themselves before (because friends tend to sulk if you hate their magnum opus). I get enough slush to read for Andromeda Spaceways. 😉
    I love my ebook app, iBooks. It means I can carry huge numbers of books with me on my way to and from work and it means that when I have heard about a great book I can just wander into the iBook store and download it. It’s also a way of keeping otherwise-out-of-print books available.

    But there’s nothing quite like browsing in a book store or a new parcel arriving by snail mail and I just wish you all could have seen my book clubbers diving into a book display with cries of delight, not to mention wandering around the library of the school we were visiting the other day, grabbing books off the shelves to drool over.

    I wouldn’t dream of going into a bookshop to browse and then going home and buying the book online. That, IMO, is unfair. If I find a book I want and have the money I buy it there and then. Enough people doing this and the brick bookshops will close down and you will have to buy it all on the likes of Amazon without browsing.

    ebooks are playing more of a role in schools now; my school has distributed iPads to Year 7, and there is talk that at some stage their textbooks will be bought for the iPad instead of in hard copy. The implications for ELR should be interesting.

  18. Creative Risk-Taking:

    This e-debate has been immensely useful because of the range of views and advice from practitioners in diverse fields. A brilliant concept by Isobelle to draw attention to the e-book issues via the content and method. The calibre of contributions and comments has been impressive.

    I thought Paul Collins’s dual perspective as speculative fiction writer and as innovative publisher was most helpful.
    Ironically these fields are drawing closer.

    New technology is about the ‘means’ by which stories and information are shared. But the quality of those ideas also matters.

    It’s also about being willing to innovate and risk that you might occasionally fail. Or invest too much time and money.

    No longer can creators work in isolation, they need to collaborate, but also to be authorpreneurs, and aware of the business implications of how their ideas are used. So digital rights matter.

    With our ‘f2m: the boy within’ YA novel which was co-written across Skype, e-mail and web chats between co-authors in different time zones and countries, the e-version was especially important fro international readers to access quickly. Our controversial subject of transitioning gender meant an easily accessible e-book was vital, internationally to reach mainstream and gender reviewers.

    Glad that this segment will be archived after self-destruction day.

    • Tharaha Richards says:

      I think Hazel makes a good point about e-books making controversial topics more accessible. Without an e-book to download surreptitiously in their own home, would 50 Shades of Grey have become such a bestseller?

      I think that giving people a way of accessing material without censor is a definite positive on the side of e-books.

  19. Thought provoking and topical post indeed Paul. I am torn; a forward thinking luddite as it were who’s not yet fully qualified to make the flight into the next galaxy but is mighty intrigued by it. I believe that within the next couple of years or less, the distribution and recognition problems you touched on will have reached critical mass. When this happens, those of us, all of us, who have not already adapted to life in E-book out of space or at least begun to, will be rocket blasted to realms unknown with possibly irrversible effects and no opportunity to return. In short; life is about evolution; the evolution of communication and story telling is a foregone eventuallity. Regarding how we do this, and when exactly a book ceases being a book and becomes a game are the bits currently still under metamorphosis. I don’t think printed pages, bound together, protected by covers could ever be mistaken for a game. However it’s interesting to note that ‘a game’ is defined as an amusement for children (one of many). What is a great children’s book if not an amusement for them? Does this then qualify the Book App as a book? Quite possibly. All I know is that I am not quite ready for bookless library myself…yet.

  20. PS. The devices under development sound impressive and sure to make positive impacts on the reading population. I do, however, wonder how visiting authors will be able to personally sign and seal with a kiss (just saying) a fold up holographic screen – with a holographic sharpie no doubt…

  21. LynC says:

    I have two Teenage Children. They both tell me they do not read. Yet, mention any period of history to my eldest son and he can talk knowledgeably and articulately about any aspect of that period you care to name. My second son recently had to read ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ (Harper Lee). Very hard going for modern youth who cannot connect to the sort of prejudicial thinking of the day – but he persevered and now considers the lawyer father to be as big a hero as his own father (who died 3.5 years ago). To understand it though, he researched.
    Yes – neither of them read. They do not consider that the hours they spend in front of a computer screen, researching and looking facts up in order to understand a novel or a period of history, ‘reading’.
    Someone somewhere along the line has imprinted on them that reading means having a physical book/magazine in front of them.
    I have a library of 7000 books, they have a PC, and my youngest wants a kindle. Does it really matter which format the reading is done in?
    I love book shops, but for years I have done most of my book buying via catalogue (SlowGlass Books if anyone is interested), because I do not have the leisure to browse when shops are open. I have first edition signed copies of many many books because that is what I love. Once they would have been worth a small fortune, now they are commercially worthless, but I love them anyway.
    Today’s generations are learning to love reading via downloads, and e-books, and they are deriving as much pleasure from those formats as I derive from the smells, feel, and look of real books. I wander my library looking at all my friends up on the shelves. They skim through on-line catalogues or lists of downloads getting exactly the same thrill.
    Does it really matter what the format, as long as they still read, and we authors can still find an audience amongst them?

  22. Cemil Bilici says:

    This is a scary time for Publishers. This is a scarier time for people who desperately want to get into Publishing. For someone who has studied Professional Writing and Editing hoping to learn the craft of writing, and how to be an editor, and be edited? The industry is secretive, the people who people it elusive, until you get your big break and get that increasingly difficult IN into the industry.

    And then the industry opens up to you! In the recent years that I’ve been involved within the industry, it has been as both intern and volunteer. That very first internship that I secured was a massive chance for me, an opportunity that I thought would vault me into the industry as somebody wanting to get ahead, apply myself and prove that I want to be in. The ultimate result of my efforts have led me into various jobs to pay the bills that are about as far from Publishing as can be.

    There’s an ancient Chinese saying that states “As above, so below.” This refers to the idea that if the Empire is healthy at the top, its going to be healthy at the bottom too. Publishing is as equally frightening to the people running the show as it is to the aspiring publishing professional. Jobs are rare, and increasingly difficult to get. As the profit margin shrinks, the idea that professional publishing people will be there to carry the torch in the next generation becomes increasingly bleak.

    Still, I remain hopeful that somehow, someday the industry will have room for me somewhere that I can ply the trade I’m so desperate to be a part of. The love of books and the written word continues to motivate me. The knowledge that eBooks are slowly transforming the industry lends hope to me personally. As my generation rise to the fore, I foresee an industry peopled those who’ve grown up with technology, and can speak Internet, who love the book and the ebook.

    I’m not sure what the future of this industry will hold, in a way, people like Paul get to decide that for me. The one thing I can tell you though, is that if you’re after my resume, let Paul Collins know and he can tell you how to get in touch with me.

  23. Being a new young Australian author with one novel published (by a small publisher) and working on a second novel to be published as an ebook and a picture book in the making, I find this an interesting article on future trends.
    As a new author it has been very difficult to get any publicity so I have found it has been paramount to connect with social media in promoting myself and my book Behind the Mask. I am on facebook with over 1,700 friends and on goodreads with over 1,600 friends and also on twitter. I think if readers do not know about you as an author how are they going to read your book.
    I also have a website where people can check my news, purchase my book, find libraries the book is available in or bookstores that stock it.
    In regard to ebook, like anything there are advantages and disadvantages. Some people like to buy books this way as it can be cheaper and a lot of the upcoming generation like to use technology and have ipads. Saying this, being in my early 30s I have friends that say they still like the traditional book format. Personally I think having two forms of print media available is the best option because it is left to the individual to decide their preference.
    In regard to my book, my publisher has now also made it available on amazon as an ebook to reach a wider audience. Since this has happened, amazon requested my book to be made available to everyone in traditional book format as well as ebook. This may demonstrate that there is still a market for traditional book format.
    Also coming from a teaching background I think the traditional book format is important to teach young children to read. They need to physically hold a book and turn the pages.
    When assessing Prep students in regard to reading, the students need to be able to tell the teacher which way a book is held and follow the direction of the print with their fingers on the page of the book. There will always be a place for books in teaching reading and learning.
    Finally in regard to 50 Shades of Grey. I am currently reading this book only because of all the hype that surrounds it. I have read one chapter already and it does not appeal to me. I have made this comment to fellow readers on goodreads and I have found similar discussion. This may prove that it is all about the marketing!

    • You’re quite right, Juliet. Marketing is the key to success in the publishing world. Now this brings up an interest aspect I hadn’t thought of. How, apart from social media, will authors/illustrators promote their books? The print book enjoys bricks and mortar shops; creators can have signings, readings (reading an e-book and asking everyone in the audience to download it just doesn’t seem to carry weight), launches (Hey everyone! Come over to my laptop and download the book NOW! doesn’t work for me, either). I advise my authors to carry their books wherever they go. George Ivanoff for one will vouch for selling extra copies. Again, I don’t see this selling method being applicable to e-books. Interesting!

    • Emily Craven says:

      HI Paul. There are so many ways that ebook authors can connect that’s not just social media. Are we not on an ebook launch site now? :-p but also there are such mediums as webinars where an author can log on to the system from their computer and do a Q&A session, a reading, or even give writing lessons to people from different countries simultaneously. The readers ( who are in their respective homes listening) can ask questions by typing them in and they can both hear and see the authors screen or powerpoint etc. And at the end you can sell your ebook by giving people a link to paypal and then sending them an email with their copy. The readers are already on the computer and can buy the book instantly.

      And ebook author can also take their book everywhere they go by keeping it on a USB stick. Or, with the sophistication of smart phones these days you could carry a copy of your book on your smart phone and when people buy it off you, bluetooth it to their smart phone/tablet/laptop. Tada! Considering that USB’s only cost about $4 these days, you could even carry around ten USB’s and when you sell your book just hand it over as a USB. There are plenty of work arounds if you are creative enough!

      Heck I don’t know why authors don’t carry around the print books AND a USB with the ebook format and tell the people purchasing it, that for the price of a USB they can not only get the print book but the ebook version too on the USB! Ah, I should have done marketing at uni I tell you…

  24. Stephanie says:

    While I’m of the generation (Y) that is supposed to be dedicated to technology and therefore advocating ebooks, I just don’t feel that they’re equivalent. As Paul says, ebooks are impersonal and I think the focus is different (action vs writing). The Alice app, while I don’t think it is a game, is not a book either, not even an interactive ebook. The text is tertiary, superseded by the illustrations and, crucially, the animation. Perhaps it cannot be classified, beyond being an app, using our current terminology. If it sells books, that’s fantastic news for the publishers (heaven knows they need it) but at the same time they’re shooting themselves in the foot because it perpetuates the notion that paper books should be something more and that the words/language are not enough. The more of these apps and interactive ebooks we develop, the more people expect them and the more we diminish the market for paper books. The question here is: is this a problem? Perhaps publishing does need to move on – we have in the past, many a time; this is perhaps simply the next step. (Personally, I find a world with no paper books unimaginable.) Part of the problem is the limitless choices on offer – the ‘noise’ that makes it hard to find what you want. There’s no truth in advertising – everything’s the next big thing – or, if there is, it’s drowned out by the myriad of other books falsely making the same claims. How do you choose? In terms of paper books, this is a problem because you’ve spent $30 on junk and you’re disappointed. With ebooks, you download it for free or for up to $5 and, if it’s junk, you don’t feel, to the same extent, that you’ve wasted your cash. There’s also a subconscious idea that quality is compromised already. You expect a $30 piece of clothing to be exponentially better than a $5 piece – so it is with books. Another issue with giving things away for free is that we’re so used to an environment of getting something for nothing – most content on the internet – that there’s no sense of obligation to buy anything after the freebie. You may be intrigued and want to buy more but more often than not we take what we can get and then seek out more.

  25. I shosuebursztynski there are some things you can do on ebook you can’t on a print copy. Like my enhanced Hobbit. Among other things there’s the fact that youcancick on one of the sings and Tolkien sings it for you! Not a game at all! 🙂

  26. Ouch! Prediction! What I said before iPad played with it is that on my copy of The Hobbit, they have added recordings of Tolkien reading bits of songs and such. He sings the Dwarves’ songs in Chapter 1. Can’t do that in din’t, can you?

  27. Print! I said print, not din’t!

  28. Grant Gittus says:

    Strangely enough for somebody heavily engaged with technology (at last count my family had 19 devices capable of surfing the net…), my crystal ball has always been cloudy. The first time I saw Post-it notes, T told the sales rep that they were cute, but why would you want them in an art studio? Having established my lack of credentials, I’ll now make some comments.

    eBooks WILL kill printed textbooks. This is already well underway. Any parent who has had to pay $100 for a maths text only to have its resale value disappear as it is revised annually will cheer at the prospect of entire schools buying a license. The economic realities are too great for this to go any other way.

    eBooks WILL kill printed newspapers and magazines. The environmental cost of producing ephemeral material out of dead trees is too high. This should be a good thing for the various publications once they get their act together, as they could change a fraction of the existing cover price and still make more money as there is no distribution chain or printing costs. Future generations will have to earn their pocket money by something other than delivering papers, however.

    I’m less convinced that eBooks will ever kill printed ones. DVDs were going to spell the end of cinemas too, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Many people will love being able to have more books on their ipad than they have friends on Facebook, but others will want to hold a real book. One reason is that books are future-proof. I already have files that can’t be read with current applications, let alone trying to access them with obsolete operating systems or unsupported media. (Still got anything on a floppy? Hope it’s not important.)

    As a designer, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It may be that as eBooks become more prevalent, I don’t get as much work doing covers. I suspect that the reverse will be the case – as the number of eBooks increases, it will be even more important to differentiate your product from the others. Perhaps animated title pages will become the equivalent of today’s fat fantasy foil-stamping and embossing?

    At the risk of going off at a tangent, the ePublishing issue is not dissimilar from many other fields that have moved to the net. Yes, you can now get abundant free photographs, movies, music, medical advice, business cards, logo design and pornography online. And most of it is worth exactly what you paid for it. Only time will tell whether people prefer to pay nothing for rubbish or something for quality. God I miss Playboy… at least the photos were in focus.

    • Great post, Grant, and one from the graphics/illustrator’s perspective. I think the die-hards will hang on to print books, but our generation will pass through in around twenty years. I don’t see kids wanting print books in they’re in their 20s, 30s and beyond. Some will linger under the influence of their parents, of course. But my main worry as I’ve posted elsewhere is the actual distribution of books — that is, the dissemination of the printed book. Companies such as Lightning Source will always be around to produce POD books, but that is so limited in as much no one knows exactly what they’re looking for. Those who can market themselves will do well, but that doesn’t equate to great literature. I’ve not read 50 Shades of Grey, but I’m told it’s not great reading. Yet I’d love to be the author of such an outstanding seller lol. Someone’s posted that it’s outselling Harry Potter. Hmm … maybe I should start writing mummy porn!

  29. Sherree says:

    Everyone is time poor these days, I am glad that we have new devices such as the Kindle and ipad, that provide an additional medium with which children can read. I have noticed that less and less children choose to read over playing x-box and the like, tv and other choices, in their busy lives. I am continuously encouraging young people to pick up a book and use their imagination. Book stores and Publishers are not just coping with ebooks, but the other choices people make in the time they have available for relaxation and entertainment. Give me a good book any day! Less and less people know how to dream.

  30. Leanda-Michelle says:

    As an emerging writer I’m not sure that I believe “these are scary times”. Certainly they are times of change and if anything I feel slightly relieved that the option for self-publishing is so widely available and accepted today. However, in saying this I also feel the weight of parting with a credible manuscript – one that I thoroughly believe in, and have taken such measures to make sure it is the absolute best it can be, before it reaches the reader. This is where networking is an absolute must, not only with the editing, but in getting the product noticed by a large audience. What is required is collaboration by all in the industry. I have written several articles for free to get my name out there. And like anyone wanting to perfect their craft I see this as a humble beginning upon the artist’s path.

    When you write, ‘whereas it’s never been easier to get published, conversely it’s never been harder to sell’ – I am fortunate that I love writing, love marketing and love networking. I guess if I didn’t love one of those things then I would need to employ some help.

    In answer to the question at the end of the article, the “book” ceases to be a book and becomes a game as soon as the reader has the ability to interact with objects on the screen, which are manipulated to gain an end result. Working with information on the screen stimulates the reader’s imagination and I agree, if books become too lean-back, they could simply be viewed as a movie – and where’s the creative imagination in that?

    However a story is accessed, the fact still remains; there will always be those who prefer to hold a book, and those who favour technology. As an artist, it is in my best interest to be aware of future trends so I don’t miss out on potential opportunities. We live in an exciting world.

  31. Gemma says:

    As a student studying creative writing and just starting to work in editing and publishing, I’m actually excited about how ebooks will get children reading. I don’t mind that they’re a bit interactive for this reason. Nor do I think we are going to lose the world of actual books ―I really hope not, there’s only so much space on the internet! And what happens if it crashes one day?
    I think, if anything, the whole book-buying experience has been enriched by providing more ways of telling stories, and that’s a good thing. With any luck there will be whole generations of children that grow up enjoying these new methods. The fact that ebooks are so interactive only means that we become more involved and engaged in the world around us. Certainly if it attracts more attention than the television, I’m all for it!
    Stories, by any means, please!

  32. HI Paul,
    Thanks for the pointer to this, and yes, I can add some info to your comments about the difficulty of cutting through the noise in terms of self-publishing — or even being published by someone else.
    With the shrinking of newspaper mastheads, there are less avenues for mainstream reviews, which can be influential. The reduction of regional newspapers means even more difficulty for the local title — a history or biography, say, or a local poet (poor poets have, I suspect, the worst time trying to receive coverage) — to get coverage where it counts.
    And the other thing that’s happening is the nationalisation of those mastheads that remain: Fairfax, News Ltd and APN (in Australia) all have policies of centralising their news dissemination to reduce what they see as double handling but what we see as local coverage. So not only is the number of mastheads carrying reviews reduced, but the number of reviews is also reduced.
    Where do you go online to read reviews? Some newspapers, such as the Guardian in the UK, do cater handsomely to literature. I suspect the reputation of the writer and/or the publisher is key to getting space in mainstream media, unless the work has a lowest common denominator hook such as sex, timeliness or celebrity cult.
    Blogs? Which ones? Any blogger can, and many do, run reviews of varying professionalism and usefulness. Those who build a reputation tend to be booked out months in advance.
    And yet, perhaps this is all just a larger scale of what went before. Just because your paperback was reviewed in capital city newspapers and was published by a major legacy house didn’t mean it would be a best seller. High-end literary novels are notorious poor sellers without a Booker to push them…
    Still, I’d suggest the self-publisher, without a hook and a great deal of luck, has a harder time of reaching media — the very tag ‘self-published’ still carries the stigma of the unedited and poorly produced hack job — and landing headlines, online or in print, from which to have a shot at making some sales.
    All of which means, regardless of who’s publishing, the writer has to work harder at publicity and promotion when they would probably rather be working on making the next book better than the first.

  33. After viewing this sample app, tell me at which point does the “book” cease to be a book and become a game?

    Personally I love this angle for books, especially picture books. I don’t see that they have disregarded the integrity of this classic, only given it an interactive angle. For me, getting kids to read and become engaged in a story is tricky at times and any avenue of encouraging them to read more is my opinion a good one. More than ever now books are also converted into graphic novel form to capture a different audience, this more than book apps alters the original text and depth of story line. In a time of financial hardship in the publishing and retail world, I understand the need to start looking outside the box and embrace new technology. More than ever the book industry needs to innovating, evolving and embracing. Stories will always be read, we just have so many new ways to do it now.

    • Tharaha Richards says:

      I agree with Ineke, it is a nice way to get children to engage with a book. To me it is the lazy version of a parent reading the child their bed-time story, and adding voices and gestures.

      I have a nephew who wants a pop-up edition of the Noah story read to him each night. He’s just two, and loves pulling the flaps etc. But I know that when he is older, he will look for more sophisticated versions of the story, where he can use his own imagination to make the tale come aloive.

  34. That all sounds as negative as I feel about the industry LOL. But on a more positive note, I feel that by diversifying we can get around certain obstacles. Distribution has always been a problem for me, so I simply did the best I could with distributors, organised book signings for Ford Street’s authors, started a speakers’ agency to highlight the authors and illustrators, became an events manager with literary festivals and running seminars for teacher-librarians. All of these are an integral part of distribution, ie sales. And it works well. It’s all to do with thinking outside the box. Sure, it’s hugely time-consuming, but one does what one must. I’m sure I’m missing a few tricks, too. Give me time. Stay tuned 🙂

    • Deb says:

      After attending the launch of Trust Me Too last week I can honesty say that you do a great job as an event manager Paul. It was amazing to see all the talent there on the night and be able to talk to authors I’ve loved for years.

      I love that Aussie authors are so willing to give up their time to attend signings for their fans. I’m getting quite the collection of signed books now and I still don’t see how I would get an e-book signed.

      Keep up the good work. 🙂

  35. One of my paid jobs is as a reviewer, a poison-tester. I still review largely via paper, with the proviso from my editors that I should only review material available in bookshops…but that is, I suspect, liable to change soon now. I try to be diverse, I try for small presses and interesting material. And I still get mailed b-grade thrillers by the major publishers, unasked.
    My feeling? That the book trade will come to resemble the music industry. That e-books will be for ephemera, disposable reading, and that for what people really want to keep, they will buy paper as collectors buy vinyl.
    But how we all get paid for our work in the process of the digital revolution…that I dunno!

  36. In my mind, any conversation about books and reading are fantastic and the ebook debate is causing a lot of this. In fact, I think that the new technologies are shaking up an industry that had gotten away from the reader and was publishing for a commercial base (as any business will do).

    Because of so much competition that will be caused by an influx of new material that might not otherwise be published thanks to ebooks, it will be harder for authors to get known. I do have an issue with the outdated term ‘vanity publishing’ because there are very good books being made by individuals. And why wouldn’t you self-publish if you can and no publisher will even look at your manuscript? But like any business, it comes down to marketing. Not marketing the book but the author. In this new age of books, an author can no longer sit in his or her little office banging away at the keyboard. The writing business becomes that, a business. This means that authors will have to pound the pavement and get out there into bookshops, libraries and schools and get to know their readers.

    From a library perspective, people are borrowing books more and more each year. Ebooks are also being borrowed but this is being limited because publishers are worried about giving out the permissions. Borrowers are also very interested in coming into the library and meeting authors and talking about their books. Because of this, libraries will very much be a hub for writing, books and ideas in the future.

  37. Having both been part of and watched the publishing world in shakedown, there is no doubt the face of traditional publishing will never be the same again. Having said that, I do believe in the essence of fine writing, and humankind’s inherent desire for brilliant work. It may suffer a financial beating at the hands of horrendous hype writers such as EL James, but – despite feeling somewhat nervous about the future – I can’t shake the deepest belief that flash in the pan writers and their work will be just that.

    Substance and fine writing, whether it be ebook or print, will always prevail, despite the frightening trend in hype, consumerism and schlock. It can’t last forever, though. The classics have prevailed for hundreds of years – for a REASON – and they will continue to do so. Long live quality and writers who are truly dedicated to their craft.

  38. In some ways, the ease of publishing is a detriment to the industry and the authors, as in their impatience to share their writing or just to see it published, they are flooding the market with books that are not ready. What many authors don’t realize is that they will forever be judged on their first book. To compete and make their mark they must ensure that their work is the very best it can be before it reaches their audience.This is making it harder for the dedicated reader who has to sift through the flood of books on the internet to find books that they will enjoy. While as authors we moaned about the ‘gatekeepers’ who sometimes pass up books that should be published, when you sit on the other side of the fence and become a ‘gatekeeper’ you soon realize that not all books submitted are ready for publishing and sometimes you have to pass up ones that are for other reasons – time restraints, similarities to work already on the list etc.
    But as Paul says, it is one thing to publish a book; it is entirely another thing to get that book to the public. I agree that booksellers will only buy books from popular, established authors. As a business person, I understand this. They only have a limited shelf space and usually high overheads, why would they take up this space and invest in new authors who may not sell? It is much the same with publicity and book reviews in major press. Once again, they focus on the most popular authors and a new author rarely gets a mention. So the best small publishers like my firm, Morris Publishing Australia and many more small firms, like Paul’s, can do is keep trying to create awareness, and use a distributor so that anyone who wants to buy our books can at least order them through a bookstore.
    I believe that eBooks will take over the industry in the next ten years and if bookstores don’t diversify they will all close. Many bookstores and chains are already selling books online (both print and eBooks) to try to compete with Amazon, but I agree that to have a place in the local bookstore where, after browsing the shelves, you could go online and buy an eBook from them would be to their advantage. One of the people commenting said he browses the shelves then goes home and buys the book he liked online from someone else. If the bookshops had the eBook available in store, they wouldn’t miss a sale. Even if they don’t stock all the printed books that they have as eBooks, they could just put up a card display with covers, blurbs and the first page of their eBooks. Publishing is now a whole new world and only the people who move with the times will survive. That goes for authors too.
    The new book apps are exciting, but I don’t believe they will reach the adult book market. I think they will confined to books for small children.

  39. Hey Isobelle and Paul

    Waving madly!

    Paul – loved the idea of a virtual book shop where the avatar knows everything, the big shops might be going, but so too is their lack of knowledge of books, and cheap wages to their young staff, who knew nothing! ( Well this was a problem I have experienced anyway…) The smaller independents have always seemed to know their books so much better!

    Your opening sentences: “These are scary times for writers and publishers. Whereas it’s never been easier to get published, conversely it’s never been harder to sell.” Is so true! Only you would find the perfect words for the problem authors are experiencing today.

    Congrats Isobelle on the interesting and diverse nature of your Greylands ebook launch. Looking forward to reading it!


  40. Niki says:

    Great post, Paul! As a children’s book editor for more than 10 years, I have watched the marketplace fill up with alternative products competing for our share of the market. Children’s books have competed with computer games and educational toys for years now, but the arrival of digital book products in the marketplace is definitely the most direct threat to the printed book in a long while.

    Certainly, the knee-jerk response of the industry has been to put their sure-fire winners at the top of their publishing lists, but another trend I have noticed is that further down the publishing lists (with new and emerging authors and illustrators) the digital threat is energising publishers to up the ante on their children’s books. In concept, story, editorial, design and illustrations, the publishers I work with are pushing harder than ever to create the best possible printed children’s books while also seeking to hone their digital strategy.

    At the Tools of Change conference at Bologna Children’s Book Fair this year, there was recognition that there is a huge digital market to be tapped (60% of ipads are owned by households with children) and there was much practical talk about how publishers’ digital product can get noticed in the marketplace. But also there was strong recognition that the quality of these digital products must meet the singular goal of the reading experience for children: comprehension. This goal can only be achieved by the ability of the text and visuals to engage the reader, and how successful a digital product is in achieving this is largely dependent on the investment publishers are able to make. In children’s publishing, it seems to me that in the short term at least, the direction of successful digital publishing and its marketing and distribution will be forged by market leaders, like the Sesame Street Workshop (160+ ebooks and counting), who not only have the sure-fire creative collateral to sell in the digital market but also are able to collaborate with digital partners like Nokia to conduct the R&D necessary to understand how to best engage children through this media.

  41. Ted says:

    Great article, Paul. When does the book cease to be a book and become a video game? It’s a very interesting question. Working in Primary educational publishing, I have seen first hand how difficult it is to strike the perfect balance between giving the the reader what amounts to an exact replica of the printed book on a screen and giving the reader so many animations and other distractions that the point of the book (which, in my line of work, is essentially to teach a young child how to read) is lost entirely.

    Also, I understand that giving ebooks away for free may be working for Cory Doctorow, but I think it’s a dangerous precedent to set. As you know, writing a book is hard work and authors deserve to be renumerated. I’d hate to see people place the same amount of value on an ebook as many now do on an mp3 (ie. not a lot).

  42. Melissa says:

    Hi Paul brilliant article. As a reader i like to own my books
    even better if they come in hardcover . I don`t own an e-reader of any kindat the moment. My childen read on there ipods as well as paper books ,because i cant buy them every book they want to read. I try to purchase books from the independant bookshop where possible .I rely alot on authors blogs and websites for the next book to read in the genre i prefer ! This debate reminds me of a book written by Julian may The Intervention .In this book set in the far future books were all e readers ,and there was a sad lose metioned for paper books !

  43. Hi Paul,

    Great article! Thanks for link, it was well worth a read. There‘s already been some pretty comprehensive responses in the comments, so I don’t have a huge amount to add, just my general reactions to the points you’ve raised

    Ebooks vs Bricks and Mortar

    I don’t really see that ebooks are the biggest threat that bookstores face, the real challenges are the online marketplaces such as Amazon and the Book Depository. For me, at least, the two main attractions of ebooks are ones that a bookstore can’t provide, so they are not losing my dollar to my ereader.

    The first is instant gratification. I am very much a child of my culture in that regard, I love being able to hear about a book and download it to read straight away. It means if I discover a new author I can easily access a number of their books one after the other. The other attraction is convenience. I am quite literally running out of space at home for my books, so buying the e version puts far less strain on my bookshelves. And, with my lifestyle and occupation, being able to carry an effectively unlimited amount of books on a device that fits into my pocket (and able to sync across a number of devices so i can pick up exactly where I left off) means being able to sneak in reading when I am waiting for an appointment or on my lunch break or an array of other times. It’s not always practical to carry a physical book, especially when I usually have 2-3 books on the go at any one time.

    So, what can brick and mortar bookstores do to continue to survive, or even thrive? Well, I think that instead of trying to compete in areas that they are doomed to fail in, they need to focus on their strengths. We’ve seen that simply having a huge range and low prices doesn’t translate to success, online stores can usually beat even the biggest chains. People don’t seem to want a supermarket experience with books (Borders has shown that, perhaps), I think that they want a speciality “small town store” approach. Building a community atmosphere at a book store, where you can speak to knowledgeable and passionate staff, participate in book groups and get to meet authors and have them sign copies of their books – these are things that you can’t get in an online store, or in an electronic download. Well, at least yet – maybe your avatar idea will take off!

    Personally, I think that in the end we will see bookstores that become a social hub, a place where you will go have a coffee, that will probably have a limited range of books, perhaps the Top 100 sellers and limited editions and a machine that you punch a book name and it prints out a paper version of a book.

    It won’t be simply be the content of the book that you are buying, it will be experience of the book. I may buy ebooks for stuff I will read once or twice, but I will always want a version that I can hold in my hand of the books that really matter to me, the limited editions, or the books I want signed. That’s something a bookstore can offer that my ereader can’t.

    New Authors and ebooks

    Ebooks are one of the best things to happen to new authors in a long time. Why? For me, ebooks fill the niche that remaindered book tables use to fill. Because of the low price point, and the fact I can see feedback on a book straight away, I am far more willing to take a chance on a new author than if I were to have to pay $20-30 for a copy off the shelf. And the best thing is that, if I understand how those tables work, the author gets royalties for their e- sale that they wouldn’t for those cut price tables. I would much rather be supporting other writers as best I can so I feel a lot better about buying the ebook.

    Ebooks have meant that I am buying more books (for reasons I have already mentioned like convenience and instant access, as well as price and range), and more books by new authors. I suspect I am not alone in this either.

    However, the other side of the coin is that because it is now so easy to upload an ebook and get it out there, and bypass traditional channels, there is a very high signal to noise ratio. The challenge has been how does a new author make their book stand out in the crowd? Sadly, it seems we are seeing “the rise of spam as a promotional tool” (to quote a recent response to the Aussie Snapshot). I have gotten used to filtering out tweets and posts and emails asking that check out the book of someone that I have no meaningful contact with. Promotion needs to be built on real relationships, and authors interacting with their readers in a genuine way. Social media can allow this to happen – if it is used correctly.

    I know a lot of authors who are far better than me who have gone the self publishing route, and with a great deal of success, so I am not going to write off self publishing as a valid option for others. But, the absence of gatekeepers does mean that there are a lot of books to sort through to find the quality work. So, while I might take a risk at a low price point, unless I have heard lots of good things from people whose opinion I respect or it is an already established author I am unlikely to spend the same as I would on a ebook from a traditional publisher (even then I won’t pay the same price for an ebook as a paper book).

    Call me a traditionalist, but personally, when I get to the point of having a novel manuscript to submit I will be going the traditional route. Despite reading ebooks myself, I still want to see my books on the shelf of brick and mortar store, and I do believe that people still give more credibility to a book that has passed under the gaze of an editor and a publisher who is not just the author.

    Anyway, a very thought provoking post and I could have written a lot more, but I think I have already overstepped the word limits for a comment!


  44. Ben says:

    Wow, this has opened a can of worms. I’ve enjoyed reading the variety of comments and Paul’s prediction of virtual bookstores is still plaguing my mind.

    I’m a high school English teacher and we are currently having a debate over the best way to teach novels. I think the debate we’re having is more about how to teach a single text to a variety of students, and it seems like the days of having 25 kids all reading one book are on their way out.

    That brings up the possibility of e-books, as all our students (apart from Year 8s for some reason!) have their own netbooks. Theoretically if students had access to a variety of books on the netbooks they’d be happy reading, right?

    I don’t know. I have reservations.

    From my experience there’s something impressive in the way a novel is handled in the classroom. Whether it’s reading out loud which almost always catches the whole class’ attention (I think there are a lot of kids who just simply don’t have access to reading, whether reading independently at home or being read to) and the simple act of reading creates this kind of connection with everyone in the room. This year I’ve read The Hunger Games with my Year 12 VCAL class and they’ve all been enthralled, even the kids who swear they’ve never read a book in their lives. These kids, if given access to ebooks on netbooks would last five seconds before they would be distracted and find themselves playing Grand Theft Auto or some other game they’d added to their computer.

    So, I’m rambling.

    There’s something about actually holding the book and reading from it – having a group of people ‘sharing’ the experience, turning the pages together, discussing events and shifts in plot as a group. I don’t think that would be as easy with ebooks.

    The other thing is flexibility. While I admit that reading on an iPad is pretty easy these days, I wouldn’t read a novel on a tablet. Non-fiction, essays, articles and so on work well, but I think fiction requires more of the take it anywhere, lie back and read over your head kind of flexibility that you can’t really do with kindles etc.

    And like I mentioned before about distractions, a book is a book. Kids (and adults) might get engrossed with the cover or the blurb or the author interview in the back, they won’t be distracted by Google or Facebook or any other number of applications attached to an ebook reading device.

    So I’d say my school, at least, will be looking at ways of introducing a variety of texts being studied by the same class, but not in ebook format. Already this term two English classes have split their kids into three groups to read three spearate texts, with the kids given choice. I think this is the way forward, at least until it gets to a point where the kids themselves are turning away from the printed format. At the moment I think they still get a thrill of opening a new book and reading from a printed page.

  45. Gemma DF says:

    I love bookstores, but I mostly buy second-hand or hit the library as I just can’t afford their prices. It’s wonderful to support Australian booksellers, but if a book is half the price at Book Depository than it is at Dymocks, many readers will choose price over loyalty. I don’t think books are on the way out, but there’s a new player in town. ebooks have taken a share of the print market, and I think it’s surprising and disappointing that many publishers and bookstores didn’t pay enough attention and anticipate the future. Now bookstores are closing, with complaints of ebooks and Internet booksellers stealing their sales.
    Catch up, booksellers! Diversify. Isobelle’s idea of adapting the Prague video store’s computer banks for bookstores is fantastic. Are the book chains brainstorming ideas to ensure their future viability? It doesn’t seem like it.

  46. Been really enjoying reading the comments on this post!

    It occurred to me that a more appropriate term for successful self-publishers might be self-marketers.

    I work with a successful self-publisher. It’s not their books that blow me away, but their ability to successfully connect with people and this connection informs their next book, and their audience promote and recommend it to their friends and family.

    I think individuals and small publishers have an advantage over traditional publishers in connecting with readers in a more personal way that encourages readers to go into bat for them. Just look at the way successful independent authors engage on social media compared to the way the unknown social media employee of the traditional publishing house does.

    • You’re totally correct, Liam. Authors truly are compelled now to self-market more than ever before. Go back thirty years ago and I doubt an author or illustrator would have thought of going into schools to give talks or workshops. I was publishing adult SF&F in the early 80s and basically apart from sending out review books no marketing was done by small presses. These days we spend more time marketing than we do actually publishing; authors likewise with their writing. It shouldn’t be that way, but it simply is. And the more books on the market via e-book publishing, POD, vanity press (remember my comment it’s never been easier to get published) the more we need to think outside the box and make ourselves visible and heard. And of course, this can backfire. I have thousands of addresses in various databases: booksellers, librarians, friends, etc. But I don’t inundate my contacts with emails. People will simply delete them if they receive too many from Ford Street. Understandable, too, when we receive way too much unsolicited material via the inbox.

  47. Anna Blay says:

    Thanks, Paul, for stimulating such a thought-provoking discussion. As a small independent publishing firm, we too are feeling the effects of all the changes you mentioned, resulting in fewer book sales, more returns (groan – what other industry sends stock back months later if unsold?) and a general wariness in taking on new, unknown authors.

    Clearly there is a need for the author to be proactive in terms of promotion, social media and so on. We have found that spending money on advertising and publicity doesn’t necessarily bring results – those authors who have connections, are good at self-promotion and are willing to put themselves out there are the ones who become successful.

    We are still passionate about publishing good writing (physical books and e-books) and will follow with interest the new directions.

  48. Tharaha Richards says:

    Thanks Paul for the interesting read.

    Digital publishing is definitely taking of in the Educational Publishing world. With the Government’s stimulus to get schools 1:1 with laptops, ipad’s or tablets, most school have been looking for digital products in some form. However, when you talk to teachers, there are very few who are keen on the change.

    Will students be typing more than they are writing in the future? Can a student really focus on a classroom activity on an electronic device? or do they need to slow down and highlight and annotate physical books. If education does become digital, then I think it will mean an evolution in the way the mind works. Perhaps we will end up in the Sci-Fi world you wrote about.

  49. Jenna says:

    Great post, Paul! Love imagining the havoc that could be caused with personal avatars buying all of our books. I thought the Emerging Writers Festival’s take on what bookstores in the future could be was a fun take on this:

  50. Sue says:

    Great article, Paul, gving us informed insights into the rapidly-evolving technological world we are all part of. The changes taking place in many industries, but particularly publishing, are revclutionary. None of us really know what will become of the print media and the publishing industry. We live in interesting times!

  51. Rob Jan says:

    Now, I’m wondering if Paul’s article will double as background research for his next Science Fiction novel, in whatever format it appears: eBook, printed book, graphic novel, direct wired mental download or DNA meme injection available in six delicious flavours, now in a collectible syringe.

    As a book reviewer (Zero-G, 3RRRFM) I’ve had a couple of eBooks earnestly thrust upon me but not having a portable apparatus to read them on have promptly consigned them to the not-hardcopy-enough basket.

    Now, I have had a play with a Kindle reader, and iPads, etc, and they’re all very whizz-bang, but for an ubergeek Sci-Fi bloke I’m in no sense an early adopter of portable tech. Partly because of the cost, partly because I would prefer not to have any more of my jealously protected ‘away from the keyboard’ time encroached upon by more intrusive buzzy, beepy widgetry. I don’t, in fact, have a working mobile phone (yes, I heard your eyeballs click!) though I do have several donated broken ones awaiting conversion into amusingly converted action figure toys.

    I’ve been through this tech take-up gradient before. Telly stations used to invite reviewers to screenings or send out video tape copies. Most eventually switched over to DVD/VCD copies. My original home DVD player (which was in no sense portable, weighed as much as several cinder bricks, and was just as aesthetically pleasing to look at) had no VCD capability, so I told the station that I wouldn’t be able to review their shows. One day later they sent me a player that would handle VCDs. This same go-getting channel has now switched to a convenient on-line preview virtual screening room.

    So for the moment eBooks are off my reviewing table, unless some jammy/canny publicist would care to tee me up with a complimentary and user-friendly eReader.

    I could read them on the desktop computer but I’d find that more of a struggle than it’s worth. I’d rather watch a movie or telly show that way. Although I DO have several electronic books on hard-drive, they’re mostly for reference, an area where eBooks do excel as they’re easily SEARCHABLE, an incredibly handy function. I also have a few completely out of print eTexts, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, and have read them on the desktop, and although I enjoyed the content I can;t say much for the reading experience.

    There’s a large, heavy, dusty and space consuming caveat. (Honey, does my library look big in this?)

    The space saving nature of eBooks HAS to be attractive to any already clutterbugged genre collector of a certain age, given they’re already overwhelmed with books, DVDs, vinyl and cassettes wistfully awaiting digitizing, and phoney action figures.

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a bibliophile in possession of a good library, must be in want of more shelving.

    Enter eBooks. Highly portable. Exceptionally suitable to a mobile, travel light lifestyle, and with no energy and resource hungry production, distribution, marketing and bricks and mortar shopfront logistics chain to haul around. They aren’t especially collectible and displayable, though I do wonder if there might be a vogue for virtual bookcases that can be projected on interior walls for interior decoration purposes. They’re not signable either, so that might put paid to the author publicity junket, especially if they can digitize the writer as well, and parade THEM around virtually!

    I wondered briefly if we might see a minor industry emerge where collectors pay to have their beloved books digitized and placed in a robust hard-drive or two. (It’s NOT backed up, if you’ve only got ONE copy!) Of course, it would be much easier to track down the eBook version, but not everything has been through the scanners yet and there’s bound to be a sizable lag for a few years yet. In fact, digitizing private print collections into eBooks will undoubtedly help bring closer the mind boggling day when just about everything published will be available somewhere online. (Secondhand Bookshops will probably do quite well out of this for a time. Not everyone will be bothered or have the time/funds/motivation to convert their print collections.)

    As usual, I expect that eBooks won’t be an issue with generations raised on them, and that, again as usual, printed books will simultaneously be both a retro-cool and absurdly quaint.

    Some of the cutting edge (though presumably, not so sharp edged that we get digital paper cuts) developments in eReaders that Paul detailed make me confident that the eBook experience will only become more convenient. I await, with some bemusement, the day that an eBook looks and functions EXACTLY like a printed book. That is, it will be full of electronic pages, between two hardcovers, and you’ll physically leaf through it. Of course, you’d be able to REFRESH it (probably wirelessly) with a whole new book. Yes, I know, you can ‘virtually’ leaf through a single display eBook faster, but what would happen to all those rolled up Post-It notes, dry cleaning and lotto tickets, and pressed faeries that are currently used as bookmarks if you didn’t have some place to store them? (Especially as wallets are also an endangered species and there’s only so much a coat lining or the back of a sofa can hold without causing a space/time rift!)

    As Paul notes, eBooks can blur the line between literature and games even further than console games already do. I accept this readily as an extension of the old choose-your-own-ending/adventure books and it also ties into ideas I have about future work’places’ (virtual or not) being run like very much like today’s social network games, complete with credited rewards, challenges and, of course, boss battles!

    This kind of interactive approach to publishing is a two edged ‘word’. There’s only so many hours in a day and every minute spent watching television, movies, playing games, answering emails, updating social networks and so on is a minute lost to traditional book reading. Ironically, when people are not writing to each other through snailmail so much, it’s evident that everyone is sharing their daily life experience at a prodigious rate online. When everyone is producing their own regular creative output, then that naturally impacts upon the time they can put into reading anyone else’s creative output, or at least paying to do so in the traditional business model that kept publishers solvent.

    Actually, this comment is a case in point. It took me about an hour to write as I pondered the implications of Paul’s article. An hour when I wasn’t free to crack open a book.

    Come to think of it, DOES the Unseen University on the Discworld now stock eOoks?

  52. Thanks for that detailed response, Rob. I was interested to see your take on this as a reviewer. Your musing if my article will appear as research for a book is slightly off the mark, but I believe it was put to Isobelle to convert this entire debate — all the other articles, too — into an e-book. Not a bad idea, but I think Isobelle is happy for the LuRees Archives to store it. I’m sure people will look back at all this and shake their heads lol.

    I hadn’t realised we’re so alike. For an SF bloke I too am somewhat the Luddite, eschewing the world of Kindles, etc. Too, I only have a mobile because it was thrust upon me by Meredith. Although mine is working, at least :-). Good luck, by the way, with the complimentary e-reader!

  53. Fascinating article, Paul. As a writer, I can’t help but worry how all this will affect my ability to sell books and have an income. And how much more I will have to do to get my books noticed. The need for authors to become self-promoters has been steadily increasing, and I fear it will become even greater. But as a read/consumer, I am excited by the innovations in technology. I particularly look forward to being able to point my smart phone at a pic and then buy the clothes being worn by the famous author in the pic… maybe if I wear the same clothes as a famous author some of that fame might rub off on me. 😉

  54. What exciting times Paul in terms of all the stimulating technology out there! I have embraced Kindle for both MacBooks,iPhone, iPad, have ibooks, iBookcreator and a blurb account.

    As a passionate reader I buy well over $2000 a year on books(print) and I haven’t even stopped to add up the ebook purchases which started years ago with my first iPhone and have rapidly increased lately. I love the fact that if I hear about a new book through other readers and writers via twitter, facebook or websites that I can simply download it and have it in a matter of minutes to begin reading it, sharing my progress, rating and review of it just as quickly. Instant gratification is the curse of Gen X and Y.

    Having said that I still prefer the feel and look of a book for the full sensory experience of touching the pages, flipping and yes, even smelling old books and the aesthetic appeal of beautiful covers. So, often, if it’s a special book of one of my favourite authors I will buy both the ebook for immediate gratification and then the paperback for practicality of beach reads (though I have read from iPhone at the beach too) and then the hardback for collector’s editions to have and to hold and look at lovingly! Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts is one such book I have in the three formats. Yes, really. Somewhere between the two generations I have equal lust for print and digital books, though I prefer to read more nonfiction electronically. I guess I romanticise fiction and tend to read longer literary novels in the old fashioned way with a book in bed.

    I think fiction, if well written, doesn’t need graphics as the reader creates meaning and pictures in their own head based on the information given by the writer. The Alice in Wonderland app for Ipad was dynamic and exciting and I can see the appeal but I don’t remember needing help to stay engaged when reading that as a child! However after seeing Al Gore’s ebook ‘Our Choice” I promptly downloaded it. For me ebooks work better with nonfiction, ie, cookbooks, craft, instructional texts with video and interactive audio-visual elements embedded.

    As a teacher I use digital storytelling programs such as Photo Story, Storybird, Animoto and ACMI storyboard generator to engage students and explore narrative structures. They find using technology exciting, stimulating and engaging and digital storytelling and ebooks is one way to engage a new generation with text. The reality is that many of my students do not have books at home but all have a smartphone and often an ipad as well. Most do not read anything other than facebook statuses and text messages so we need apps, gadgets and games to introduce them to longer texts. Only a handful of students have ebooks but are curious and keen to lessen their backpack load, particularly with regard to textbooks.

    I love the new viewa and scan apps that allow for further exploration of magazine and museum content and allow for purchases as is possible at some store windows now but I still love browsing through bookstores and stores in general to touch, feel and smell the wares and interact with staff before I buy.
    What this means for the publishing industry and writers of the future I’m not entirely sure but the fact that anyone can self publish quality books; emerging writers can use the technology available to build a platform and get noticed has got to be a good thing for society and artists in general, yes?

  55. alison says:

    I have just finished reading the whole blog…such a range of quality thinking. I have been a teacher-librarian in high schools for 35 years and consequently I am a reader, a reviewer, a buyer and a ‘seller’ of words. I say words rather than stories because for so many students, however you sell the book or display it, promote it or compel them to engage with it…they discover that it is full of words that need to be read. The novel needs sustained silent reading [SSR].
    The electronic book has potential for the reluctant student to pick it up, but it then becomes the story’s job to hold them for an SSR experience. The story, however, is still full of words, printed or electronic.

    The likely demise of hard-copy Review magazines brought pain to my brain as I write my thoughts all over them and then pass them to colleagues who do the same. When they return to me I buy books with confidence. I do not want an electronic version of that. I do not have time to follow electronic blogs etc. by individual authors or publishers who will provide a myriad of opinions. One educated and broadly experienced reviewer is vital to my work. Publishers and authors are biased, yet not necessarily inappropriately Paul.
    Electronic texts will save students from back-aches, but not their parents’ wallets. The second hand text market will disappear and publishers will use their rights to turn on/off text sites as they wish. Schools that are early starting, or wish to review the previous year’s information will have difficulty. Electronic texts are information and interactively brilliant, but the SSR elements are small. Bites of text then a graphic and a video do not give the experience that draws you deeper into a content base upon which to muse, critique and develop.
    I am asked by English teachers to suggest appropriate class novels for students. This is where my selling skills really need to be polished. They too ask about the word length, the quality of the writing and the story content…then they run off to the tried and true, very unwilling to try a ‘new’ author. How can I sell the new author? I’m trying that’s all.

  56. Tanya Suffolk says:

    You’ve finished with a great question there Alison – ‘How can I sell the new author?’ So many of us I’m sure would like to know the answer to that.

    Another big problem for schools is managing all the technology to support the growing demand. From my experience schools already struggle with the resources to keep all the hardware functioning at an optimum level for teaching and learning. How can teachers and students alike be asked to rely more on technology, when their current technology is not always accessible?

    Technology requires ample human resources and becomes outofdate rapidly. As you’ve described Paul, there are already more e-readers in the pipeline. Physical books don’t require the same upkeep to remain valuable resources. Although hardcopy books cost more than digital books, is there a chance they cost less long term? I’m thinking of books which have been in school libraries for years and years.

    In regards to advertising, I can’t remember the last time I received a catalogue from the local booksellers in my home mailbox. There are ads on tv for computer games and movies, but not books. Books seem to get much less daily advertising than most other forms of entertainment. It really comes down to individuals purposely seeking books to buy, borrow or steal, rather than ads drawing people out to find certain books. I can’t help but wonder why. Perhaps new technology will provide more means to advertise books.

    As a teacher, writer and parent I’d love to see a rise in the demand for and supply of great books, regardless of how they are published.

  57. Kate says:

    I am a young writer and editor and starting my career amongst this noise of traditional publishing vs future trends is giving me a lot of static in my head.
    I am considering writing stories and getting a designer to create interactive pages like in Alice but somehow it feels wrong.
    Call me old-fashioned but I love the feel, smell and weight of a book in my hand. I’m concerned about what all those interactive pictures are going to do the imaginations of the children that see them. A book is supposed to be different from a movie and if I head in the interactive direction I fear that the lines will blur.
    Why does everything have to be interactive these days? We’re such a busy, over-stimulated society, and now we’re making our “quiet time” and “escape” just as busy as our day-to-day lives. Why?

  58. softly, softly, I think you are right, Kate. But it is not either/or. I like kindles and I can imagine there will be brilliant hybrids between book and film- isn’t film itself a kind of hybrid between writing and telling stories, or theatre, ultimately? But for me, there is truly something special in sinking into a paper book, for all its dead tree weight and it is more to do with the intensity of words and story and freedom from technology in a day and age when we are interacting with and through our technology every other minute, than me being a Luddite or spurning other forms. And I think there are many many readers who feel exactly this way, who are also tech savvy, and who will find space for books as well as all sorts of e readers, just the way we can go hear live music in a pub and yet still enjoy a cd or a download on a shuffle. In the end, the form is only the vessel for the thing it carries.