E-Readers and the Evolution of Publishing

ImageAt first, I resisted the emergence of e-readers. I feel comfortable with a paper book in my hands. When technology fails, I can always rely on my library to keep me sane. Then, I began researching the publishing industry and was somewhat startled to see a new pattern. I realized that because e-readers are so convenient, consumers are turning more and more to electronic book formats. More importantly, they are buying e-books for their tantalizing ‘bargains.’

Self-published authors have the leisure to apply their own price tag and still receive a good portion of the revenue. As long as these writers charge less for their e-books than the retail price of a hard copy–which they usually do–consumers feel that they are getting an irresistible deal. They don’t have to drive to the store, pay taxes, or wait for the book to arrive, and they are only spending a couple bucks. As long as the book is not too horrible, the consumer is satisfied.

I’ve seen this happen with many of my friends who bought e-readers. Then I bought a tablet and it wasn’t long before I was looking through the free e-books too. While I still love physical books, e-books offered me another medium for finding new stories. My personal experience with e-books spurred me to do research.

Circulation at my local library has steadily decreased since e-readers were released. While I’m sure there are several factors that explain the decrease, I am certain that e-books play a large part. My library has done a decent job adjusting to new technologies and trends. We have an ever-expanding library of e-books available through the Pioneer Library Database. However, we can’t expand fast enough because of publishing companies’ ridiculous restrictions.

Only a few publishing companies even work with libraries for the acquisition of e-books. One publishing house charges $80 for one e-book, and because of copyright rules we have to buy individual copies to lend out. We can’t lend one e-book to several patrons despite the fact that it’s digital. Another publishing house charges us for every 24 check-outs. That’s to compensate for the money they’d be losing because e-books don’t need to be replaced.

The whole e-book revolution seems to have caught publishing companies and booksellers off-guard. I’m pretty sure the NOOK saved Barnes and Noble (though KOBO wasn’t enough to save Borders). Publishing houses are afraid of e-books sending them under, which has forced them into hasty action. Unfortunately, decisions made in fear often create new issues that can be harder to resolve. I won’t go into detail about that right now. Instead, I want to talk about what all of this means for writers.

E-books have opened the gate for self-published writers. Publishing companies charge about the same for an e-book as they do for a paperback. It’s hard for people to justify paying that much for an item that doesn’t have any production costs. However, publishing companies charge that much because they still have to pay overhead. They figure that if they charge any less for e-books, they won’t sell enough to cover the overhead. On the other hand self-published writers don’t have much overhead, especially if they choose to publish through Amazon or any other such company.

Writers can choose their own prices and receive a significant portion of revenues when they publish electronically. They also don’t have to go through the painful process of finding a publishing house who is willing to give them their first break. They can present their work directly to readers. Then, because of the low prices, writers are even making decent money from their self-published works. Publishing has never been so easy.

The power is steadily shifting in favor of the writers. There are still several roadblocks to overcome before self-publishing earns a reputable name for itself. Still, I think that the future of publishing will bear the face of the writer.