My recent introduction to eBooks reminded me of a panel I attended at this fall’s Wordstock festival in Portland called Brave New World: The Future of Publishing. Industry experts and authors Lauren Kessler, Rhonda Hughes, and Kevin Smokler made up the panel, and discussion was facilitated by Richard Meeker, publisher of Portland’s Willamette Week.
I found the discussion to be pretty optimistic. Sure, things are changing dramatically for the publishing industry, especially when it comes to making money. But the panelists were optimistic because they tended to see technology tools as powers that could be harnessed for the benefit of authors, publishers and readers alike. I was especially interested in Smokler’s work as founder of BookTour.com, a tech start-up that provides marketing tools for authors.
Here are some highlights from the panel in October, which were originally typed on my smart phone. Just sayin’…
On blogging and texting
• The blogosphere means writers are giving away words for free in hopes of connecting with more people.
• Limit blog posts to about 300 words. (I am afraid I’m breaking this rule right now.)
• Blogs such as The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post are now leaders in book reviews
• Lauren Kessler notes that her daughter is constantly thinking in words and is writing more than Kessler did as a teenager because of texting. You read that right.
On self-publishing and self-marketing
• Big publishers have been giving less and less to writers so some authors now choose to go with self publishing or boutique publishing. Self publishing is no longer seen as a last resort.
• Today reputation matters more than in the past. Publishers want to see that you have a history of professional writing and meeting deadlines and a solid portfolio.
• Today writers often have to be their own publicists. Technology helps facilitate this.
• Even with all of the technology tools and promotional methods at our disposal, promoting yourself still has to do with building relationships and being nice. Panelists suggest starting those relationships on Twitter. (Sidenote: Twitter is how I first made contact with Lauren Kessler, and that contact was the reason I attended this panel in the first place.)
On eBooks and the industry
• Technology means larger audiences, and eBooks can mean more money from new audiences.
• eBooks and self publishers will likely mean there is a greater range in the quality of what we read.
• Technology makes it easier to promote publishing events and to do direct sales online.
• Taking a tip from the movie industry, publishers and authors are now making book trailers.
• Digital book scans provide useful counts of sales and inventory.
• Technology doesn’t have an either-or relationship with older media. They work together. As an example, vinyl record sales are growing faster sales of than digital music. Smokler predicts that someday paper books will be seen like records are seen today: hard to find, pricey, high quality.
• eReaders such as Kindle and Nook are likely to become more and more accessible and affordable as time goes on, hopefully helping close some of the digital divide. There is more money to be made selling things cheaply to more people than in keeping things elitist.
For every pro I have listed here, there are still concerns about the way our culture is changing. A shift in the medium for something as ubiquitous as books is pretty major. What do you see as the potential losses that might come with these gains? How will these changes change us as readers? Or are you, like me, just stuck on the idea of carrying your book around in your pocket?