Is a book an object or information? There was a time when it was inseparably both, but now, it doesn’t have to be. The digital revolution of the last two decades has shaken up the world of publishing in a way not seen since the invention of the printing press.
Last week at The London Book Fair, I got a first-hand look at some of the new trends and technologies and my general impression is that the publishing industry really hasn’t got a handle on digital yet. From working out how to get content to readers, to questioning what digital books should be, the industry is still finding its feet.
Here are my top trends in books and publishing for 2015:
People behave differently on the internet than they do in “real” life. For one, we seem to have a strange expectation that all content should be free. eBook subscription services such as Oyster, Scribd, Entitle and Amazon Kindle Unlimited attempt to do for eBooks what Netflix and Amazon do for video-on-demand. They tap into the free content mind-set by creating an illusion of free content. After-all, once you’ve paid your membership fee, the content is unlimited and therefore free, right?
Value for money in a subscription model depends solely on how much content you can cram into your day. With video, it’s possible to consume significantly more value than paid in subscription fees. But books cost less and take longer to consume than video. At an average subscription of $8-10 (£5-6) per month, I don’t think you’ll be able to consume enough books to really feel you’re getting value for money. You might as well buy the content and actually own it.
Subscription models might therefore turn out to be a short lived trend.
But how else are content producers supposed to get around the issue of consumers baulking at any kind of price tag?
At the other end of the spectrum OpenBooks.com and NoiseTrade are trying something different; pay-what-you-want. In this model, eBooks are free to download and read and readers may pay if they want to. It’s not compulsory. It already seems to be working for book bundle sites like Humble Bundle and StoryBundle.
A lot of self-published authors feel pressured to give their work away for free in order to attract readers. Even a 99p price tag can act as a complete turn off. The pay-what-you-want model may offer an attractive half-way house in this regard.
Could a transaction model based on goodwill really work?
The brand new buzz word “hybrid-publishing” has been zipping around, to describe those authors who work the system to their own needs, self-publishing some books, while taking the traditional route for others. These days, one of the surest routes into a book deal is to self publish a successful book first.
“Don’t think of it as “self” publishing. You are CEO of your own Global Media Empire.”
C J Lyons, A pioneer of the author led publishing process.
Publishing houses used to have the final say on what got read, but now the direct connection between readers and authors is bypassing that editorial gateway. The publishing industry isn’t used to taking risks, but authors are more than willing to do so themselves, sometimes with amazing results.
The reactionary trend is a boom in shared publishing deals, where the publishing house asks the author to stump up cash for the initial publication and bear the financial risk the publishing house isn’t prepared to take.
I don’t think this will last, because…NEW
Anyone who has self-published a book will know that creating the book is only half the job. You then need to get it out to the readers somehow. As indie authors become wiser to the ways of marketing and distribution, freelance editors, publicists and distributors are starting to capitalise on the self-publishing market.
In a world where the author can contract out parts of the publishing process, a shared publishing deal soon won’t seem any more attractive than self-publishing. Indeed, some publishers, such as Troubador Publishing Ltd are starting to offer marketing and distribution packages to self-published authors.
Perhaps more interesting than all the shifts in digital distribution and the relationship between author, publisher and reader, is the shift in attitude towards what is publishable.
For a long time there have been many formats in between short story and novel which were simply considered unusable; worthless.
Now, indie authors are leading the way in publishing content of any length. The standard format is no more; welcome to the age of the novella, the novelette and the stand alone short story. Publishers are slowly starting to follow this trend.
The questions about what digital book should be goes further than length, however. Many are now questioning whether eBooks should contain interactive elements, and there are new companies springing up to offer tablet targeted content which explores the potential of eBooks to be more than simple digital copies of printed books.
The world of digital publishing is one of great change and a few years down the line the landscape may look very different.
Chrissey Harrison is TGE’s fiction editor and co-founder of the site. She’s an aspiring novelist and publisher with a possibly unhealthy fixation on typography.
Are you a reader, writer or publisher? How have changes in the way books are published and distributed affected you? Leave a comment to tell us about your experiences and observations, or ask us a question.