Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The end of the world as we know it?

The recent trend among superstores to sell hardcover bestsellers for under nine dollars has generally been regarded as bad news for non-bestselling writers. If you can get a massive King for nine bucks why pay $23 for a Gorman? I wouldn't.

But on The Today Show John Grisham, whom I've always considered a very erudite and classy guy, went even further, talking about how he wouldn't be hurt but hundreds of other writers would. He said there were other threats beyond the nine dollar books.

(This is from Galleycat) "And the price war is not the only challenge the publishing industry faces nowadays. E-books sold for the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader have eaten into profits of publishers and booksellers — and Grisham says the future looks bleak.

Regarding reading books electronically, he told (Matt) Lauer: “If half of us are going to be doing it, then you’re going to wipe out tons of bookstores and publishers and we’re going to buy it all online.

“I’m probably going to be all right — but the aspiring writers are going to have a very hard time getting published,” he added.

Ed here: As I've said to a couple of writers who came along when I did: Who knew the eighties and up to the mid nineties were the golden age for writers like us?

14 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I can see it coming. The bookless library, the store where only Grisham and King are sold in hardback for die-hard collectors. Sad.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

I'm lucky I wrote when I did. I've felt for some time that technology has trumped copyright; that is, copyrighted properties have less and less value as new means are found to distribute material cheaply. Look what happened to the music business. I doubt that there will be many independent authors around once the world goes to Kindle and various e-readers. On the other hand, a few authors are starting to make some cash from Kindle. There may be some sort of future for storytellers, but not a lucrative one for all but a handful. I've gone a quarter of a century without a paycheck, and it seems miraculous-- and doomed. I'm about to watch my retirement savings ebb.

Dave Zeltserman said...

we've been having this same discussion on rara avis, and I've been saying the same as John Grisham. Not only will e-readers kill bookstores, the midlist, and make it virtually impossible for all but the biggest names to sell books, but it will also kill publishing. Why should Stephen King and Stephanie Myer and other megasellers cut the publishers in when they can put their books on the e-stores directly themselves? We could be heading to a future where the ebook stores look exactly like Walmart does today. The scary part is how quick this could happen. When CDs came about, record albums were dead almost overnight.

Peter L. Winkler said...

This price war is a short-lived, self-limiting phenomenon. Both Amazon and Wal-Mart are losing money on $9.99 bestsellers, since they pay more for them to he publisher. As an article in the New Yorker points out, these are loss leaders to drive business to the stores where, hopefully, people will buy other items.

As for ebooks, it will take quite some time for them to supplant paper books. The cost of dedicated reading devices is unattractive to the casual reader who ventures into a chain bookstore a few times a year and buys a few bestsellers or other hyped books.

Charlieopera said...

there's a great documentary on HBO about the garment district in New York and how the US went from making 95% of our clothes to now less than 5%. Outsourcing, of course. Nothing like the free market, eh? Deregulation destroyed an industry (here anyway).

What Dave mentions above has to be scary to publishers; the idea of name brand authors going directly to the public without a middle man (or however they want).

There's no accounting for how rampant capitalism can run ... and obviously no way to predict it. It just seems (as was the theme behind the garment district documentary regarding deregulation) that sooner or later playing the numbers game comes back to haunt those in the producing end of the business.

Someone will always find a faster, cheaper way to get something to the public ... between the declining readership in general (here) and the advances in technology (worldwide), I'd say we're all pretty much doomed.

But let's face it, none of us would stop writing anyway.
Even if it means just writing emails to haunt Zeltserman about his anemic Patriots and their high school schedule.

...The Twain Shall Meet said...

musicians figured it out 15 yrs ago. 'bout time writers woke up. ebook and self-pub pod will make it possible for more, not less, writers to be heard.

quin browne said...

'zines are the same way. you can have far more readers online (if you are published on a well known site) than you'd reach in paper.

sad, but, true.

and, most of the good zines are very picky about what they accept...

...and more and more are paying.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Those writers and publishers who adapt to the changing times will succeed. Those who don't, won't.

I'm sure there were people way back when who said, "What's with this newfangled Gutenberg Press? Vellum is the way to go...."

Don't be afraid of technological change. Embrace it and learn how to use it to your benefit.

ARCHAVIST said...

I think some sort of electronic future is inevitable and that running from it is counter-productive. The music industry buried its head in the sand and the publishing industry can't afford to.

Matt said...

We're all hurt by corporate e-reading devices like the Kindle.

At some point, each town's reading dollars would effectively go to Seattle - a negative trade deficit. And just look how successful the US has been since losing our national trade deficit...

Not only do the e-reading devices effectively limit our choices just as the e-music devices have decimated the quality of music stores and bands (unless you consider the wide bandwidth of noise on Myspace to be a great source of songwriting... :-\), but local economies will be hurt by the loss in publishing-related jobs - from booksellers to foresters to delivery drivers - to you.

It's okay to not "move forward" with this particular corporate technology that continues to consolidate wealth into the hands of a few.

Whenever people parrot that change is always good unto itself, I know they don't have the critical thinking skills to truly understand the question.

Change by itself is not automatically good. You have to be more discerning than that be convincing.

Michael Parker said...

Not necessarily bad news for budding writers, but good news for budding publicists. I have a publisher but no agent and no publicist. The only way I could get people to download my books is by making them aware of me and my output. At the moment I am in my publisher's hands who doesn't seem interested in e-books anyway. But I think there will always be a niche for the real thing.


Michael Parker

Margaret Muir said...

The Baby-boomer (post war) generation still has 20+ years reading time to run.
Maybe the iPOD generation will quickly turn to e-books but I think there will be a market for print publications for my lifetime at least.

Vickie Britton said...

The past decade has experienced a leap in technology which has caused unforseen changes in publishing, music, etc. And yet creativity, in whatever form it is produced, will never die as long as people have the desire for stories. I'm sad about the paperless library and bookstore concept, but I think books are here to stay for quite some time. As long as people want them they will exist. Eventually other forms may come along. Usually change is gradual but these changes have been as abrupt as the shift from horse and buggy to car. Who knows if it is for the best? All a writer can do is go with the flow and hope this doesn't become a world where literature has no place.

Mark said...

i've read twilight, harry potter, series of unfortunate events, cronicals of narnia. But when I read this book I forget all. This book is really surprising and thought full.

Thanks.

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