I want to thank Scott Jensen for allowing me to post his ideas here for our discussion about the future of publishing. After letting others comment for a while, I would like to add my thoughts and perspective as well. I feel that, although there is some merit in these ideas, I can also see some very big holes.
For one thing, although I agree with Scott that publishing will change, I don’t ever envision the complete death of print publishing. Yes, the cost of printing using current methods is growing prohibitive, but I believe that technology can and will solve most of these problems. As stated before in other posts, I see the e-reader as a great invention, but I don't see it as a replacement for the book, however, I do see books themselves changing. For instance, paper is expensive; therefore, the print industry, to stay alive, will look for alternatives such as chargeable plastic paper in which print in introduced to the page much in the same manner as laser and ink-jet printers do; however, with this type of page, when the charge is removed or changed, the ink washes out, making the book rechargeable. So far, the cost-to-profit ratios haven’t reached that point yet, obviously. There’s much that’s done in publishing that’s not obvious to the layperson and this is one of many hundreds of innovations that are being explored.
The e-book reader works very well for those who transport large numbers of raw manuscripts in digital format. However, Amazon and some of the others are rapidly stubbing their toes in this area, making uploading of books in manuscript form more and more cumbersome as they seek to force readers to download works only from their stores. Then you have Amazon’s recent major boo-boo, which made it quite obvious to readers who actually controls their e-book purchases and how easily they can be removed. Readers like the independence that print books give them. They can buy them, sell them, trade them or do whatever they want with them. Not so with digital materials, where extra restrictions in the form of profit above everything else has always been the case. So I don’t see much of a future for the e-book reader, especially since the mini-laptop is comparatively priced and can do so much more (if you ask Sharene about hers, she’ll tell you this in no uncertain terms lol).
Also, major publishers are not going to sit on their hands and watch their industry morph into nothingness. In case e-books actually make a mark in the next few years, major publishers have been buying electronic rights along with other profitable rights, and, as digital readers and the mini-laptop have become more popular, they have been reprinting and publishing e-books for them. Also, in the same way that majors have bought smaller print publishing houses in the past, as smaller electronic publishers become more profitable, they will continue to be purchased by the majors.
I disagree with Scott in that I don’t see a switch from publishing as we currently know it to an advertising based e-publishing nirvana. For one thing, people are sick of advertisements of all kinds. We have had ads poked at us through every tricky way imaginable over the years, so I don’t look for readers to take kindly to anyone who tries to put ads in their serious reading material. If that’s tried, there might actually be a real death of not only publishing, but reading in general. Another thing is that as resourceful as ad agencies are, if there were any merit in this it would have already happened. For some reason, books have been left alone and probably for good reason.
There’s a system in place in publishing called editorial review. Some people call it filtering or gate-keeping, but it does actually work as it tends to protects readers from being deluged with sludge. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have to read some of what’s self-published, you begin to see what a reader would have to plow through to find something readable. The sad reality is that not everyone can write at a level that’s interesting or in many cases even readable. Of course, in a free country such as ours, everyone has the right to write whatever they wish. Not everyone, however, should be tricked into buying everything that’s written.
I'm sure Scott will agree that at the present time everyone does have the opportunity to write whatever they wish and have it instantly published. This wonderful invention is the blog post. Blogs have been around for a number of years and some are doing very well even though others languish. Some are brilliantly written while others are not so. Some even have advertisements in them, so I don’t see anything different in what Scott is proposing as opposed to what’s already here and readily available to anyone who has access to the Internet.
One large area that I find disagreement with is Scott's view of the future role for literary agents.
Our role expanded because print publishers ceased wanting to mine their slush piles and I don't see that role diminishing in a future world where half the population believes that the quickest way to fame and fortune is to write something and get it published. Every year the number of query letters have increased to a level that's become unmanageable without hiring a large staff. Agents work on commission and thus derive no compensation for reading query letters. So this task is relegated to an after work activity. Many agents have, in the past, handled this chore as a training ground for new agents. What better way to find out if a person can handle utter boredom than subjecting them to mining mind-numbing ramblings? These days, however, most agents have taken a clue from publishers and are limiting unsolicited queries or manuscripts, having found, as publishers before them, that there’s not much in slush piles that’s worth the effort (of course, there are exceptions to every rule so please no comments mentioning all the books that went on to glory after being pulled from the slush).
Suffice it to say, our role is changing as I type this and will continue to change. The only constant in publishing, and in life, is change, which is why it makes such a darn fine catalyst for novels. As we continue to watch publishing morph and evolve, please understand that these are actually exciting times. Instead of being fearful and holding on the old ways, those who try to adapt, at the very least, will learn a great deal and quite possibly may become part of a new and much improved reading paradigm.
We find this whole phenomenon fascinating, so if you have something to say on this subject, please share.