I realize that I’ve sort of dropped out of this discussion, but running the agency and selling books demands much of my time, as it does Robert’s. Saturdays can be lighter for us, so I thought I’d try to get some thoughts out there while I can. We are continuing to explore this topic because we think this is an important discussion, which is why we’ve made time for it. So far, it appears to have gotten some ideas out there, and we are glad of that, especially if at any point it somehow makes a difference.
There are so many points to cover that I’m sure I’ll miss some of them. This is a complex issue and only parts of it can really be addressed adequately in the short amount of space we can allot at any given time. I suggest that anyone interested in the subject continue to read a variety of sources online and in print to keep up with the changes in publishing that will affect not only readers, but writers and other members of society as well. As we go through this, please keep in mind that “people is publishing and publishing is people.” It all comes down to that, to the human aspect, and this is the fundamental reason why there is no one perfect publishing model that suits everyone.
If this discussion has shown one thing, it’s that there are different perspectives on the future of publishing that are somewhat filtered through each poster’s wants, needs, and background. I know my experiences as an agent/writer color how I perceive Scott’s concept. I’ve published in both print and electronic formats in about 3-4 different areas, and basically feel writing for publication is very much about convincing someone or some entity to invest in a product—your story—which is why you target what you write to publishers who handle that type of project. What most writers, especially new ones, object to is that “getting in” seems like a random and completely arbitrary process controlled by inaccessible people making decisions about your work based on who knows what. Even with Scott’s plan, though, there’s still that element there, although they would be ad execs and marketing people. You might be trading one perceived set of bozos for another perceived set of bozos, but in all of it, some set of perceived bozos has a hand in the writer’s destiny. That is not going to change. If a writer doesn’t like that, there actually ways to get around it that are available now. Scott’s idea will open another venue for writers who have a certain skillset and predilection for a certain type of writing, but that person’s work will still have to be approved by someone. I see it as another venue, but not the only one. Society is too diverse for only one model to meet all its needs.
For any change to work, as Robert mentioned, you have to get current popular writers to buy into it, and so you’re asking people who’ve been successful in one type of system to give it up to perpetuate a new paradigm that might not work in their favor, and, until proven, may not be good for the reader. That’s asking A LOT in any industry. One of the basic drives in humans is self-preservation, which is why even someone who does nothing but complain about his job will fight like a cornered Chihuahua if there’s a chance that job will be taken away. Self-preservation says that swapping the known and successful for the unknown and possibly disastrous is not a good idea unless someone has a really, really good reason. Unfortunately, for most humans, the greater noble cause, as history has proven, is not good reason enough. And even for those writers who care about readers, why would they switch if the new plan isn’t proven to help their audience yet? No one takes a pill without it having been through years of study, so why would publishing, which does reflect our culture, be any different?
That being said, as I mentioned before, I think Scott’s idea can work, but I don’t think it will take over publishing completely. E-books, at some point, will have a larger share of the market and perhaps reach 75% of it over a course of years. I agree with Robert in that respect, but I am more apt to encourage those who want to try new things to do so more quickly. The sooner we get started trying different ideas, the more quickly we get to the ideas that have the best chance of actually being sustainable. You have to be prepared for a lot of failures, though. History doesn't remember them, but for every incredible, mind-blowing success, there were dozens of failed ideas that made the way for its rise to greatness.
I believe the rise of e-books will take this long because of simple numbers. Different types of readers will migrate toward what is comfortable for them, and this is generational. As long as there’s a demographic out there made up of readers who want print books, there’s going to be some publisher who wants to make a buck exploiting that market. That’s just good business, ala P.T. Barnum. Unless there’s a strain of flu that wipes out my generation and a couple or so before it, those readers are going to be around for a long time. I think my generation is a bridge in that some will demand print, others will demand electronic, and others, like me, function well with both. These generations also have very definite feelings about advertising. Older generations tend to hate and not trust it; newer generations are so used to it that it’s more white noise than anything, and others, again like me, have a love/hate relationship with it. For example, I just bought a pair of shoes I saw advertised in a magazine, the kind I really had been looking for. However, if a commercial comes on during my TV program, I start flipping channels until the barrage of ads is over and I can return to my show.
This is why I think there will continue to be different publishing models flourishing in the future, much like now but each with a larger share of the market except traditional publishing, which will have much less of a share than it has now unless it responds adequately to the changes in reader needs.
Technology, as it has done, continues to move us forward and the industry is slowly changing (NOTHING happens quickly in publishing). We have been and are on the path forward, and what Scott is doing is what many people are currently trying to do—innovate. Many publishing innovators will fail. Some will succeed. At least they’re trying to do something. Scott is putting his time and energy where his mouth is; he’s not just offering a suggestion, he’s putting it out there and DOING it. It might fail miserably, but he’s taking that risk. If it fails, then that’s one publishing innovation to mark off the list, so that in itself is a success. I respect that, as does Robert, because, believe me, starting a literary agency in Kokomo, Indiana, has been nothing but a risk. We are an anomaly, and one that statistically shouldn't exist. I don't think there are any other agencies out there like us, at least not still in business. We constantly strive to innovate by the books we take on. Yes, there is the commercial aspect of it that sustains the business. However, we can sneak in books that challenge current norms, whether mainstream publishing is quite ready for them or not, and nurture those careers because we have that luxury, due to our location. This is how we can work within the current paradigm but also be open to other ideas. Do all these efforts result in publication? No, but some do, and we are upfront with the authors about their chances. It's a risk we take together, and every time this happens, every time the magic works, we're all the better for it.
I think I should mention something here: Robert is the “nice” one in the family. Writers get waaaaay more sympathy from him than from me. He’s the one who really got me firmly entrenched in technology with his love for computers and music-related gadgets (he got his IPod first), he comes from an entertainment family, and he worked in advertising as a young man. He loves to innovate and try new adventures, and I love him for it. Needless to say, it’s been strange to see others perceive him as an inflexible technophobe reluctant to change. He’s playing devil’s advocate and voicing his opinion as someone who’s worked in the field for over a decade. He's simply reserving judgment until the method can prove itself viable. If anything, he represents exactly what anyone with a new idea in any business is going to face and should face. Just because an old way is flawed doesn’t mean you jump on the bandwagon to crush it and see what arises from its destruction without first giving some thought to all the possible outcomes, at least not unless you really don’t care if the new system is successful or not. Do I look forward to the changes? Yes, whole-heartedly, mainly because I don’t think the current model works for all readers. Do I think Scott’s is going to be the only change if it works? I doubt it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value and can’t make a difference.
I think e-books with ads could definitely have their own place in the market, just like manga and graphic novels, but I think they would appeal to a certain demographic. I could see some writers really getting into the challenge of producing a book with parameters set by advertisers just for the fun and challenge of it. As an agent, though, I have to be aware of my clients’ goals, as is Robert. If they don’t include experimenting with different types of writing, then we focus on the goals at hand. I can advise my clients as to the latest advances in publishing, but Scott’s idea isn’t a latest advance yet. It’s still in prototype mode and not quite viable yet. He’s not the only one trying something new. There are exciting changes going on all around us. This is, oddly, a great time in publishing, even though it’s also a tough time for many writers, agents, editors, and publishers. As opportunities arise, we advise our clients of their viability and our ability to assist them in the development of such endeavors.
I can see some writer who loves extreme sports creating stories about extreme sports for those readers into that lifestyle, and those e-books with ads being offered by some sport shops. The readers would welcome the ads and the new reading material because it would serve two purposes: offering them exposure to new products of interest and offering them a reading experience geared toward their interests. The YA market would be especially open to this, given many kids download music and read online. It’s natural to them, but I don’t think that this would be the only way they’d get their reading material. Scott’s example of a cruise ship partnership hit home because we love to cruise, and many people who do are returning cruisers, and if you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, you know there’s lots of young and old readers (most cruise ships have print libraries). Could this be modified into Scott’s model? Probably.
So what happens next? Let’s go back to the extreme sports example. Who do you think advertisers are going to want to write these books? You or Shaun White? Who will get more downloads? You or Shaun White? You might get hired to write the book, but whose name will appear on it in an effort to get the ads out to more consumers? So what has changed?
Something else to consider: Consumers know they can download a good book in their area of interest with ads that might be of use to them, probably written by Shaun White, so maybe now they want the sports shop to have a reading area, just like a bookstore or library, where a bunch of people can hang out, read free e-books, and drink over-priced beverages filled with legal stimulants. Now you have to convince brick and mortar shops, places where people converge, to change the way they do business by dedicating space and personnel to the reading area. I can hear it now…
“What? Dude? No, wait. Dude! Duuuuuude. Ah, dude.”
So this goes back to my original point that changes in publishing will have far reaching effects. It’s up to people to decide why and how they want to participate in the coming changes. Responding to change isn't easy, but one thing is certain...it's worth it.--Sharene