The title of this column is one thing everybody in publishing is worried about, and I have a few thoughts that have been percolating over the past four months (sorry!), during which I haven't posted on here. I can only plead that my wife and I have been doing a lot of writing. Unfortunately, very little of it has enhanced our career--at least not yet. I should have continued what I was working on earlier: the next book in the Samurai Detective series. I haven't entirely neglected it; I am about 60 pages along on a first draft, but there's been too much else on my plate to really concentrate on it. More on that in later days.
Back to the title of this column. Today's New York Times has an article that tells how Amazon, the maker of the Kindle e-reader, is signing up authors directly--even paying advances, at least to celebrity authors like Penny Marshall. (A celebrity author is merely a celebrity who puts his/her name to a book, but there are a lot of readers for such books.) Now the significance of this is that it cuts out the conventional paper-and-ink publishers. They're not needed if an author goes straight to e-books. Nor, by the way, are conventional agents, saving the writer 15% of his/her royalties.
Now any author can, right now, publish books as e-books (or even in paper, if that's your thing). I have done it with four books. You can find them all on amazon.com, bn.com, or smashwords.com. One of the four is a rewritten version of a book I published in paper-and-ink. The other three (including the sequel to that first book) are originals. As I've indicated earlier, the big problem with selling your books this way is publicizing them. I still haven't solved that problem. But publishing with Amazon directly would presumably include publicity supplied by them. As one of the writers quoted in the Times article says, "I assume they want to make a lot of money off the book, which is encouraging to me." Because Amazon has the resources.
Now let's suppose Amazon and their authors do well. Presumably their contract is exclusive. In other words, readers will have to buy the book in Kindle format, which will incidentally sell more Kindles and more of Amazon's brand-new tablet. That will force other e-book publishers, such as Barnes & Noble (Nook) and Sony to get into the business of signing up authors as well. At some point, I would imagine Apple will enter the fray as well, just because they're in everything. All this can only be good for authors. And I might add, very bad for paper-and-ink publishers. How about agents? I can see the better agents moving into preparing authors' manuscripts for e-book publication and even marketing them to e-book publishers. Some authors don't like to do those things for themselves. I think this is going to happen faster than you think.
A nod to those, like me, who love bookstores. First of all, there will continue to be used-book stores, and for a while at least, stores that sell certain kinds of paper-and-ink books. Children's books, picture books, maybe cookbooks... But I think the behemoth kind of bookstore will follow the Borders chain into oblivion. The economics of such stores, i.e., rent, won't permit them to survive.