WorldCon 2011 Report: Day Four – Publishing in the Age of e-Books

There was definite agreement agreement that the publishing industry is undergoing, as agent Eleanor Wood puts it, a "sea change".

Although we are in a period of transition, there is still strong demand for printed as well as e-books. Many people want both–and would like it in both formats.

(I see an opportunity there that I think the traditional publishing industry is currently missing. Much like DVDs come with a digital copy that you can play on your portable device, why don’t printed books come with a key for a free or reduced-price copy in e-book format?)

Most large traditional publishers still don’t quite get it, as they are pricing e-book editions at the same price, very slightly lower ($1), or even slightly higher (!) than printed editions. There also seems to be a "sweet spot" around $5.99 for purchasing.

There was some comment about the pricing structure that Amazon uses for its "royalty" payment bands. (Personally, from a business and e-book pricing perspective, it makes sense to me.) No one seemed happy with how Apple is currently handling things.

E-book publishing is a great way for authors to get their out-of-print backlists back into print, without having to share a cut with the publisher. It’s also a way to publish elements of their series that might be too small or for too small a segment of their audience for traditional publication.

The biggest challenge in e-book publishing (or self-publishing, for that matter) for the new writer is in getting yourself known and recognized among the flood of other books out there. (The matter has gotten worse now that it is so easy to e-publish.)

There was a very interesting discussion regarding who the new "gatekeepers" would be. Traditionally, it’s been the agents, editors, and publishers. With this shift, there will be still be a need for someone to sift through everything available and recommend it to readers (word-of-mouth is the best publicity), but who that will be moving forward is not clear. There was a general consensus that reviewers would become even more important.

One of the greatest potential areas of change is in education. When e-readers hit the $99 mark, a lot of schools will decide that it’s less expensive to distribute them to students than printed textbooks. (The statement was made that technology is not quite there yet until the Kindle supports color, but I’m not sure I agree. If tablet computers ever drop near range, I think this becomes a non-issue.) The textbook industry just needs to be get in line behind this, but they are one of the strongest holdouts.

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