My good friend, and mentor of the occasional lunch-date variety, Warren Murphy, stopped by and left me with this article. He wrote it over ten years ago, predicting the future of e-books. Or, what I like to call: the present. I thought it was interesting to see how spot-on he was then--and now.
The Millennium. And about time, too.
The French, who seem to have a dopey statement for every occasion, have this one too: Le plus ca change, le plus c’est la meme chose. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Hoohaw, not this time, Pierre. Not any more. Not in publishing. The times, they are a’changin’ and changing for good. And the only wonder is why it took so long.
I once wrote an article for some rag about the warm feeling I got holding my new book and thinking that it started with blank paper and now it helped contribute to the magic of publishing. Until I realized that I was holding the book and still hadn’t been paid for acceptance of the manuscript. Why not? Well, admittedly some blame is mine. I should have paid more attention but I had been drunk for some time and was beyond bookkeeping detritus. The publisher? He just didn’t give a damn. I could wait because he didn’t need me for another year until my next book was done.
Writers, you see, come last. That bears repeating: in the old world of publishing, writers always come last.
Item: They’ll pay millions and millions for the bio of some guy who makes lightbulbs—“golf, next Tuesday, Jack?”—but can’t find any money to foster their young writers.
Item: Books are savaged and careers destroyed by surly snots who write anonymous reviews and publishers can’t be bothered to protest this institutionalized corruption. “Hey, writers are always bitching. Who cares? Besides, we’ve got the new Socks-the-Cat book to hump.”
Item: Slush piles and lost manuscripts and editors who can’t edit but are kept around because they have a good eye for what sold well yesterday, and reserves-against-returns and bookkeeping practices that would befuddle Stephen Hawking.... Just look, and you see an industry that is not only in full retreat but is fleeing the battlefield with its pants around its ankles.
And why not? So many good publishers, good editors, and all suffocating in an industry whose business practices were old a hundred years ago and dumb even earlier than that.
Old boys, lean close. I’ve got a secret for you. It’s over. We Trotskyite deviationists used to warn, “Comes the Revolution.” Well, it’s here and it’s called electronic publishing. E-books. Print on demand. Downloads in seconds; pocket readers no bigger than Gameboy units. A world in which no book is ever out of print. No reserves. No returns. No industry regularly held hostage by West Coast treehuggers driving up paper prices. Royalties of 50 percent, not six, and paid monthly.
Hello? Anybody home?
The estimable agent-cum-publisher-cum-futurist Richard Curtis commented not long ago how publishing theorists complained about the impossibility of the marketplace absorbing the 50,000 books published every year in America. “What,” Maestro Curtis wondered aloud, “will they say when the figure reaches 500,000?”
We’ll find out soon.
Now, don’t think this brave new world comes without pain and suffering. Birth rarely does. There will be an amazing amount of junk published, although one is tempted to ask, in an ocean of celebrity biographies, as opposed to what? And a lot will depend on technology that is still shaking the bugs out of its cuffs. But it’ll arrive. And the signs of success are already here. Stephen King, as he so often does, has shown a lot of young writers the yellow brick road to the future. Melisse Rose rode her book from on-line self published to the Times best seller list. Even as we speak, more are coming.
Imagine, writers with power over their own work. And readers too, learning from other readers what books are good, instead of relying on the corrupt opinions of a few institutional halfwits.
Not convinced? Think the internet is just a flash in the pan? Then, ostrich-person, consider this: a couple of young guys made a movie, two minutes long, and posted it on the internet. Why not? It’s cheap, fun, and no law against it. This little film was titled “True,” and it hung around online and then was seen by an ad-man who brought it to his agency who brought it to their client and thus began the saga of the ubiquitous beer commercial “Whassup? Whassup? Whassup?” If the movie cost $5 to make, the creators overpaid. But now one of them has a contract to develop a sitcom; his partners are media stars and getting rich. Because of a two-minute homemade movie. That’s internet power.
And, dear publishers, your business is next. Just over that hill, the crowds are massing, manuscripts in hand, and their attack will begin very soon. Do yourselves a favor: sue for peace.
Warren is the author of about a gazillion books, including The Destroyer series, Grandmaster, and The Forever King <--- one of my favorite books EVER. You can check Warren out here on Facebook.