As a reader and an author of books, and now dabbling in publishing, albeit in partnership with some grown-ups, I’m endlessly fascinated by the effects of digital technology on the industry. While not in denial about the challenges facing publishers or booksellers, I think the sector as a whole has responded far better than the record industry with a series of innovations that serve consumers.
Two things caught my eye this week. The first is Kevin Kelly on the economics of self-publishing (courtesy of Storythings), spelling out the financials as well as some practical issues. John Kay is another author who has self-published some books. The technologies, combined with the sales platform provided by Amazon, have clearly brought down entry barriers in publishing to the point where individuals can have a go. The main barrier now is marketing, grabbing readers’ attention. (I also like the link in Kelly’s column to another post about the joy of physical books.)
The second was a blog post by the University of Minnesota Press (courtesy of the Princeton University Press blog) about a new series they are publishing, capturing the the faster and more engaged nature of scholarly debate in these days of blogging and social media. Here’s the core of the idea:
“Forerunners will publish timely, innovative works of between 15,000 and 25,000 words, written for a broader audience of serious readers. These could be original writing or adapted from more ephemeral conversations already happening. We’re leveraging agile publishing tools and ebook technology to make works available quickly and widely at an affordable price. This means ebooks available from all the major retailers, like Amazon, as well as print-on-demand editions for those who still prefer a more tactile reading experience. And, I’m talking a few months from submission to publication—not a few years, which would be the typical timeline for a scholarly monograph. You submit your work in January; we have it out in April.”
It isn’t all roses in the book world. Some bookstores earn 25% of their annual revenue in the month before the Christmas holiday, and most of what they sell will be ghosted celebrity biographies and cook books. But for those of us interested in ideas and enamoured of books, these are exciting times.