The Evil Equation: Rise of eBooks + Self Publishing = Death of Print Books. Really? #writing

Few topics stir such passion among avid readers as “what is the future of the print book?” Will eBooks completely replace print books? When writers are introduced into the debate a number of related topics inevitably sprout up, often around the qualitative superiority of one medium versus the other.

The Dark Lord of eBooks laughs at the demise of print books

Recently I posted a book review of Be the Monkey, which details an illuminating discussion between Joe Konrath and Barry Eilser. In it, Konrath and Eilser put forth a compelling explanation of the realities of the new digital world, and what that means for print books.

Then about a week or so later I stumbled across the article Is the future written in digital ink? Written by Jane Sullivan for the Sydney Morning Herald, this article paints a somewhat darker picture of what the rising popularity of eBooks means for not only the printed book, but for publishing in general. This article is not an in-depth, 100 page treatise like Be the Monkey, but it manages to capture some of the core trepidations that the partisans of traditional publishing have in respect to digital publishing.

The article raises a number of concerns about the rising influence of eBooks and self publishing, It lists a number of objections, some practical (like new and aspiring authors may well find themselves somehow exploited by companies in the lawlessness of the new digital world) and some sentimental (like author Jonathan Franzen’s description of the printed book as something more or less permanent, representing an unchangeable effort of the writer to get the work just right to be enjoyed by the reader).

I can’t help but feel that the sincerity of the above practical objections come across as a little self serving (being voiced by members of the traditional publishing establishment). I tend to think that Franzen’s thoughts carry more weight with writers. But I wonder if the debate is really as stark as what the publishers are suggesting? I think that they are correct that (as mentioned toward the end of the article) the downward pricing pressure of the eBook is threatening the publishing industry as we know it today. But I also tend to agree with Konrath and Eisler that this is the nature of competition. The industry needs to discard outmoded practices. They need to either embrace and adapt to the new realities, or perish.

I would suggest that most writers, even the most ardent supporters of the eBook revolution, would be appalled at the notion of the demise of print books. I personally doubt that this is going to happen. But I do think that Jonathan Franzen’s comments about the permanence of the printed word bring up an important point. One of the ugliest features of the new world of self publishing is the complete lack of standards. For every high quality novel that is self published, there are dozens of low quality, poorly edited competitors. It would appear to the critic that the self publishing world is not so much selling novels, but rough drafts. Imagine what would happen if we as indie authors would clean up that aspect our world.

What are your thoughts? It’s a deep subject, I know. But I’d love to hear what other readers and writers think.


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4 Responses to The Evil Equation: Rise of eBooks + Self Publishing = Death of Print Books. Really? #writing

  1. I really hope the printed book doesn’t go, but at the same time I don’t think it will. People arguing the case as to why it won’t usually mention that it was widely believed that television would kill off radio, yet this is obviously not the case. And there are still plenty of places people can buy Vinyl records, despite Vinyl having been usurped by three separate formats now. Come on – if medieval reinactors can still get suits of armour made, I don’t think the printed book lover has much to worry about.

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Agreed. I like the art analogy. My printed books, sitting in my personal library, are sort of an expression of who I am. When someone walks into my home, they see what I value as a reader and a writer by what I have on my shelves. So not only do I read these books, but I draw inspiration from them in the same was as others might from a painting hanging in their home. Thanks for the comment!

  2. TheOthers1 says:

    I’ve really been considering this topic lately. I think to many people enjoy the physicality of a paperback too much for the traditional way of printing to go out. There are so many perils in the self-publishing ebook industry though. Not only the quality of work, but the ease with which said work can be stolen. I think there needs to be a certain level of standards and protection within the ebook industry. As a writer working toward publishing, self-publishing makes me nervous for a host of reasons. I know though that in order to be relevant I’m probably doing to have to throw my lot in the self-publishing arena. I want to go the route of traditional publishing first because I feel tied to the physicality of it as a life long reader.

    Very nice post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Thanks for your comments! I think that it is inevitable that some kind of standards and structure will emerge in the self publishing world. I only hope that the opportunity it offers to writers isn’t impacted too greatly when it happens. I’ve met a number of talented writers who have self published wonderful books. I hope to join these authors soon. But the lack of quality that dilutes the good work will almost certainly give birth to some kind of quality control measures. I wonder what form these measures will take? Thanks again!

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