Amazon released its new Kindle e-book reader today. Techie types have been predicting the rise of the e-book for decades. Is it finally about to happen?
Either way, its the publishers who should be scared of e-books. And writers who stand to benefit. If a healthy online market place for e-books emerges, it really calls into question what role publishers will play. Publishers, like the major music labels and and film companies, exist only because they have a monopoly on distribution. Internet distribution undermines that monopoly. Over time it will completely destroy it. If I am a happy digital book reader, why would I bother paying the salary of umpteen pointless publishing executives when I can go directly to an authors website and get the same book for a quarter of the price, whilst knowing the author is receiving four times as much as the measly publishers royalty?
One consequence of e-books will be to make almost extinct the the mega-authors of our era. Yes, you’ll still get the occasional Stephen King but the digital marketplace will be much more geared towards serving a multiplicity of niche markets, and will produce a larger number of authors making a living rather than growing rich. Knowing your niche and building a relationship with your readership will be more important than ever. In some ways we are returning to the pre-mass media model of cultural consumption where every village had its own storytellers, musicians and theatre. Of course our villages are not geographically limited, but related instead by shared values and interest. But once again those communities will need artists to articulate their identity. That seems like an exciting prospect to me.