What does it all mean?

I spent nearly a decade working in newspaper, mostly on the technology side. That means I’m about five years behind the technology curve. So, it should come as no surprise that a former “newspaper man” finally embraced the Kindle. I’m just now facing what e-readers may mean to aspiring (and accomplished) writers.

I do listen. I’ve heard the predictions and statistics, but none of it is certain. Do e-readers mean the death of the publishing and printing industry? I doubt that. But they certainly mean it will change by becoming smaller, more experimental, and more chaotic.

The New York publishing market still holds power, at least until giants like J. K. Rowling flex their muscle (as Rowling appears to be doing).

We’ll need to wait to see what this all means to traditional publishers and franchise writers. Rowling, Stephen King, and Dan Brown will all be fine. The question is whether the independence of someone like Rowling (who is, in a sense, self-publishing her e-books) affects the rest of us. Publishing, like the recording industry (another fading giant), depends on big acts and major franchises to pay for the small acts and writers. Fringe, experimental, and niche writers only get chances because big acts exist. (One of the reasons I’ve never resented Britney Spears is because her multiplatinum albums allow her label to sign small bands.)

One thing is certain. E-readers require small and unknown writers to be more flexible and more experimental than ever before. We used to stand in line: waiting for an agent, waiting for a publisher, waiting for the next stream of New York-postmarked rejection letters. We can’t do that anymore. We have to become entrepreneurs, developing our own markets, hoping that the publishers see the successes we generate. Publishing is becoming much like the tech industry. There are still giants out there — much like Googles and Yahoo!s and Microsofts — listening to the buzz. When something buzzes loud enough, the giants buy it out. The publishers are listening, but like us old newspaper people, they don’t see change coming until long after it’s happened.

(More thoughts on the Kindle and e-publishing in weeks ahead.)


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