Monster Plots Strike Terror in Writers’ Hearts

Illustration from "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" by J.K. Rowling

The other day I received an email from  my friend and an excellent storyteller in her own right (I suggest you check out her blog), with a link to a Wall Street Journal article on the effects of e-books on authors.  Essentially, it covers the logistical problems of applying a business model designed for printed books to their electronic counterparts.  As e-books are sold at approximately half the price of hardcovers, publishers are taking in less money from their sales, which in turn results in the authors making less money.  In a time when e-book sales are outstripping those of physical books, this is a serious problem.

“Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books” by Jeffrey Trachtenberg

This all translates into a need for publishers to save money and they are pinching pennies from the pockets of new authors by signing fewer each year and drastically reducing the cash advances paid to their new talent.  Not only does this make it more difficult for new writers to get picked up by a major publisher, it also makes it nearly impossible for them to make a living as an author.

E-book sales have been good for publishers’ backlist titles but for the most part they are not elevating the public’s exposure to excellent writing; rather it is the crowd-pleasing blockbusters that are raking it in.  To site Trachtenberg’s article once more, “Monster best sellers are still the major drivers of profits for publishers and their authors and these are precisely the books that are being snapped up by e-book buyers.”  Statements such as these leave me feeling depressed and truly unsure about what will become of the book industry.  Mass appeal does not guarantee quality writing and after the wild popularity of The DaVinci Code, I am highly skeptical of anything recommended on the basis of being a bestseller.  The fact that these are the books publishers are looking for and the general public is demanding leaves me with a heavy heart.  How much real talent and innovation is being shunted to the wayside as a result?

On the upside, more authors are turning from large publishing houses to small, independent outfits, so there is still a chance for their novels to find a home. Thank you independents!  While such small businesses can’t offer the advances authors would receive from Random House or Penguin, they are at least offering the chance for writers to leave their physical mark on the world and prove that print is not yet dead.

To me at least, the lesson here seems to be that quality should not be sacrificed for convenience, and if e-books are the reading public’s favored format, a sustainable and fair system must be developed that allows writers to pay the bills they accrue while they create and furnish us with stories. But, please, let those stories be told!  E-readers, this one’s on you because I know I’ll be purchasing small press titles this year for my bookshelf.  How are your virtual shelves looking?

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2 thoughts on “Monster Plots Strike Terror in Writers’ Hearts

  1. How are ebooks selling better than hard copies?

    Amazon seems to think so, but then it has a much larger share of the ebook market compared to it’s share of the hard copy market.

    I don’t think those projected figures are without bias.

    Companies that produce ebook readers will want you to think ebooks are the way forward so they can sell their products to government organisations, schools, private companies.. Despite the fact that ebook readers are pointless if you have a small netbook and it is only portability that gives them an advantage over laptops and desktop pcs. Also it is my understanding that LCD screens are not so good for your eyes compared to print on paper.

    I believe in a paperless office, but ebooks have been around for 10+ years, i think their is a reason people have stuck with paper for so long and those reasons do not appear to be being removed in the next 5 years.

    • Sorry for the looong delay in getting back to you. It is my understanding that these statistics come from Amazon’s sales records and pertain, not to all books, but to the sale of new release, hardcovers versus new releases in a digital format. As the e-books are usually priced far below the jacket cost of hardcovers and do not have the same limitation of first-printrun availability, the e-books are selling at a faster rate. I am sure that Amazon will selectively choose which bit of information it showcases to make e-books and readers look most appealing, but I believe this particular statistic to be correct. It was picked up and printed in various credible news sources, such as The New York Times, and the overall numbers must indicate a growing trend because third-party research by Forrester’s has reported a significant increase in e-readers/books’ projected sales.

      As for the rest of your comments, I’m not entirely sure but it sees you are for e-books but against e-readers. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I think cost, convenience, and portability paired with constant innovation will ensure e-readers are here to stay and make them the preferred device for the reading of e-books. It is my prevailing concern, however, that we don’t lose the printed book as a result.

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