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.
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?