But What About Us Readers?

Graffiti on a junior school bathroom wall:
“I love grils”
“You mean, you love girls”
“But what about us grils?”
Messages like this one make teaching worthwhile.

Most people will admit the demise of physical books was exaggerated. It appears eBooks and traditional books can live side by side after all. Now some are predicting, if not the Book Table at Museumdemise, at least the endangerment of indie publishing. I think about that, and then ask, “But what about us readers?”

Electronic books and instant digital publishing have opened exciting new horizons. People who never imagined they might write a book and see it published have done so. Even best-selling traditionally published authors have found new options available to them in this new world. Readers have incredible choice available, instantly and inexpensively. We are in a golden age of books.

In his recent blog, Smashword creator Mark Coker has once again bravely ventured to look into the future. Among other conjectures, he sees a decline in indie authors due to an increasingly crowded field, leading to lower profits for most, hitting hardest at full-time indie writers. The favored few, however, will see increased profit (sound familiar?).

This projection comes from the perspective of authors and publishers and people in the book business. Many in the field agree. But what about us readers? Is that population static? Might there be more readers, better matching supply and demand? Might more readers read more books? Are readers that predictable, so very much tied to publishing houses?

Few anticipated how stubbornly readers would cling to traditionally bound books. Many people read both formats. Each has its place. It seems to me the world is divided between readers and non-readers, that is to say, those who read frequently for pleasure, and those who read only to gather needed information when they must (my mother the former, my son the latter). It seems to me the eBook has served the last group most particularly, offering quick and easy access to the substance they seek. I would expect that population to grow.

To project a rise or fall of indie published eBooks, one must anticipate how the digital book will be used, including any future, not-yet-thought-of applications. I suggest indie publishing is rather like the iPad when it first appeared, when Apple said: Here it is, now figure out what to do with it. And, of course, we did.

This author has always seen the indie publishing field, in fiction particularly, as a great leveler. In Amazon, Stephen king appears next to Jane Doe. At any given moment, Jane might be outselling Stephen. Who decides? The reader decides. I have faith in quality and utility finding its own level. Like Wikipedia, the greater mass of opinions must ferret out the truth.

What does this say about the future of indie publishing? Sure, the field is crowded, and will become more so. It may be tough on some writers, but it’s a good thing for the reader. Improved devices make it easy to acquire and read books, competition means lower prices, a growing population will increase consumption. Ratings are there to guide the reader, define quality. It’s a treasure hunt; will the next Hemingway be among all those books?

As for authors, the formula for success hasn’t changed. As Coker himself has said, in so many words, “write a really good book, then write another really good book and another…”

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