The Slow Revolution
E-books have been about to revolutionize the world of publishing for about 15 years now. It is a technology that always seems to be on the brink of entering the mainstream. And yet in the early 2000ņs the number of e-books published actually went into decline!
It seems that the world is not quite ready for e-books despite the many advantages.
The many advantages of e-books are:
You can store a bookcase worth of e-books in your pocket You can electronically search an e-book You can be reading an e-book within minutes of purchasing The environmental impact of manufacture is virtually zero You can change the font face and size You can read them in the dark (with a backlight) You can keep a backup copy You can stand it up without the pages flipping over They can be easily updated You can easily make a perfect copy (DRM permitting) *You can have it electronically read aloud
What is holding e-books back?
Given the compelling advantages, it may seem strange that e-books have not been more successful. There are three main reasons for this - the devices, competing formats and DRM.
E-book readers have simply failed to replicate the simple convenience of a printed book. The electronic devices have been awkward to use, sometimes slow to start up, sometimes prone to computer "crashes", and generally failing to offer a user experience which can compete with the familiarity of paper and ink. They have also been expensive, which is to be expected with new technology, battery life is short enough to be a problem, and screen resolutions have been too low to replicate the experience of reading a printed book. Prices will not come down until there is mass adoption, as is usually the case, but all the technical problems can, and no doubt will, be solved. It can be very satisfactory to read a novel on a Tablet PC, and without the need for reading glasses, but currently it requires a very expensive and heavy device.
There are a couple of dozen e-book formats which are competing with each other and to some extent confusing the market: e.g. Adobe PDF, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket etc. Currently Adobe's PDF seems to be the leader, but it is still a worry that one might end up with the literary equivalent of a shelf full of Betamax movies.
The biggest e-book killer is the attempts by publishers to use Digital Rights Management (DRM) to control the use and copying of titles. One can understand the fears of publishers who have seen the effects of MP3 file sharing on the music industry, and follows the perennial pattern of trying to protect a business model under threat from a new technology. Potentially the book publishing industry is even more vulnerable because the file sizes are smaller and even easier to distribute. Unfortunately the DRM schemes used so far have produced a dreadful user experience, with buyers so frustrated that they vow never to buy an e-book again. There have been horror stories of "one chance" downloads and self-destructing files following a similar pattern to those of DRM protected music files.
Once you have completed your project, you have a number of choices of how to proceed. You could simply leave your content as a permanent website as a public resource - you might generate some income from Google or MSN Ads and Amazon links, but essentially you are allowing readers to enjoy your work free-of-charge. Even if you allow readers to browse your website you might charge them to download the work in e-book form, on the assumption that an e-book is more useful than a website. But you may decide not to charge for the e-book either.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing your work free-of-charge, and why might you want to do it? It really depends on your main objective in writing - do you want to earn money, or do you want to be read?
One advantage of free publication is that your work is much more likely to be read. If your main motivation is to get something "out there" then this is probably the best approach. The awful truth is that most writers who use the self-publishing route sell their books in tens rather than tens of thousands. If you want your voice to be heard then selling printed copies is not a very exciting way of doing this unless you have a rare runaway success or you are extraordinarily good at marketing and publicity. E-books have zero production costs, so giving them away becomes an option. Of course just because you allow your readers to have a copy for nothing does not affect your copyright - you still control who may make copies and you should make this clear in the materials you make available.
Another advantage of making your work available in this way is that you may make contact with other writers and build up a network of contacts which may be helpful later. The more people you can get to read your work on Blooki and, better still, comment on it, the more interesting and exciting your writing projects will be.
The main disadvantage of the free publishing approach is of course that you sacrifice any income that might have come from selling e-books or hardcopy books. If this is likely to be a significant amount then perhaps this is not the right model (it didnņt work for Stephen King). On the other hand, if you are a new or unpublished writer then the loss of income is much less likely to be significant. At this stage of your writing career you may feel that the visibility is more important than the income.
Another drawback is that there is a small risk that you will be seen in the traditional publishing world as an amateur. The solution here is to take the website down if you think you are about to hit the big time, although be aware that websites are cached by Google. If you want to publish a piece of work while completely fireproofing yourself you could consider publishing under a pseudonym.