In 2000, just as I was starting to get serious about pursuing a career in fiction, I attended my first writer’s conference. Out of all the seminars and talks I went to, the one that was the most lightly attended was the one on e-publishing. The editors for Ellora’s Cave, St. Martin’s e-press (which folded a few years later), and a few others were pitching the concept that e-publishing was viable and was welcoming to authors who were writing books that “colored outside the lines” a little.
I remember our response too. The hidden eyeroll. E-publishing was surely a fad, we agreed after the seminar. Here today, gone tomorrow.
As digital books continue to gain market share, one of the country’s oldest mass paperback publishers is abandoning its traditional print books and making its titles available in digital format and print-on-demand only.
Dorchester Publishing Inc., a closely held book and magazine house, said it is making the switch after its book unit sales fell 25% last year, in part because of declining orders from some of its key retail accounts, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart declined comment.
I believe this is the beginning of smaller presses going solely to digital in the coming months. Like the transition from CD to downloads for the music industry, the digital revolution is moving swiftly.
“By the end of 2012, digital books will be 20% to 25% of unit sales, and that’s on the conservative side,” predicts Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of the Idea Logical Co., publishing consultants. “Add in another 25% of units sold online, and roughly half of all unit sales will be on the Internet.”
What will this mean for writers?
Good and bad, I think. My cynical nature tells me that publishers will find some way to squeeze the writer. Royalty percentages, never princely to begin with, are higher for electronic rights, up to 25%. There’s plenty of margin there to start shaving off a contract.
But the good news is that portable electronic devices offer consumers impulse buying opportunites. Instead of having that cooling off period between learning of a new book and going to the store to buy it, the download can happen instantly. I think new book sales will actually rise.
What do you think about traditional publishers going totally digital and abandoning print? Is it going to be good for writers, or another market challenge? What other publishers do you guess will be moving to digital soon? My prediction: Kensington goes next.