There is no doubt the publishing industry is undergoing massive change. E-book readership has been growing steadily and many experts think that e-books will be the primary form for books in the digital future.
In the digital present, massive corporate bodies, including Amazon and Google, are in a race to digitize books and provide them cheaply or for free so that they can attract users to their sites and make money off advertising. Unfortunately, being on sites like Amazon may get publishers and writers a lot of eyes for their work (and who can scoff at that?), its cut-throat discounts means that writers and publishers don’t always get much money back. Even if these sites draw in big sales, which is only really ever for a minority of writers or books, many readers feel that reading digitally should be free, an extension of other things they already read for free online.. Here’s a better rundown of the situation.
While I agree that good books should be affordable, selling creative content at a loss in order to boost sales of other products – such as when Amazon sold e-books at cut-rate prices to win customers for its Kindle e-reader – is ultimately destructive to the content producer.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some upsides to this digital phenomenon of widely available cheap or free e-books. It is returning out-of-print classics and overlooked backlists into the limelight. And it’s a way for new writers to air their material. But merely having their work seen by a lot of people, without an accompanying monetary reward, is not enough.
Of course, some writers may say in public that it is more important that they are read far and wide, that it was never really about money in the first place. However, experience shows that is not in the case. The authors and editors and designers and printers who work to create a book have bills to pay and families to feed. What they do takes time and effort. These producers of content should be paid – and paid well – for their creativity.
If, in the changing landscape, creatives find it impossible to make a living from their work, many will stop making them. Left unchecked, we might find ourselves in a world where creative endeavors are undertaken entirely by enthusiastic amateurs for whom the vanity of publishing is enough. Or it might become something done by the idle rich who can afford to take time off. A world where the best voices find it too difficult to make their voices heard in a growing cacophony overloaded with too much dross.
And what will this mean for the quality of creative work? What will it mean for the art, and literature that make up our collective heritage? Only time will tell.