electronic readers comparedA philosophical president of Random House publishing, Gina Centrello, concedes that the industry is changing fast. She seems comfortable about it. It’s her contention that yes, e-readers will be a predominant way people receive their books, but that real books, with pages between covers will also remain. Her belief is that the best of both worlds will exist, and this is fantastic for the consumer because they now have choice. Up until now, the poor person who wanted to scan War and Peace– (my example)- had to lug this heavy clumsy thing whenever they needed to extract quotes for a book report, to make it look as thought they’d read it. In their back pocket folded into near oblivion is the Cliff Note. A Cliff Note on the other hand is skinny and practically featherweight-doesn’t matter–it too will be available on a e-reader, no doubt. She seems positively cheery about the prospects the future brings.

Within all her rosy outlooks, a couple of things aren’t clear to me. How are writers to be compensated? I suppose the writer will receive  the pittance they’ve been getting from paperback sales. If an e-book costs only 12.00, how many readers will opt for a hardcover costing double and more? Sure, we’ll have the choice–for a while–and whomever who can’t afford a hardcover won’t bother to buy one, and eventually that will be most people and the publishers noting that the majority are not buying physical books, will phase them out. So what does that leave the author for profits? No hardcover money, only paperbacks (maybe) and e-books. It seems to me that unless you are a big time well known commercial author and can demand a huge advance, you are shit out of luck. Most mid-list authors up to this date get paid very little in advance. At one publisher’s, and I wouldn’t want to name names–but I will–St. Martin’s back in the late 90s would publish a myriad of first time writers, at a couple thousand a pop–each. And let them lay there, unheralded, unpublicized. The writer had no security–one book at a time would be signed, even if the author was writing a series. And paperback rights were decided, it appeared, in a serendipitous manner. Some St. Martin’s authors would be granted the publisher’s label and they would indeed be seen in print. Other’s searched for any publisher to put their St. Martin’s hard cover into print–and they would sadly be picked up by Worldwide, (not the e-book publisher, but a paperback one) notoriously known for giving the book a printing, and then poof, it disappeared. No second, third, whatever print runs–it was sort of a book of the month club, without the club. Or, and this happened to a good writer friend of mine, they didn’t publish the 2 titles he wrote for them, and, didn’t allow him to publish with anyone else! So, if e-books are the future–what is the future for writers?

And what to do with  gaggles of people who believe self publishing is legit and are flooding the confused e-market creating a lack of quality control? How does the publisher manage to keep integrity in such a vast wasteland of  titles, authors, e-pubs etc? Will they bother? Or will they decide to take all comers, regardless of quality, and publish them for a fee, like so many so called publishers do now? How will they keep their distinct voice alive apart from other traditional publishers that may have survived, and those legitimate e-publishers who PAY advances, royalties to authors whom they sign for their e-company?

I know I’m a pessimist–and some think dragging my feet to keep ‘progress’ down. I have no problem with say, a Lisa Scottoline e-b00k that’s been edited and polished before hitting the e-waves. Fine. I know many good readers who need the Nook etc., and find it easier to manage than thick volumes. However, besides the lack of quality control I predict in the future–I can predict this because the future is now–my biggest fear that real books will only exist as they did on Star Trek, The Next Generation–as a single volume, under glass.

Read the interview here.






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