Out with the Old, in with the New ; Shift to Digital Rattles Book Publishing Industry, but Offers Writers Many More Options

Article excerpt

Over the past 10 years, we have seen a revolution in the book publishing industry as significant as the Gutenberg press in the 15th century.

Digital publishing is threatening to be the new normal. This breakthrough and the digital reader have hit the staid book publishing industry like an earthquake. Aftershocks throughout the book business are still taking place as publishers search for safe ground.

Think about this monumental shift: Until 2000, publishers stored books in warehouses waiting to be sold. If books were overstocked, they sold as "remainders" for a pittance. For the most part, unless you were an accomplished writer, publishers took few chances with newcomers.

Now, prospective writers have a real chance to be published. A mom or dad interested in doing a family history; a fledgling poet who would like to publish her verses; a veteran home from Afghanistan or Iraq who wants to write about it; a grandfather or grandmother considering a memoir; a person who has found God after a long search; all are now able to publish a digital book without the old-time publisher giving approval.

New authors are able to be published on demand, one book at a time or 1,000 at a time and ready in a matter of days. The demand for digital books has skyrocketed because electronic readers, like Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, the Sony reader and others now offer a quality reading experience. Color will soon be available on almost all readers.

E-book readers hold up to 1,400 books. These readers fit into people's pockets everywhere they travel: on trains, planes and buses. You can sit at home and shop in the Kindle store with your reader, for example, and download a book in seconds. In fact, Amazon.com is now selling more e-books than physical books on its website. It is offering close to a million books. And although the company doesn't give any figures, the number of sales is said to be in the millions.

As if to punctuate this point, Publishing Perspectives indicated in its October 2011 newsletter that "both Nielsen BookScan and the Association of American Publishers reported that print sales in the USA continue to fall as e-book sales are rising. The AAP figures showed that print sales declined by 25 percent across all segments in the first two months of 2011, while e-book sales rose by 18.4 percent."

Not all of this is progress. Whenever a huge technological change takes place, it causes trouble. Physical print book publishers are taking a beating and trying to figure out how to cash in on an inevitable shift in the industry. And, truth be told, reading an e- book isn't always as enjoyable as reading a physical book, at least not at first. But the convenience and reduced cost are motivators to learn!

To that point: I wouldn't make the argument that it is simple to publish a book electronically. The writer who has a story to tell needs to have rudimentary skills with a computer. That said, publishing a book with amazon.com isn't hard to do. In fact, there are many other venues that the prospective writer might choose.

For example, recently I uploaded a 300-page e-book to amazon.com called "Twice-Told Tales: The American Scene, 1986 - 2011." It's a collection of book reviews, short stories and occasional pieces. It was the fifth e-book that I put on sale last year.

Amazon makes it easy to publish. It has a video to watch online, enabling you to anticipate the steps you will take in uploading your print copy. When I decided to publish my reviews and articles that appeared earlier in The Buffalo News, the Boston Globe, the Dublin Review of Books, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Irish Jesuit publication Studies over the past 25 years, it was easy as a piece of cake.

If you are a writer who has written for various publications, the first thing you must do is to get electronic copies of your work from the outlets that published it. …