Lately I’ve noticed a trend, of sorts, towards downplaying the changes in the current state of publishing–that is, a lot of people are saying ‘this is not revolutionary, self-publishing has been around forever, all that has changed is the number of people self-publishing’.
To me this seems wrong, because I see a clear revolution–removing the cost of printing and distribution is a huge change that opens the world to anyone with an Internet connection. Instant, near-zero cost replication and delivery, how is that NOT a revolution? And not just for self-publishing but for traditional publishers also–recent developments have exposed the flaws in their systems, which is why a lot of traditional publishers (and bookstores) are now struggling. Well, that and the fact that hardly anyone reads any more–but I think that this, too, is changing.
Actually, let me talk about that for a moment. It’s common knowledge that the state of literacy in the Western World is pretty dire. Yes, there are still people who read, but compared to other activities reading is pretty much bottom-rung, especially if you’re talking about fiction rather than newspapers or magazines. Even for me, I read far less these days than I did growing up, and part of the reason for that is when I was around twelve or so I ran out of books. I’d read everything I wanted to at the local library, and whenever I heard about a new book that sounded interesting, it was never available–or if it was, it was too expensive for me to take a chance on. So I settled into a groove, only reading my most favourite, trusted authors, and I spent more time with games and TV and movies and so forth. I still read, of course, but less than I had when younger.
However. If the Kindle had been around at that time, it’s probable that a lot more of my time would’ve been spent reading–I remember spending hours going through Amazon, looking at all the books I wanted to read, but the barrier of ‘shipping cost’ prevented me from buying all but those I most wanted. (Which were mostly RPG rulebooks and comics, come to think of it.)
So, my optimistic prediction for the future is that slowly but surely reading is going to crawl its way back up. More and more people are going to embrace e-readers (or reading on their phones), e-books will become mainstream, prices will come down, and the world will be a slightly better place for it. This will, of course, also be great for indie authors, because people will get used to the idea of searching out new books, and websites and so on will spring up to cater to this. We’re seeing some of this now, but my feeling is that The Big Idea hasn’t hit us yet.
In any case, as I’ve said before and will say again, it’s the best time in the history of the world to be a writer of any kind, and things are just getting started.