The latest doom and gloom article comes to you courtesy the New York Times. This time around, it’s not publishing itself or the print book that’s declared dead but the mass market paperback.
If mass market paperbacks were actually to die out, I would be angry, because mass market paperbacks are my preferred format and have been for more than twenty years. I don’t like hardcovers except for reference and art books. I never buy fiction in hardcover, unless it’s a vintage book from the pre-paperback era. US hardcovers are even worse than European ones, because they are so bloody huge.
In fact, I thought for a long time that there were no hardcovers in the US at all, because the English language books I bought in the foreign language sections of German bookstores were all paperbacks. Even the art books were mostly trade paperback editions. Partly this was due to pure logistics, hardcovers are heavier and cost more to ship overseas than paperbacks. Besides, I read mostly genre (not always the same genre, but some form of genre fiction) and genre fiction was published almost exclusively as paperback originals until a few years ago. Even during visits to the US, I somehow managed to miss the fiction hardcovers, because they were mostly books I didn’t read.
So kill off the hardcover for all I care, but leave me my mass market paperbacks and I’ll be content.
And just to prove that gloom and doom is international, here is a German “end of books” article from the newspaper Die Welt.
Aside from the usual doom and gloom, the most interesting point about this article is that it mentions libreka, the e-book distributor/platform of the German booksellers’ association. I had never heard of libreka before (which doesn’t bode too well for their popularity), but I checked out their page. It’s difficult to tell how open they are to indie publishers (they do require an ISBN and are unclear about fees and royalties), but what’s interesting about them is that they distribute to Barnes & Noble which would make them an alternative to Smashwords for Non-Americans.
I think it’s worth looking into smaller national e-book distributors, provided the agreements, etc… are in a language you can understand. I will definitely look into libreka and I’m also looking into a Dutch e-book distributor, since the Netherlands has one of the higher e-reader penetrations (1.7 percent) in Europe.
Whether publishing and the book itself are dying or not (and personally I don’t think they are dying, though they’re certainly changing), the experiences of writer Kiana Davenport certainly suggest that many in publishing seem to believe that their industry is under threat. For what happened is that Kiana Davenport had signed a traditional publishing contract with a big international publishing house for her novel. Meanwhile, she also self-published two short story collections, which her publisher had previously rejected. Once the publisher found out, they threw a fit and eventually canceled Ms. Davenport’s publishing contract. Passive Guy, who is an attorney in his offline life, also offers his perspective on what happened to Kiana Davenport.
Kiana Davenport’s story also serves as a prime example of the old warning, “If you self-publish, you will permanently ruin your chances for traditional publication.” I’d really thought that those old chestnuts were dead and buried by now, but apparently they are still going strong in some areas. And while the old self-publishing stigma is fading, it is not quite dead yet. Indeed, at the Huffington Post, Bryan Young discusses the stigma of self-publishing and how to fight it.
E-book pricing is also an eternal topic. Hence, Chuck Wendig offers his thoughts on the 99 cent price threshold for e-books.
Another perpetual topic is promotion and how to do it or not. Now SF writer Cory Doctorow discusses the book promotion at Locus Online.
On a related note, urban fantasy writer Lilith Saintcrow discusses the dos and don’ts of social networking for authors. I particularly agree on the Jane Doe, author, thing. I can accept people adding “author” to their name, when they happen to have an extremely common name and all the more logical domain names, usernames, etc… are already taken. But while John Smith, author, is understandable, John P. Hoppensack, author, is just pretentious.
Another topic of eternal interest are sales figures. Victorine Lieske has polled several indie authors about their sales figures and how they developed over time. Interesting data, which confirms what most people say: Books take time to gain sales.