Saturday, June 12, 2010

Midlist authors and e-publishing

An interesting article in the Huffington Post (link from Karen Newton on Twitter) about how ebooks may kill off the midlist author. The general idea seems to be that when people can't see their covers in brick-and-mortar stores, they won't buy them: As strolling and perusing the aisles of a bookstore is replaced with a mouse and computer screen, the demise of brick-and-mortar retailers will accelerate and critically important links between midlist authors and their readers will be severed...Digital books create a retailing bypass that diminishes the exposure of midlist books to potential readers.

He does quote agent Richard Curtis, talking about new ways in which writers can reach readers (Twitter, blogging, etc.). "Social networking is going to take the place of the autocratic handful of pundits who tell you what to read," (Curtis) said. Pointing to customer reviews as an example of the future, Curtis thinks readers will be guided in their eBook choices as restaurant-goers currently use Zagat ratings. However, the author then says that The reviews that currently populate the company's website are a mix of commentary written by friends (every author makes sure of that), irrelevant gripping about the price, format, or the publisher, and a large assortment of diatribes by--for lack of a better word--screwballs. Furthermore, the recommendations generated by Amazon analysis of a customer's purchases rarely include a midlist book.

I think the author is missing several things here. Buying books on recommendation doesn't happen just through Amazon reviews (which everyone knows can be badly off base for various reasons). I see people buying books because of recs on the various boards, on Goodreads, on blogs... admittedly the average person may not find these sites, but the more avid ones tend to. Also, I think Amazon recommends plenty of midlist books, to me at least. It depends upon your buying habits as to what it recommends, however.

And we have the usual assurances that print books will survive:

The strongest glimmer of hope for midlist authors is a growing conviction among publishing executives that printed books do not face a future entirely like that of the music industry where compact disc were replaced by downloads. Books are not the same as songs, according to Mark Suchomel, president of Independent Publishers Group. His company is one of the nation's largest distributors of books by independent presses, consummate publishers of midlist books.

"The way you sell music is by sample," Suchomel said. "The most interesting thing when judging a book is the cover." He sees a new world where both print and digital books will survive hand in hand, one version supporting the other.

For instance, Suchomel believes digital books will never substitute in the age-old practice of giving a book. "No one," he said, "is going to wrap up an electronic file."

Actually, on Amazon you get the customer's attention by the cover, and then you tend to sell based on the strength of your sample. And with regards to paper books, people have always picked them up and flipped through them to sample the writing. So yes, samples matter with regards to books, too.

And as to no one wrapping up an electronic file-- fluff and stuff. I've been getting gift cards from B&N for ten years now from my family, every Christmas. Now I just need to ask for Amazon gift cards instead. Not a really big change there!

But regardless of whether print books do or don't survive, I don't see the growth of ebooks as the inevitable death of the midlist. I see it as an opportunity for midlist authors.

1 comment:

  1. Ordering to the net (for print books) has been killing midlist authors for a few years now. Ebooks are more like a ray of hope than the last nail in the coffin.