Sarah Storme's Blog

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Location: New Mexico, United States

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The world of books

We spend a lot of time talking about exponential growth of technology, but sometimes it really hits home. I've spent the past 15 years or so involved in the publishing world; it has been quite an experience.

When my first book came out in 2001 from AOL Time-Warner, it was the result of an electronic experiment. Writers submitted the first three chapters to an online site where other writers and readers rated the submissions. Then the editors reviewed the top three submissions for the month in each genre, and chose the ones to publish. Quite a concept, since the Net was still new. Then, in 2003, I had my first book published (WILD MONTANA HEARTS from Echelon Press) that came out in paperback and electronic format simultaneously. That's when I stepped into the big e-book debate.

At the time, some people were saying that within a year or two, everyone would be reading e-books. It didn't happen. The e-book concept had been around since the late 90's, but one of the first e-book readers had just come out. The gadget, however, was really expensive, and had limitations. And we all wondered about the file format problem; no one knew where that would land.

Kind of funny, if you think about it. This is one place where the exponential growth really shows up. Since 1439 when Gutenberg first used movable type printing, not a lot changed until recently. And, for those of us who love graphs, every change comes along as a bell-shaped curve; the steeper the curve, the more rapid the change. I have to admit, I thought the e-book curve would be relatively gentle -- probably 20 years to get past the hump. But that has not been the case. My family purchased an e-book reader 10 years ago, and we looked everywhere for someone else using one in public. (Were they all hiding to read e-books?) Now they're everywhere. Check the ads for Black Friday shopping. E-book readers are on sale for $50 to $99 off, and that drops them to less than $100. I think we're on a very steep leading edge of the bell right now. I wonder how long it will take to pass.

This is both exciting and disturbing. I've found my books pirated all over the web, which means I don't get royalties. If the publishing industry is going to continue, publishers will have to make the e-books harder to steal, thus harder to get for the good folks paying for them. Otherwise, there will be little incentive to go through all the hard work to get published, and book quality will plummet. I'd hate to see that happen.

What will the future hold for the publishing industry? I wish I could gaze even just 10 years into the future. Any visionaries out there?