The eBook won’t kill publishing, but the traditional book and its indifferent author just might. There was a time when the stereotypical aspiring author with a big idea would go from publisher to publisher in search of a believing partner. Few books would make it through the editorial filter to get published, but those that did felt significant. Not every book succeeded, but having the book published meant something in itself.
Today the popularity of real time media makes it easy to do everything from instantly reviewing a movie, to broadcasting our location and reactions to the world around us. As gratification has become instant, many have lamented the loss of a more considered, private and intellectual lifestyle. When media is instant, reflection becomes the missing link because there is rarely time to nurture and share it.
Books on how to use Twitter or Facebook are bought, written and published in a matter of months. Self publishing has afforded the ability for anyone with any kind of idea to create and publish their own tome without any filter at all. On one level, this democratization of publishing is liberating. Great ideas which may never have made it through the sometimes harsh editorial sphincter can now survive and thrive. The negative, of course, is that the quality can vary widely. Just because anyone can publish a book doesn’t mean they will publish a good one.
Now consider the new role of the author in this world. More than any other time in our past, there has been a rise of what you might term “indifferent authors” — the authors who care less about how many books they sell and more about the ego and reputation boost that having a book can offer. Indifferent authors are changing publishing because their priorities are different from the publishers they partner with.
While a publisher may care solely about book sales, the indifferent author has a much wider success metric. Speaking engagements, consulting work, lead generation, guest article opportunities … each of these matter more to the indifferent author than the sales themselves. These authors are happy with niche sales, ready to step away from the bestseller list book race, and enjoy the reputation lift of having a book – whether the quality is there or not.
More than eBooks or digital content, the rise of this type of author presents a significant threat to not only the world of publishing, but the value that readers place on books themselves. This is a challenge we all must rise against. It is not about recreating a closed club of the “in crowd” where great ideas from outsiders never see the light of day. This is about respecting the ideal that a book should be significant. It should say something important. And it certainly should say more than an insightful blog post or a pithy 140 character observation.
These are the types of ideas that people will continue to pay to read, whether they are sold as a digital download or a printed hardcover book … and the future of publishing depends on finding and supporting the shrinking pool of authors who create them.