I noted the moment when sales of Amazon’s Kindle outpaced the site’s hardcover sales. Now, only a short time later, two new significant events signal the end of book publishing as we know it. One is the increasing popularity of the Kindle, which for a time lingered in new-technology obscurity. Tech Crunch reports today that the next generation 3G Kindle—with better specs like 21% smaller body, 15% lighter weight, 20% faster page turns, double storage capacity and one month of batter life (with wifi off)—has sold better in its first four weeks than any Kindle ever. In short, Kindle is becoming an acceptable—and probably fashionable—way to read books. It changes the way text is read. I, alas, content myself merely with ‘Kindle for PC’ and while reading white text on a black background—an available option which is prohibitively expensive for paper books because of ink prices—is easier on the eyes, turning the page is not the same as ‘page turning’. There is nothing not to love, however, about the price and ease of accessing e-books (the downloads are veritably instant).
The Kindle not only changes the way one reads, but how a book itself is published. Rather than make book agents obsolete—who are typically thought of as the middle-men in the publishing business—new e-reader technologies confront publishing houses with a crisis. Agents have in some cases circumvented publishers and cut deals for their authors directly with Amazon and Apple’s iBookstore. And now, authors may begin to go it alone completely. One already has. The Wall Street Journal reports that popular marketing author Seth Godin will market his books directly to e-reader sellers. How will he do it? Godin says he has a large enough fan base which he regularly connects with directly through his blog, that as paper books go electronic, the promotional efforts of publishing houses are no longer necessary for his success. Of course, paper books will not disappear completely, so Godin plans to use on-demand publishing for those who want to turn his book’s pages rather than ‘page turn’ them. One such on-demand publishing machine is the Espresso Book Machine, created by co-founder of the New York Review of Books, Jason Epstein.
The Journal says that skipping both publishing houses and agents, and cutting deals directly with e-reader sellers may be most attractive to ‘midlist’ authors: those who already have a following of readers and therefore do not receive much in the way of promotional campaigns from publishing houses.