The Passive Voice has recently gained a lot of new readers. Thank you all for coming and special thanks to those who have linked to Passive Guy’s rants.
One of PG’s frequent themes that recent readers may not have seen is that the book business is in the middle of disruptive change.
What is disruptive change? Most frequently, it is a new technology applied to an existing market that substantially undercuts the financial model upon which the existing market relies and provides end users with a substantially different experience.
Quick examples of disruptive change:
– iTunes selling downloadable songs for 99 cents disrupted the traditional music business based on album sales and associated music studios, agents and retail stores. In this case, the disruptive technology was the iPod, including its capacity for holding (at first) hundreds of songs together with Apple’s iTunes store where music was easy to buy and you could acquire the two best songs on an album for less than two dollars and skip the rest. iTunes also allowed musicians to easily self-publish into the dominant music retailer, bypassing studios and other traditional gatekeepers.
– The first digital cameras had horrible image quality and a long shutter delay that sometimes meant the “picture” disappeared between the time the photographer pressed the shutter release and the camera captured the image. Nevertheless, a few people bought them because it was easy to store digital images on their computers, manipulate them with image processing software and share them with others. Needless to say, quality has improved and traditional film cameras are now a niche market. Business disruptees included Kodak and an extensive network of small and large businesses that collected undeveloped film, forwarded it to film processors, developed the film and created prints, then returned prints and negatives to consumers.
The digital camera business is, in turn, being disrupted today by cell phone cameras to the point that sales of low-end point-and-shoot digital cameras are plunging.
To consider what disruptive change means, ask the question, “What if I want to listen to Just Can’t Get Enough by The Black Eyed Peas right away?”
Ten years ago, your answer would have been to travel to the closest music store, buy the CD for $12-15 and play it on your car or home stereo or Discman. (We’ll allow The Black Eyed Peas to time-travel back to 2001 to record the song.) If your Black Eyed Peas urge happened at 2:00 AM, you might be in tears until the stores opened.
Today, your answer is to go to your computer, download the song from iTunes for 99 cents and listen to it instantly. If you plug your iPhone into your computer, you can listen to the song while you walk down the street or in your car.
What about the same question applied to reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen via physical bookstore vs. Kindle ebook? When you consider where the ebook might go, remember the current Kindle 3 is the rough equivalent of those early digital cameras. The Kindle 15 will much different.
Disruptive change is like musical chairs except sometimes all the chairs disappear at once. Or sometimes big chairs are replaced by teeny little chairs and there’s no place for (metaphorical) fat-butts to sit.
Disruptive change in the publishing business is the reason agents are trying to be publishers and publishers (via Bookish) are trying to be bookstores and some people contend that what all these ereader buyers are really crying out for is a good hardcover book. There is nothing orderly and little predictable about disruption.
Donning his soothsayer robes, here are a few disruptive sooths Passive Guy hereby says:
- The rules about what a book is and what it isn’t are not set in stone.
- Is there a minimum or maximum length for a book? As far as a traditional publisher is concerned, there is.
- If you’re doing POD, at some point, a book will be so long that the glue and binding just won’t hold that many pages together, but a POD decision on creating a series is much different than a traditional publisher’s decision.
- For an ebook, you can write one that’s 5,000 words or 400,000 words (Amazon may have some restraints). In a physical bookstore, you have obvious visual cues that tell you how long a book is. On Amazon, you have file size and (maybe) printed book pages, but who ever filters on those? Your book can be as long or as short as your story is.
- Would your 400 page ebook sell better as three 133 page ebooks? That way, you could run the Amanda Hocking play of pricing the first book in your trilogy at 99 cents and the last two at $2.99. Or maybe you’ve written a techno-thriller and sell the first 375 pages for 99 cents and the last 25 pages where the world gets saved for 99 cents. (PG would advise not being sneaky about what you’re selling, however, or you will see spoilers everywhere you look on the web.)
- Genre is a marketing tool. Book sales reps use it with B&N. Amazon has just begun the process of creating a million genres with its categories – Mystery & Thrillers > Thrillers > Spy Stories & Tales of Intrigue. We’re already beginning to see genre busters and there will be more. Look for Historical > Zombie > Arab > Arthurian > Cookbook
- It’s a major deal to get pictures into a novel from a traditional publisher. Indie ebooks? No problem. Have your geeky boyfriend draw pictures of all your characters and plug them in. Don’t forget lots of unicorns and don’t scan from the Dungeons and Dragons handbook.
- We’re already seeing prices doing things book prices aren’t supposed to do and there is more to come. If you find an interesting ebook for 99 cents, buy it now. In five minutes, it might be $9.99. Or set up an Amazon price alert to let you know when the price drops on a book you want to buy.
- Readers are the new queens and kings of the writing/publishing world. Don’t worry about sucking up to agents and editors any more. Suck up to your readers. The prescient Ms. Hocking was thinking the right way when she chose a contract with St. Martins so she could reach millions of readers who don’t have Kindles or Nooks (yet). After the paper books come out, a zillion more people will buy a Kindle to read all those ebooks Ms. Hocking still owns. Jeff Bezos will want to give Amanda a big kiss.