Editor's note: Today's guest blog began as a response to Meghan B's latest eBook rant. We were so blown away by the thoughtful response that we asked Wyndes to go into a little more detail for a post here. (We're also pretty sure Meghan is no longer so firmly against eReaders anymore because of Wyndes.)
I understand e-reader hate, I really do. Paper books feel right. A nice hefty hardcover, the smooth-coated cover of a stylish trade paperback, even the soft fuzz of a cheap mass market – they all have their appeal. E-readers, on the other hand? They’re plastic things that you plug into a wall. Eh. Where’s the style in that?
But I love the Kindle anyway. Love it passionately, in fact. Love it so much that when Laurie emailed me and asked if I wanted to write a guest post about why I love my e-reader, I said, um, yes, please, absolutely, thank you. Tomorrow fast enough for you?
A bunch of you just stopped reading. Yeah, yeah, I can hear you thinking, I know, convenient and lightweight and variable text-size for tired eyes and the downloads, oh, the ease of the downloads. But no, none of those are the reasons why I love the Kindle. (Although, I admit, that variable text size? Really nice late at night.)
No, I love my Kindle because I believe it’s saving publishing. Real publishing. Interesting, innovative, creative, diverse publishing.
A little personal history: I worked in publishing for about twenty years, book publishing for the last eleven. Back when I started in publishing, we had a sales force that travelled from one independent bookstore to the next, selling our books. Over the course of the last decade, that sales force dwindled to almost nothing as one independent bookstore after another died.
You see, publishers don’t sell books to readers. They sell books to bookstores. At this point, that means they sell books to the Barnes & Noble book buyer. The B&N buyer buys for every B&N in the country: that one person makes or breaks a book. If, God forbid, the buyer says, eh, not interested, then a publisher cannot sell enough copies of the book to make it worthwhile to print.
You think that you choose what to read? No. You choose from the options that the B&N book buyer is willing to provide to you.
The thing is, as a person earning a living in publishing, I was grateful to B&N. Printing books is a ridiculous business. A few hugely successful titles support dozens of titles that lose money for the publisher. Those losses were a given when I started in publishing. Recently, though, more books broke even because B&N (and Borders) could place such large orders. So, yay for B&N!
Except what B&N was saving was printing, not publishing. What we could publish was limited by the shelf space we could get at B&N. And that killed innovation. Not entirely, of course, I’m not dismissing all the great books that have been published over the last several years. But I look at all the wonderful, amazing YA books that are being published, and I think, thank God for Harry Potter and Twilight. Their successes fueled a supply-and-demand cycle at B&N in which B&N gives the books more shelf space, more people see the books, more readers buy the books, B&N gives the books more shelf space, and suddenly YA is the biggest section in the bookstore. (Which, as a long-time YA reader, I’m not really complaining about. Much.)
But in other areas of publishing, where shelf space got scarcer and publishers had to fight to get their books on the shelves and a book that didn’t take off in its first month was a flop and had to get remaindered to make room for the next book in the pipeline? Yeah, things aren’t so pretty there.
E-readers change all that. E-readers mean that little presses can spring up out of nowhere to publish quirky little books that a mainstream publisher could never afford to take a chance on. E-readers mean that independent voices, titles that cross genres, stories that are fundamentally different than anything you’ve ever read, titles that might take months or even years to find a slow following – those titles have a chance. You can read those books if you want to. In the B&N-owned print world, you can’t, because they will never be published.
The gatekeepers of traditional publishing have to care about a bottom line that can cover printing, shipping, storing, and marketing costs. The gatekeepers of e-publishing only have to make the bottom line feed an author and an editor. (And, I suppose a cover designer, too, although if I get started on that, I’ll never stop . . . but seriously, would you buy your groceries based on how pretty the box was? Your clothes based on the bag from the store? Okay, stopping now . . .)
So yes, at the moment, that means that Amazon is one huge slush pile. A lot of those independent publications are currently terrible. But that’s because we’re in a period of transition. The way we shop for books is changing, and will change even more. A decade from now, an acquisition editor is never going to have to say, “I love it, but I don’t know how I’d sell it,” and yes, I said that more than once during my career.
I originally posted a comment on Meghan's anti-Nook rant, and what I said there was that watching the independent bookstores die was heartbreaking, but that watching the independent e-publishers rise is like seeing the phoenix reborn.
E-readers are the fuel.