Next Text Part One

The Next Text seminar convened in the freezing, uncomforable SLWA Theatre (remind me next time to bring a cardy even when its 32 degress outside!) this morning. Presented by WritingWA, it provided an overview of the ebook publishing world as it now stands. Remembering that by the time you read this it could well have changed. Kate Eltham from the QLD Writing Centre spoke first, giving us a broad, useful and interesting sweep through the history of books, writing and reading and taking her time to pay homage to the book format we all know and love as well as explain why it isn’t what we perhaps believe it to be. She explained that in today’s world, content and container (the book) are being separated and that this opens up many, many possibilities for authors, publishers and especially readers. Content is now moving towards community, where a social experience of reading where the book is now a conversation and a process rather than a thing. Now, anyone can publish and distribute and anyone can access, share and copy. And, she argues, this is only a good thing.
Qld Writing Centre has started if:book Australia which is collaborating with similar organisations in London and New York to have the conversation about books and their future. Actually, that should probably say reading and its future. As of the first two quarters of 2010 ebook sales have doubled from the previous six months. And it is likely this explosion is set to continue. The only thing we can’t yet guess is where it will end up.
This means many things. Firstly, there are generations about to start reading (and who are already reading in places like India) who will skip over the physical text experience of reading. Mindblowing as that is, think also that they will be doing most of their reading on mobile devices. And, if you weren’t already aware, mobile phone ownership is increasing fastest in developing countries. There are, of course, issues for readers. Now readers can access much more than they could before. Out of print will be unheard of. Ownership of physical books as an extension of identity will change dramatically. New cultures of reading will develop where readers can change fonts, add in pictures (or take them out), re-record audio in their own voice, hyper-link, note and share pieces of books.
The first issue for authors is getting paid. The second session will discuss this in more depth, but Kate and the later presenter Mark Coker have made convincing arguments that this won’t be the issue people are afraid of. Authors will now need to think about things such as platform (where/how ebooks can be read), who their audiences are (new and different perhaps) and new ways of telling stories.
Mark Coker from Smashwords spoke next briefly about Smashwords where you can upload and publish your ebook for free and earn 80% of the sale price of any book sold to large ebook sellers and onto a variety of platforms. I’m going to get Mark’s presentation so I can include more detail from him, but the most interesting thing he said was that by the end of 2010 10-12% of all books sold will be ebooks, projections are that 20% will be ebooks in 2011 and 50% within five years. Considering that the explosion in popularity of ebooks has surprised most people, these may be very conservative figures. Mark called the physical book a ‘zombie book’ which I quite like. It never dies but it isn’t really living anymore.
In the Q&A session just before lunch (where I am now!), the most interesting questions were about quality and money. What happens to the quality that the publishing gatekeepers ensured? The crowd or in this case the reader now determines quality. Good books are bought, bad books aren’t. Same equation as before but now it applies to any book anyone wants to submit to the world, not just the ones that first jump the agency, publisher, bookseller hoops. Why would an author still want a physical book published in they can earn 80% of price on an ebook? A number of reasons to do with being validated by a publishing house, holding a physical book of your own, but Mark also reminded us that even when you are earning a small royalty from a big publish house book with its marketing power behind you, you are earning much more than ebooks could earn you at the moment. But these days are numbered.
Okay, I’m off to eat something then back into the icebox for the second session about copyright and IP.

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