Looks like book piracy will be one of this week’s genre blog hot topics after io9 had a chat with successful media tie-in novelist Michael Stackpole, who seems to have come round to Tom O’Reilly’s aphorism that obscurity is a bigger threat than piracy:
Writers still trying to break into the publishing world have an unprecedented chance to start their own websites, build an audience and create a market for their work without relying on major publishers at all, said Stackpole. Posting short fiction or even a serialized novel on a website won’t cause problems if a writer tries to sign a publishing deal at a later date because mainstream publishers don’t see digital publishing as a serious threat.
[As many other commenters have already pointed out, that’s not really the case… and certainly won’t remain the case for much longer. Still:]
Rather than simply changing the method of delivering stories to readers, Stackpole believes digital formats will change the nature of the stories themselves. At the very least, authors should tailor their work to these new mediums. He cited what he referred to as “the commuter market,” people who read two chapters per day on their half hour train ride to work. It’s an ideal market for fiction broken into 2,500 word chapters, and could presage a resurgence of serial fiction. “It’s kind of like a return to the Penny Dreadfuls,” he said. “But the readers today are more sophisticated, so we as writers need to put more work into it.”
Insert your own joke about skiffy media tie-ins and the word ‘dreadful’ here… 😉
Still, the web’s ability to change the publishing game is a given (as we’ve discussed here many times before). What remains to be seen is how things will look when (or if) the dust settles. A commenter at BoingBoing has a summary that seems pretty plausible:
… I’ve been saying that in the future books will be either cheap and print-on-demand, electronic, or expensive beautifully designed and crafted art objects, and that publishers will soon become irrelevant but you will see the rise of superstar editors and designers.
Nobody has disagreed yet.
Anecdotal, sure, but it matches up with similar theories from a whole raft of people both within the publishing machine and without.
In related news, fiction isn’t the only printed medium that is finding a new (and more affordable) home online. The American Chemical Society plans to move its dozen-or-so scientific journals to being published online only, according to a leaked memo:
In it, the publisher lays out the basic facts: printing a hard-copy version of a journal is expensive, and researchers simply aren’t demanding one anymore. Advertisers are undoubtedly aware of the reduction in print readership, which means that the former calculus that made print valuable—more ads per journal than could possibly fit on a webpage—was reaching a point of diminishing returns. According to the Nature article, the journals publisher flatly stated, “Printing and distribution costs now exceed revenues from print journals.”
The person who finally cracks the online publishing business model is going to be a very rich man indeed. So let’s hope it isn’t Rupert Murdoch… he seems to be heading in the wrong direction, anyway.