I will eventually be buying a Kindle book reader either this month or next month but I haven’t been waiting for it in order to read books. Recently I Tweeted that in the past couple of years I have read 5 times more books than I had read in the past 10 years, and this is all due to the availability of digital books. I may have my own personal reasons. Managing a digital book is much easier for me. Besides, I can read all the time, even if there are just 10 minutes to spare. Although I do much of my reading on my Samsung tablet sometimes I also read off my computer. These are not friendly ways of reading but they are far better than not reading it all.
It is believed that the printing press revolutionized reading as well as writing. All of a sudden reading became affordable and accessible. Combining a bunch of papers into a book was much easier than handling thicker counterparts. With the advent of web publishing, it became even easier to publish and make your writing accessible to a wider audience with little effort. Maybe that’s why conventional authors and publishers look at digital publishing a bit condescendingly.
Why conventional publishing is considered superior to the new age, digital publishing?
According to this Forbes article titled “Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning in Indie Books, That’s Good“, a conventional publishing writer says:
To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. … Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall
Why such an attitude? One reason could be, to tell you the truth, it is quite difficult to get your book published and then marketed the old-school way. Everything is so random unless you have already established yourself as a known name. 99% of the manuscripts – whether they’re deserving or not – are consigned to the dustbin and it depends merely on chance, or connections, whether your novel or book sees the light of the day or not. JK Rowling who wrote a series of Harry Potter books had to face lots of rejection from various publishing agencies. It was merely by chance that a junior subeditor let the book pass to a senior editor, and the rest is history.
Another writer, John Kennedy Toole, featured in the above linked article, committed suicide at the age of 31 because nobody would publish his book, “A Confederacy of Dunces”. Then the book was published posthumously and it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. What a waste. Had the digital publishing technology been available to him, this wouldn’t have happened. Just like him, there are thousands of writers who deserve a fair share of acclaim but their work is never published. I’m not saying that publishing houses are to be blamed – they simply have lots of manuscripts to process and it is humanly not possible to give them the attention they deserve.
So when writers succeed in this conventional world of publishing, they feel quite privileged, and there is nothing wrong in that. It takes lots of courage and perseverance for these writers to succeed, and the credit shouldn’t be taken away from them. I understand their feeling. Compared to that, digital publishing, or the term used in the above linked article, “Indie Publishing” is quite easy.
Take for instance publishing on Amazon.com or even on Google Play. All you have to do is write a book, convert it into a format that is preferred by these 2 companies, and then upload your book. Your book is published. Just like that. You can do it in a couple of days. For authors who might have struggled for years just to be noticed by an agent this might be baffling. But is it as easy as it seems?
Digital publishing is not as easy as it seems
No way. Just as everybody can publish a blog but you can count on your fingers the blogs that actually make money or achieve something useful for their publishers, people can go on publishing books but unless they are actually able to sell them it’s of no use. No matter what publishing platform you use, you need to do the marketing yourself, and this is where very few succeed.
Just like in the world of conventional publishing, you need to make a name for yourself in order to sell your digital books. You have to do the marketing. You have to reach out to your target audience/readers. It can be a slow and relentless process. In fact it may turn out to be harder compared to conventionally published writers because here you are doing everything on your own – writing your book, editing it, converting it to different formats, getting the ISBN number, publishing the book, and then marketing it strenuously. It can turn out to be a 35 x 7 x 365 exercise.
At this very moment thousands of people all over the world are uploading their books and clicking the “Publish” button.
Why digital publishing is the future
Just because something is difficult and takes a long time to achieve, doesn’t necessarily mean it is good. Conversely, just because something seems easy, doesn’t mean it is of inferior quality. But that’s perception.
Nobody doubts that digital content distribution is not just easier, it is also more targeted and more economical. The same goes for the written word. In 2012 both in America and UK, Amazon.com sold more digital books than paper books. As I mentioned above, I am reading more regularly ever since I started reading digital books not just because it is easier to read them (for me it is a big factor because of my disability) it is also easier to buy them. Previously you either had to visit a bookshop or order them online and then wait for their arrival. This was a deterrent. I can easily say that I have bought most of my digital books within 5 minutes of realizing that I should have them. For example, you are reading a blog post or an online article and come across a book that is highly recommended. Even though you have never heard of the book, but because you trust the blogger or the person who has written the article, you immediately head to your preferred digital bookseller and download the book after paying for it. Barnes ‘n Noble, Amazon and Google Play all store your payment details so it is just a matter of clicking a couple of buttons and there you go, the book is ready for you. Even if you don’t intend to purchase the book immediately, you can at least add it to your wish list so that you never lose the track and whenever you are thinking of buying a new book to read, you can quickly go through your wish list and purchase a book. These days I am reading On Writing by Stephen King; I remember adding it to my wish list a couple of years ago.
Another benefit of reading e-books is that whatever interface you use these days, it comes with all the tools you need to make full use of the book. You can create annotations. You can add notes. You can mark particular sentences and paragraphs so that you can revisit them. You can search for text. You can create multiple bookmarks. You can look up for difficult words in the embedded dictionary. Text to speech features immediately allow you to listen to your books rather than reading them. You can carry 100s of books in a small device. You can easily share your books with others using similar or compatible devices. Though personally I don’t like this, you can also indulge in social reading where you can exchange notes in real-time while reading the book. Everything regarding your books is automatically synchronized across multiple devices, so whatever you save or bookmark, you can resume your reading and researching from your computer, tablet PC or e-book reader without much fuss.
Competitive pricing is also another benefit of going digital. You don’t have to depend on your publishing agency to decide how much you’re going to charge for your book. Very soon you will also be able to sell individual chapters rather than complete books, just like these days you can purchase individual songs rather than having to purchase an entire DVD or CD.