Friday, 6 January 2012


A few thoughts about e-books, collated from my various forum posts

Meta-novels are, I expect, an inevitable product of a digital age. Every text will have info pop-ups & hyperlinks built-in. The next generation of readers will demand such things, no matter what ‘book lovers’ say. I think age is the key factor in this debate. Like some of you, I’m also of the last generation who grew up reading (and learning!) solely from books, but the Internet has changed all of that, whether we like it or not. We might cling to our cherished reading habits and wallow in a love for the printed books (page-turning is an important part of the pleasure of reading), but, eventually, technological progress catches up with publishing. Kids of today are growing up with interactive texts, downloadable content, and multi-player everything else. I just can’t imagine buying or using any type or model of e-reader device but, in the related tech of being able to get online anywhere, I still enjoy the convenience that wi-fi hotspot connectivity offers.  

I remember LPs of vinyl, 78s of shellac, and Betamax videos - but I have got an MP3 player, a blu-ray and a hi-def TV. I write monthly columns for niche markets like the printed magazines Interzone and Black Static, but I realise that the whole publishing industry is drifting from print to online, and there are valid ‘green’ and/ or economic reasons for doing so. Should we quickly abandon reading and collecting books? No! I have become a hardcover snob, and I no longer buy or read paperbacks (unless they are non-fiction or comic-books). And yet, it seems to me, our book-loving culture cannot last for much longer. As public libraries close, I suspect that ‘book museums’ will be a major growth industry for this century! 

Just as office tech of the 1980s gave us desktop publishing, re-launching the ‘fanzine’ phenomena, and gave us ‘semi-pro zines’, now the Internet distribution of e-books is presenting us with another publishing revolution; one that’s already underway. With the new century’s growth in self-publishing, and the process now being made simpler by e-book formats, it’s becoming very clear that we really need critics more than ever. As what used to be essential filtering functions of editorial gatekeepers in traditional publishing houses are more frequently avoided (although without the actual need for skilled editors being made obsolete!) by many writers, there will still be a vital place for critics to occupy in the buffering zone between writers and readers. 

As the supply of newly self-published work as e-books increases, somebody needs to identify (if not actually ‘police’) what’s good and bad, and find the best stories and/ or non-fiction to help inexperienced and new readers choose from the ‘slush pile’ - because that’s the big risk of e-books and it’s what seems most likely to happen. The slush piles of trad publishers will all get self-published by their writers, and the route from desktop or laptop to downloadable ebook is unlikely to have any editorial oversight whatsoever.

1 comment:

Patrick Hudson said...

"somebody needs to identify (if not actually ‘police’) what’s good and bad"

See, that's an opportunity. There are a few "indie" review websites out there but there's still a place for the definitive gate way to good indie fiction. As it stands, amazon reviews remain the best indicator and I'd advise wannabe self-published authors (ahem) to focus their efforts on getting lots of positive amazon reviews, at least until trad outlets start paying attention.

How long do you think it'll be before a self-published ebook gets nominated for a major award? This year? Next year?