Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Innovation: Publishing in the modern world! Post II

A short essay that stated as a single blog post!

The book is dead? Long live the book? Really! As I bring my first novel to market (I decided, with the impatience and petulance of spoilt teenager, that I was not going to wait for some kind Agent to introduce me to a Publisher – I’ve run a business before!), I thought I’d try a blog post on my take of the landscape before me. Or, at least that part of it that I can see, for the moment, through my limited field of vision. And one post became two! Haven’t read Post I yet?

A short essay in two posts… Post II – Long live the book…

The book is dead? Long live the book? Yes! Most definitely! Launching any new product into a market, and new novels are no exception, is a question of innovation. Put the hash-tag #innovation into Twitter and follow just how many people discuss this topic, and, importantly, what is being said.

Innovation is the word on the lips of politicians, businesses and consumers looking forward. And, the biggest tool in the innovator’s toolbox is the opportunity presented by technology as it continues its rampant charge down the battle fields of commerce. The battlefield that is Publishing bears the mark of technology’s stampede! And if we fight on that battlefield we must be mindful of the terrain.

A question of risk? Really? Of course it is. And what do we do about risk, as a budding novelist. Launching a new product into a market is an investment. It costs. It costs to produce a book. Not just in the time to write it, but in the post-writing production process. If launching a book is to be considered as a business (i.e. authors – as well as Agents and Publishers – need to put bread into their mouths) then what strategies are available to de-risk the enterprise?

Become a celebrity? Short of (accidentally?) launching one’s child, in a balloon, into the airspace over a major international airport, or entering some mindless get-rich-quick game show, genuine opportunities for gaining instant celebrity status are few and far between. Such a strategy is as useful to the budding author as is hope! And hope is no strategy!

In the risk-reward equation of a product launch, what is at stake is the investment in bringing that product to market. If the product is untried, untested – with an unknown pedigree, it is highly rational to consider only a limited investment at first. But here lies the difficulty faced by the budding new author! The investment required to produce such a seemingly small thing as a new paperback book – that can compete on cost and quality in the market of other paperback books – is out of all proportion to its size. That is, of course, unless a sufficiently large enough quantity can be produced, marketed and SOLD! This is an economic fact of life! It should not be a surprise to any new, budding author – the economics of starting a writing career just do not add up!

…Unless, of course, you decide to enter the battle!! And this is the point of my blog and my mention of Smashwords.

The stampede of technology has done one critical thing – it has lowered the cost of production of the book! And I am not talking, here, about the capability of digital, print-on-demand, or the use of software to layout and design books at home. No, the biggest single factor in levelling the battlefield – in reducing the costs of production – which is the real boon to the individual budding new novelist, is that technology has redefined what a book is! Long live the (E)book!

So, lest I be accused of varying from the theme, or at least diverting from the suggestion that I might have something to say about Smashwords… back to focus! Any budding new author that does not consider the opportunity to reduce the level of investment in book production that is represented by the e-book, is missing the point.

As I launch my own first novel, RIVER OF JUDGEMENT, on Smashwords, I am thankful that evolution is our constant companion. As our society becomes increasingly risk averse, as investment in capital-intensive product launches (as a book most certainly is) becomes reserved for “sure-fire” bets (celebrity) and sexy, high-tech panaceas (which a book most certainly is not), evolution provides its own solution. We adapt and survive.

The low cost of producing an e-book (you can publish it for free on sites like Smashwords) now, at last, provides a new author with the economic possibility to launch a new product into a real market place that has the potential to generate income and put a few crumbs on the table. It is an opportunity not to be missed, especially if you consider the “interconnectedness of things” these days!

Smashwords has formed a business alliance with Barnes & Noble. If you take care in the production of an e-book – in business you need to deliver a quality product after all – Smashwords will offer its inclusion in their Premium Catalogue, and thus its availability to B&N. The books of budding new authors can exist alongside those of the established greats, and on the same terms!! No vanity press exits in cyberspace – just good quality and bad quality. Democracy rules, perhaps! So, publish and be damned! Go on, give it a try!

2 comments:

Mark Coker said...

Welcome to Smashwords, David! Great post. Thanks.

davidsartof said...

Mark, I have just read about the Operation eBook Drop. This is a brilliant initiative of Ed's and yours.

I have been trying to post a comment on your blog... but thought I might try you this way too. Can you count me in?

Also, I would like to offer my services to you, if it is of any help, to coordinate/drive UK contributions. I am an ex-military offficer myself and have one or two useful press contacts over here. Let me know if I can assist.

David