A couple of weeks ago a number of “entrepreneurs and innovators” gathered in New York for the Tools of Change digital publishing conference. Lynn Neary, NPR arts correspondent, reports on the conference in this article entitled, At Last, They See: E-Books ‘Democratize’ Publishing.
Hosted by O’Reilly Media, the major themes of the conference seemed to be the transfer of publishing power to the author and the emergence of a new “agile publishing” model. The article cites Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, an e-book publishing and distribution platform, who claims that “the power to create great books and the power to distribute great books is transferring to the author… Just a few years ago, publishers controlled the printing press and they controlled access to retail distribution. So if you couldn’t get your book printed and you couldn’t get it distributed, you’d never reach readers. But today, the printing press is completely democratized.” Not only that, but books are no longer “static objects.” They are dynamic and authors have the capability to “change anything about the book at any time.” Evidently, publisher services like editing, marketing, etc. are no longer part of the equation. Authors are in charge and the market will decide which books rise to the top.
The second big theme is the new “agile publishing” model that Dominque Raccah, CEO and publisher of Sourcebooks, highlights. Taking advantage of the innate interactive nature of the digital world, authors and readers can now communicate while a book is being written. The development of a book becomes a community event.
What all this means for the future of books and the way they are “published” is yet to be determined. Is editing passé? Does this democratized publishing or does it create the digital version of the vanity press? Will authors want their readers as co-authors? Are we headed toward authorship by committee? While this article leads to such questions, it does not provide answers, only food for thought. As Ms. Raccah says “experimentation is key to learning what will and won’t work in the future.” In the meantime, it’s fun to think about. Speaking of which, where do you think we are headed? Where does print fit in, if at all? We’d love to know where you stand.