Over on the SFWA Blog, Cat Rambo did an intriguing piece about the future of electronic publishing in which she made the following provocative observation:
Any debate about the current struggle between electronic and traditional print publishing begins with this fact: no one thinks that online publishing will not eventually overtake the traditional, hold-in-your-hand, made-of-dead-trees model.
I certainly agree with her. While the reading devices are still shaking out — here on BVC we’ve been discussing a new one that will supposedly retail for $99 — the writing is now on the cyber wall, not the paper one.
I was glad that Cat phrased it so bluntly, because I still talk to a lot of people who want to argue about whether e-publishing is here to stay. A friend of mine was grousing about the proliferation of “gadgets” just the other day. He thinks we waste too much time and money on them. That might be true, if they were just a passing fancy.
But while the specific devices we use are going to change and change again — which can be frustrating if you’re more interested in, say, reading books than in playing with gadgets — I do not doubt for a moment that we’ve crossed the Rubicon here.
Every news report I listen to mentions e-book readers. Barnes & Noble is up for sale because they’re losing money (and they’re the biggest bookseller in the country). Amazon says it’s selling more e-books than print ones. And even the staid Washington Lawyer — the magazine for the D.C. Bar Association — has a feature article on e-books this issue.
I think I decided there was no going back when I realized that lawyers who subscribe to my company’s publications — which are very expensive — were reading them on their smartphones. People who need information fast do not want to wait to get print in the mail.
But as irritated as I get with people who seem determined to resist the changes, I do have some sympathy with the Luddites among us, because I know that the original Luddites — the weavers who destroyed the newfangled mechanical looms — were skilled workers who were being done out of their jobs. A lot of people have lost their jobs in the last couple of years, and while the economy is getting the blame, I suspect technological change means that a lot of those jobs aren’t coming back.
I mean, when you’re stuck in voice mail jail, do you ever remember that every business phone used to get answered by a person who would direct your call to the right person? I thought the answering machine was a great invention when it first came out, but it never occurred to me that it would end up replacing people; I thought it was just going to be used by those of us who couldn’t afford a person to answer for us.
Smashing machines or refusing to use them isn’t going to stop the changes, but let’s not kid ourselves: This is a revolution and some people who haven’t done anything wrong are going to get hurt. It’s sobering.
But the changes bring good things, too. Sitting here surrounded by way too many books (and yet frequently moaning that I don’t have a thing to read), I look forward to the day when I have a library of thousands of books that’s the size of a nice trade paperback. A searchable library, so I can find that damn phrase I vaguely remember that I’d like to quote, or that bit of history that was in one of those books I read 15 years ago.
Besides, these days I’m publishing online, and even find myself submitting to the good online markets ahead of the print ones, in part because I suspect they’re getting wider readership. In fact, this week you can read my latest story — “Or We Will All Hang Separately” — on Futurismic (not to mention all my work here on Book View Cafe).
I have two essays in the lastest Book View Cafe anthology, Brewing Fine Fiction. My 51 flash fictions and a few other stories are available on Nancy Jane’s Bookshelf, and anthologies containing some of my stories are available through Powell’s. The free, chapter-by-chapter version of Changeling starts here. And check out my stories in the Book View Cafe anthologies The Shadow Conspiracy, Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, and Dragon Lords and Warrior Women.
The Clarion West Write-a-thon has ended, but you can still sponsor writers after the fact. I did meet my goals: I finished two stories that are out at editors right now, and did most of the work on a third, plus made progress on not one, but two novels. Next time I do this, though, I’m going to think of something to measure progress besides word count: I had a devil of a time figuring out how to count the hours I spent on revision!