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Publishing in the 21st Century: a new paradigm

Publishing in the 21st Century: a new paradigm
Written by
Guest Author

In starting over, following a life-changing event, we sometimes need to feel inspired to take a new direction. Tom Evans (aka The Bookwright) coaches and inspires that would-be author that I firmly believe resides in each of us. In this first article, Tom talks us through the myriad changes that technology has brought to the world of publishing.

The first decade of this new century saw an amazing development for the music industry. Within less than 10 years, the CD has declined as the main way people buy and listen to music and the download has taken over.

The developments that have brought this about are the wide availability of higher speed Internet, acceptance of ecommerce as a payment mechanism and the ubiquitousness of the MP3 player. Even if you don’t own an iPod or similar, your phone can probably play MP3 files and your computer definitely can.

If you are a musician starting out, you can put tracks together in your bedroom or garage and then upload and market them on the Internet. If you are any good and people like your stuff, you can build a following before you know it. From a record company perspective, they can identify new talent from their fan base. Social media sites allow the word to spread fast. The music industry has changed its model as a result.

The most notable example of this is the Apple iTunes Store which opened on April the 28th 2003. It had its 10 billionth song downloaded in February 2010 and now accounts for over 70% of worldwide music sales. Not bad for a manufacturer of computers.

During this first decade, the game was also changing for authors. Print on demand services allowed authors to easily self publish. Within a few days, you could now get a physical copy of a book in your hands, just from submitting a word processor document online.

Of course, editing it and making it look good beforehand may take a while longer but these cost effective services allowed many authors to become published for the first time. Being able to print out just the numbers of copies you wanted was also good for the planet. With the right vendor, a sale in one country would be printed and shipped locally too.

Publishers also made good use of this technology to reduce the number of remaindered books. They also embraced social media and several sites were set up like Authonomy to spot new talent. Books that got the best rankings from readers were picked up by commissioning editors. It can only be a matter of time before Simon Cowell gets involved!

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If this wasn’t good enough news for authors and publishers, before the decade was out a new technology hit the streets in the form of e-ink screen technology. This allowed manufacturers to build a new breed of e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and Sony eReader. Now you could go on holiday with a device weighing less than a pound that just needs charging once every week - and containing over 1000 books.

What’s more, as an author, a load of new sites appeared where you could submit your books and have them available for download to these new ereaders pretty much instantly.

With millions of devices in circulation, this gives a whole new market for the enterprising scribe. You can also test market a book electronically before going to the expense of formatting and design for print.

The numbers also become interesting. If a book sells for £10 in a bookstore, the author will be getting less than £1 royalty. If you sell it via Amazon’s Digital Publishing Platform directly, you will be looking at getting £3.50. You can even sell a version directly from your own web site and make around £9.70.

I’ve now worked with many authors where ebook sales have been used to fund the print run - it’s like pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

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So the future for publishing is pretty rosy - and then Apple decided they wanted to play too!! All of a sudden a new game changer came along in the form of the Apple iPad. At the time of writing, it’s only been available for about 2 months but there are over 2 million sold. Now it needs charging once a day if used heavily but it’s in colour and does lots more than just allow you to read books. For starters, if you are an author, you can write your book on it, surf the web and do your emails.

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With all the apps available for it that you can get for the iPhone, and more, what you can do with it is only limited by the imagination of the developer community. It’s the ability to write and publish interactive books that transcend what a book is about in the first place make it such a game changer. Books can now contain video and audio elements and fully interactive gaming and immersive experience too. The content of travel books can be geo-coded to the user’s current or intended location.

Titles like The Elements: A Visual Exploration, Alice in Wonderland and The Skeletal System are early examples of what is now possible. Newspapers like the Times and magazines like Wired are also getting in on the act.

This month also saw the launch of Apple’s iBook store based (70% royalty to authors and publishers) around the iTunes model. Here you can download read-only books much as for the Amazon Kindle.

Of course, the downside of all this is the choice now available for both writers, publishers and readers. To add to the confusion, you can get a Kindle App for the iPad and iPhone so you can buy titles from Amazon too. Amazon are obviously hedging their bets.

One option we have, like the Luddites before, is to ignore all these opportunities and stick with the printed book. There is nothing wrong with this and for me, reading fiction in this form will be my preferred method for some time yet.

Having now spent two weeks writing a book on an iPad and reading a reference book, I can testify that these devices are here to stay. The ability to be able to write when the Muse takes you without having to wait for something to boot up is amazing. As new vendors like Google and Microsoft get in on the act, prices will come down and it won’t be long before the e-ink readers are sub £100 and tablets around £250. The MP3 player market followed a similar pattern.

So for readers, the future’s bright and overall these innovations can only be good for the literacy of the planet.

For enterprising publishers, there’s a myriad of new possibilities available. If you are an author with an important message to share, there has never been a better time to get it to a wide number of people.

Happy scribing ...

To read more about Tom Evans' work, visit his website here. Tom is sponsoring a world first competition for this year’s Guildford Book Festival. The winner will have their short story converted into a multimedia iPhone and iPad app. To read more about it, click here.

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