by Tess Gerritsen
There were two conventions in town. Over at the Sands Hotel, the Adult Entertainment Expo was in full swing.
I, however, was at the other convention.
The Consumer Electronics Show, at the Las Vegas Convention Center, was THE place to check out the mind-boggling new gadgets about to come on the market in the next few months. From cars to cameras to TVs to gaming systems, this is the show where you’ll catch a glimpse of our electronic future.
Months ago, the Interead company (which makes the Cooler E-book reader) invited me to be a guest author at their CES booth. Although I knew that the show attendees would be overwhelmingly male, and probably not many would be familiar with my books, I jumped at the chance. Who wouldn’t want to check out the cool new gizmos on the horizon?
As predicted, the show was indeed overwhelmingly male. (It’s the first big event I’ve ever attended where there was no wait at the women’s restroom!) But, this being Vegas, buxom gals weren’t hard to find on the showroom floor.
“Booth bunnies” were everywhere. I sent my husband around the hall to take photos of them, and I have never seen him so eagerly take on an assignment. (For a glimpse of some more booth bunnies, hop on over to my own website for other photos.)
But dazzling electronics and chesty girls aside, CES was also where you could catch a glimpse of gizmos that will be part of the publishing future. At last year’s CES, or so I’m told, you could scarcely find an E-book reader on display. This year, there were at least a dozen booths, clustered in their very own section of the exhibit hall. Oddly enough, the world’s bestselling e-reader, Amazon’s Kindle, didn’t have a booth at CES. But check out the wide variety of other e-readers that will soon be available:
Here’s the Cooler E-reader, the product sold by Interead, my host at CES. It’s the lightest one on the market, easy to slip into a pocket or purse.
And where E-readers go, accessories are sure to follow. There were several booths devoted to just that specialty item:
Judging by all the E-reader products — and the interest in those products — a tipping point has clearly been reached. E-readers are the future, and whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we writers can’t afford to ignore the tidal wave that’s rushing toward us.
Nor can publishers. Because along with the E-reader revolution comes a publishing revolution. As a writer, you can now publish with any number of e-book sites, and sell your work directly to readers — without any publisher involved. It means there will be an overwhelming amount of content for consumers to choose from, much of it low-quality. E-book land is going to be a busy, anarchic universe with a dizzying array of great books sold along with bad books, and lord knows how it’s all going to shake out.
And hanging over us all will be the one thing that could doom us all. Piracy. Once books can be copied and disseminated for free, there will be no way to make a living in the writing profession. I fear that it’s only a matter of time before that happens.
And we will look back on this era as the last age of the professional writer.
Geez, not like you’re being a downer or anything…
Actually, Joe Konrath once told me he thinks he has the answer: embedded advertising, paid for by advertisers.
I got a Kindle for Christmas and I love it. It’s not replacing books for me, just like audiobooks haven’t replaced books for me. To me, it’s a just different format to enjoy stories and enhance my reading opportunities.
Color me green, I would have loved to see the CES show. And I wonder how many guys "accidently" walked into the other one?
I remember the madness that was CES from a few years ago, when we went to cover it for some UK magazines. I can still remember a sign on one of the restrooms that read: "This restroom is being used by members of the Adult Entertainment convention. You may wish to go elsewhere." Hmm.
Sad thought about piracy and the end of the writer. Any good news on the horizon?
From blogger Seth Godin, via Jules Older’s ‘WRITER’S LIFEGUARD;’
What every mass marketer needs to learn from Groucho Marx
The Marx Brothers were great at vaudeville. Live comedy in a theatre. And then the market for vaudeville was killed by the movies. Groucho didn’t complain about this or argue that people should respect the hard work he and his brothers had put in. No, they went into the movies.
Then the market for movies like the Marx Brothers were making dried up. Groucho didn’t start trying to fix the market. Instead, he saw a new medium and went there. His TV work was among his best (and certainly most lucrative).
It’s extremely difficult to repair the market.
It’s a lot easier to find a market that will respect and pay for the work you can do. Technology companies have been running this race for years. Now, all of us must.
The whole blog is at http://sethgodin.typepad.com
CES – Excellent. We had a few people there looking at the various automotive technologies. I don’t have an eReader though they look interesting.
Glad you enjoyed Vegas! That in itself is a feat.
I’m currently using my iPhone as an eReader, because I’m hesitant to have yet another gadget to carry around, especially one that only does one thing. But these sure do look cool, Tess. (And so do you! Those Booth Bunnies got nothing on you.)
Of course, if the e-reader makers continue to shoot themselves in the collective foot by adopting incompatible file standards, the e-revolution will be postponed until sanity takes hold. All the blockbuster consumer electronic technologies have struggled until one format or standard became dominant; I doubt e-readers will be any different.
Also, Tess, I think you may be too pessimistic. Musicians have already gone through this upheaval and are still able to make a living; I’m not crying for U2 or Taylor Swift. But now non-headliners can afford to sell their own CDs and MP-3 downloads, which helps them make money if not a living from their music. Perhaps that’s the coming model for publishing.
I confess that I like my ereader and have bought books for it that I otherwise might not have bought. The lower price (boo!) is one part of that, but so is the space issue. Now my to be read pile can be quite long without overflowing a nightstand and a back up bookshelf. The key is to get retailers to price the books fairly so it reflects the actual cost of creating a book, minus the paper pages.
Tess, I think that piracy is something the industry should be proactive in addressing, but I don’t think it will mean the end of the professional writer. Talented people are always in demand, and it’s simply a question of how they will be compensated, not whether they will be.
The book industry is late to the piracy party. The software, film, TV, and music industries have been dealing with piracy for years, and in the case of software, for decades. Yet in each of these industries there is still a lot of money being made. Software is the easiest electronic consumable to pirate, but last I heard, Bill Gates is still one of the richest people on the planet. Beyonce and Taylor Swift continue to sell millions of songs and albums. Avatar is on the way to becoming the biggest movie in history. And you yourself have a TV series being made, which I hope will be very successful.
These are of course examples of the top earners in each of these markets. But there are thousands of smaller players who can still make a decent living by reaching a subset of the market. Because the Internet is a low-cost, worldwide distribution forum, I believe that electronic media may even help consumers find entertainment they might not otherwise have discovered.
I don’t know how writers will make their money in the coming years. Maybe enough people will be convinced that paying a fair price to read the product of a year’s worth of work is reasonable. Or maybe it is advertising. Or maybe writers will make money on appearance fees. But if publishers, booksellers, distributors, and ereader makers are going to earn money in the future, they will have to make sure that writers will be able to earn a living too.
Louise, I think if I used an iPhone for a reader, I’d go blind in an hour!
Glad you had fun, Tess!
I’m in the market for an e-reader, so the fact that the market is expanding so much is great news for me as a consumer. I had a Sony E-Reader way back when there were only about 1,000 titles available, and I loved it. For travel – this is the only way to go, and for references/research books too. I think there will always be books, but the e-books are definitely here to stay this time.
I’ve had that same amazing experience, big event with no line for the women’s restroom, a few times myself… always at high tech related events.
It is funny to hear the men griping about restroom waits (and being late because of the wait) for a change!
At one large conference they took a women’s restroom out of service and made it a men’s restroom, because the guys couldn’t deal with it; making for a lot of angry (or should I say "pissed off") women since the reverse is never done! 😉
Remember when home videotaping became possible? According to TV executives and movie producers, it would surely usher in the end of the world. Taping movies? Taping TV shows? Giving them to your friends? All at no cost? For FREE??? My God! Let’s all duck and cover!
Well, of course, they figured out a way around it. The record business is now going through that same minefield, and they will eventually forge a path through the darkness. The publishing business will do the same thing.
I posted a blog on my website a few months ago on this topic, then reprised it a couple of weeks ago (the 2nd version was called "One More Time For The Folks In The Back"). Basically, I stated that the publishing business, as is currently structured, is a latter-day plantation system that has outlived its usefulness.
We can take it from there.
One of the most interesting things about the arguments forecasting the end of books with the changes in technology is that many of those–or similar–arguments were used when the printing press was invented.
And, on a related note, Andrea Lunsford, an English prof at Stanford, just published some interesting research about college-aged students and the amounts and types of material they read and write. They are reading and writing much much more than previous generations…just in different formats.
So perhaps all these changes will bring about interesting results!
Very interesting stuff. It will be a very challenging next few years for the book industry.
Wow. Ugh. Ouch. So much to absorb. And that’s just the booth-bunnies.
As far as the e-readers…wow, ugh, and ouch.
I kinda want to make a living writing books, y’know?
I think we’ll figure something out for profitability. People don’t need buggy whips these days, at least not for transportation purposes, but they still want stories – and therefore, storytellers.
I’d love to get an e-reader, once the prices come down and they figure out something more universal. Though if it could do more than display text, I might be willing to pay more for it. I saw a Kindle for the first time a couple weeks ago (son’s GF got one as a gift) and it was pretty cool. I love new technology (hardware) almost as much as I love installing and learning to use new computer software.
There will always be a need for stories. I can’t see us returning to the days of sitting around a campfire listening to raconteurs and bards, so I don’t believe the age of professional writers is coming to an end. Unless, of course, something cataclysmic happens and we all suddenly get to live fantasy lives for real and there is no longer a need or escapism or contemplation. I think people will eventually realize that storytellers must be compensated if they are to continue supplying the good stuff. A leg of mutton, a tankard of ale and a bed of fresh rushes for the night just isn’t going to cut it. Well, not for most of us.
But I don’t think "dead tree" books are a thing of the past. If it’s any consolation, my daughter (who is a 21yo college student) says that she spends way too much time reading school work on a screen as it is and when she has time to read fiction she wants a "real" book.
My teenagers won’t read a book on a computer. There is nothing wrong with e-books–it’s simply one more choice for readers. Yeah!
It’s piracy–we have to be proactive and fight against it. Authors aren’t musicians–we don’t make money from touring. With all due respect to Joe, advertising isn’t going to cut it–TWILIGHT the movie had far more viewer than TWILIGHT the book had readers–and TWILIGHT sold in the millions. Most of us, even those with some success, are nowhere near that.
Quality means something, and I don’t relish the thought of 1) paying an editor to edit my book 2) paying a copyeditor to copyedit it 3) hiring a graphic designer for the book cover 4) paying for advertising so people know my new book is available 5) selling my own book and all the tax issues involved with that (resale license, accounting, etc–or what, hire an accountant?) and 6) spending even more time marketing/promoting me/my book. When would I have time to write?
I love gadgets, I love technology, and I think e-readers can be a fabulous addition to publishing–as long as we protect the content from people who don’t see anything wrong with stealing.
And it is a HUGE problem. My daughter’s best friend and I just had an argument. She just got her license and is paying for gas now and is broke and has no money for music, and she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with stealing music off the Internet because she can’t afford it. I said, you can listen to music on the radio, you can borrow your friend’s CDs, but there is no RIGHT to own a copy of the music. Just because she can’t afford it doesn’t give her or anyone the right to steal it. I said, if you couldn’t afford gas, would it be okay to siphon gas out of your next door neighbor’s car? No–you can walk, ride your bike, or take the bus.
Grr. It’s truly an education issue, but I fear many people today don’t care who they hurt–or don’t know–and do it because 1) they can and 2) they don’t consider it stealing and 3) if they do, they don’t think they’ll be caught or they don’t care.
No, piracy will not be the end of the writing profession any more than it has been the end of any other profession in history. Any time you start hyperventilating about piracy, I want you to repeat the following formula:
Pirated copy != lost sale
Far more often than not, people who get a pirated copy of something were not going to spend money on that item to begin with. You haven’t lost anything, but you have gained a reader, and maybe that reader will purchase the next book you put out, or recommend it to a friend.
Also, writing is the oldest art form in the world to have its copyrighted works freely disseminated, via libraries. People have been freely reading books at libraries without paying the authors for literally millenia now, and yet people still write for a living.
Please stop using fear-mongering "doom us all" rhetoric when talking about piracy. It’s far more likely that some aspiring author will read that phrase and not bother to write that novel they’ve been thinking about than it is that anybody will be put out of business by piracy.
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