In 1995, I believed that electronic publishing and the Internet were salvation for authors, and they would finally break the stranglehold on authors and books held by the conglomerate publishers, the book distributors, and the book chains.
I took a brave or foolhardy leap into the market with one of the first epublishers. Since then, I've watched the market's changes, and I've talked to hundreds of authors, small publishers, and readers. Here's what I've learned.
Readers are creatures of habit. If it's a choice between a known factor like a bookstore/a paper book/a name author and an online source/ebook/unknown author, most readers will choose the known.
If they can't find what they want to read in paper, they may seek it in an ebook, but they will return to paper books if given the same selections. This is currently happening in the erotica market as the large publishers have entered the market. The readers are returning to the bookstore to buy many of the same authors they bought in ebooks.
At the same time, readers aren't willing to go directly to the source of the ebooks. They rarely buy from author sites or from publisher sites. Instead, they prefer the one-stop shopping of electronic distributors like Fictionwise. Most authors I know have, at the least, one hundred sales at places like Fictionwise to one publisher-site sale.
Most of these distribution sites only work with publishers, not individuals, so the major markets are closed to the self-published author.
The original works available at electronic distributors are being drowned under wave after wave of conglomerate publisher backlist.
Meanwhile, various conglomerates and companies like Amazon are fighting to control the distribution of ebooks through software formats, distributor sites, and devices like the Kindle.
Publishing has much smaller financial numbers and much fewer sales in the digital format than the music industry so neither the author nor the small publisher are seeing much profit or success, and the small publishers are a dying breed.
Without a platform or a reputation from conglomerate publishing, most authors struggle for profit.
Those authors who succeed strictly in epublishing do so by writing a large number of first-rate, consistent books in the same genre.
So, essentially, the great digital freedom for writers from conglomerate publishers, the book distributors, and the book chains that I envisioned hasn't happened in the last dozen years and probably will never happen because of reader habits and the current direction in the markets.
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I enjoy writing it, but I can't justify the time if I'm talking to a small group.