Thursday, January 03, 2013

Tech Toys and the Power of the Internet

I spent some time over the holidays (maybe too much time) trying to figure out Twitter, seeing how it works, who's out there, and how to best use it. I ended up following a lot of writers, people in the book industry, and educational experts. More than anything, as, it seems, with all technology, I'm simply intrigued.

Twitter, I have learned, can offer a news junky a never-ending, up-to-the-second source of breaking news, if that's what you want. I do. Better yet, I can filter the news I get. I'm following everyone from Daniel Pink, to CNN, to the Huffington Post's true crime section, to, of course, Publisher's Weekly.

One article that swam across my iPhone's sea of tweets on Dec. 27 was titled "E-book Reading Rises, Print Reading Dips" and came courtesy of PW. Based on the number of retweets (see the lingo I picked up?), it seems to have gained little traction. However, I think it warrants discussion because it offered some interesting--and maybe disturbing--facts for anyone in the book industry, even those on its periphery.

The number of adult readers in the U.S. fell 3% in 2012, leaving only 75% claiming to have read a book in the past 12 months, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet the number of people reading E-books jumped from 16% in 2011 to 23% in 2012. The survey considered 2,252 Americans age 16 and up.

So what does it all mean? Fewer people are reading, but those who are turn to e-books. Am I a prime example? Spending time on Twitter and getting only partially through one book in two weeks?

All of this leads me to a more frightening question: With the E-book revolution producing publishing's version of the Wild West (anyone with a gun can join the fight), and with the data above indicating that fewer people are reading, won't there be fewer slices of the E-book-sale pie to go around?

If so, and you are a brand-name author, this might be the solution: Margaret Atwood, who has over 350,000 Twitter followers, at age 73, is taking E-matters into her own hands. Listen to this fascinating three-minute NPR interview. She's writing a serial novel and selling each 50-page segment for $2.99 as an E-book. Dickens, of course, wrote his works in serial form. From an artistic viewpoint, she equates it to a literary form of "improv." From a business standpoint, I think this is worth following. She's taking her slice of the E-book-sale pie and multiplying it exponentially. Of course, she has the following to pull this off. But it represents a shift in the publishing paradigm: What is stopping a best-selling author from going it alone, hiring her own team (editor, Web/marketing/design, etc), and selling her book in E-format only?

If nothing else, the upside of all this is that major houses might be forced (at least for those at the top of the publishing food-chain) to reconsider E-royalty structures.

I'd love to hear what others think of all this.



Rick Blechta said...

First question: did you tweet and post the announcement of this piece on Twitter, Facebook, etc? That's the first way to use the social media tools we've been blessed with (or cursed with, depending on your view) in order to build that audience.

Charlotte Hinger said...

John, one of my goals this year is to step up my on-line presence. I don't work the resources I have. It's a jungle out there. I've seen wonderful traditional writers fade away because they refuse to become involved with on-line marketing. We have to face reality and do this. On the other hand, when? Some folks would have to be on the line 24 hours a day to generate that much copy.

Khanh Ho said...

"Remoter areas, oddly enough, seem to fare better."

It depends on how remote. I taught Creative Writing in a small town in Iowa--Grinnell College--and the bookstore was nonexistent. 9,000 people meant that the major vendor was the SuperWalmart.

Nearby, in Iowa City, there were 250,000 people (yeah!) and this meant some great bookstores, including the reknowned Prairie Lights.

For me, a great bookstore must have a broad selection of mysteries, as I'm writing a mystery novel.