Monday, July 4, 2011

Kindles, millionaires and paradigm shift

One thing about paradigms: Shift Happens.
-- G. Harry Stine

In the last couple of months there have been some major developments in the publishing business, specifically publishing e books with companies like Amazon. In fact the changes have been so great that I've written a (short) book about it. The title, unashamedly stolen from the late G. Harry Stine, science fiction writer, rocket scientist and cranky crossways futurist, is "Shift Happens". The subject is the paradigm shift in publishing and what it means for authors and readers.

(What's going to happen to conventional publishers and brick and mortar bookstores is less interesting. They're not going to be toast, but they are sure as heck going to be lightly browned.)

To give you an idea of the sea change that's taking place, here are a couple of names to remember: John Locke and Amanda Hocking. Locke is a 60-year-old insurance executive and real estate investor in Kentucky. Hocking is a 26-year-old writer from Minnesota. What makes them worth remembering is that both of them became instant millionaires by writing e books. (When I say instant, I mean instant. Both of them struck it rich in less than a year.)

These two rather ordinary people are worth remembering because they made a whole lot of money by riding the new wave in e publishing. Both of them struck it rich in 2011 and in Locke's case it took about five months to make his first million in e publishing.

This would be a curiosity except for the fact that they are not flukes. Instead they're the vanguard of a wave of successful authors who will be making a ton of money off e books. That means Locke and Hocking are worth careful study -- and emulation -- by up and coming writers. We can expect to see their stories repeated over and over again until "e book millionaire" becomes as common a phrase as "internet millionaire."

So what, you may ask, the heck is going on here?

Actually there's a lot going on. So much so that I'll probably spend the next five or six posts talking about it. For right now let's just deal with the basics.

The first basic is that the sales of e readers have exploded in the last two or three years. According to a recent survey something like 12 percent of the American adult population now has a Kindle or other e book reader. The market is growing rapidly and showing no sign of slowing down.

More readers mean more e books to read. And in fact this is happening. Amazon, one of the largest book retailers in the country, is now selling more e books than it is print books.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that e books are much cheaper than their print counterparts. (They're not as cheap as they should be but that's a topic of another post.) Locke prices his mystery novels at 99 cents each, while Hocking's fantasy novels sell for $2.99 each. These prices and the accompanying royalties of 35 to 70 percent of the cover price mean that people like Locke and Hocking can sell a ton of books and make more off each copy than they'd make in a conventional royalty deal with a regular publisher.

Finally, decades of stupidity and an absolutely insane business model are catching up with conventional publishers. Their poor business practices, and those of conventional bookstores, are cutting the industry off at the knees and threatening to implode the whole business. (Hmm. Mixed metaphors much?)

What all this means for authors is that people who couldn't ever get published under the conventional system are flooding the market with new books. What it means for readers is that they have far more choice than ever when it comes to books -- at the price of having to wade through a lot of illiterate, crazy dreck, but still. . .

What it means for our society in general is that the realities of the new media are catching up with us in a very public way.

What it does not mean is that we'll have smooth sailing into a perfect world. Things won't work the way they have and as usual that means a combination of good news and bad news.

Personally I think the news will be good on the balance, but we're all in for a wild ride.



-dsr- said...

G. Harry *Stine*, I believe.

Rick Cook said...

Absolutely correct. I always just called him "G. Harry" so I've always been shaky on the spelling of his last name.

It used to amuse him greatly when I'd mess it up.