Yesterday was the beginning of the End Times for the book industry.
I said it would come. In fact, I’ve been promising a revolution for years, I just didn’t know how soon or what form it would take when it got here. Only that the book industry as it’s been for the past few decades had to die a grisly, horrible, humiliating death and that this would begin the moment something better came along to replace it.
Well, yesterday that something came along. It’s called the Kindle DX.
Basically, it’s an ordinary Amazon Kindle, the flat-screen, glareless reading tablet that made its debut, I believe, in 2001. Not the year, the movie. And which lets you read books, magazines, flight-paths, and articles about mysterious happenings on the Moon all in one handy gadget. Only now they’ve DX’d it! And when you DX something, you make it bigger and slicker and suitable for reading newspapers, PDF files, and text books too.
Also, if you’re too lazy to read the stuff you’ve downloaded, the Kindle DX becomes all masterful and starts reading it to you in a spooky robot voice, like the one on the GPS in my car. Or Hal in 2001.
Another thing I predicted – I’m always predicting things, then conveniently forgetting the ones that don’t come true – was that the moment the current younger generation found a gadget that would help them avoid lugging a stack of cumbersome text books around campus in a backpack, then the book industry as we know and despise it would be screwed and collapse like a faulty card table.
Well, bingo! That’s happening right now. The Kindle DX, and the flood of similar devices that will follow it, are the book industry’s Kryptonite.
Bookstores will eventually disappear. They’ll have to. We won’t need them any more. Have you been inside one lately? They’re already like graveyards. I visited my local Borders recently and had trouble finding where the books actually were. Instead, the place seemed to be filled with DVDs – another technology that’s on the way out. So it’s only a matter of time – years, maybe, but not too many – before these stores are no more.
This follows a business model I like to call ‘The Music Industry’.
We used to have a giant Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard here in Hollywood. That’s now gone. Closely followed by the Virgin Megastore. Why did they close? Because we started bypassing their overpriced merchandise by downloading music instead of buying CDs.
And why did we prefer to do that? Because the music industry was exploiting us. It had become smug, inefficient, bloated, and more about business than artistry.
CDs were not only bad value, but they usually contained only one or two good tracks – the ones that became singles – while the rest were mediocre if you were lucky; utter crap if you weren’t. Then along came Napster, illegal music-sharing, bands giving away whole albums for free, and finally, with iTunes, a new form of democracy where the consumer actually grabbed back control and only bought what he wanted to buy. As a result, we got to download the songs that were any good, while the crap ones got ignored (are you listening, Elton John?), which is how it should be. In consequence, the music “industry” is now bordering on extinction.
The same will happen with book publishing. These days it’s become more about business than artistry, and someday soon, trust me, that’s going to cost the boring, scheming weasels in suits who run these ridiculously top-heavy enterprises their very livelihood.
I mean, have you tried to get a book published in the last few years if you’re not already famous or influential in some way, with a built-in audience? It’s beyond difficult, verging on impossible. I hear this all the time from writers.
Gone are the days when a brilliant, well-written manuscript would sell simply because it was good and deserved to be published. Now it’s become a labored committee process. Accountants are involved. Marketing people are involved. Publicity people are involved. Lawyers are involved. And a whole bunch of other faceless nobodies, none of whom could write a book themselves if their life depended on it.
I recall, when I put together my handwriting book Instant Insight a few years ago, I had to fly over from England to New York at my own expense and actually audition for a boardroom full of people in suits before I could even get a commission to write it. It’s nuts.
At our radio station in downtown LA. we have shelves and shelves filled with books. Books that flood in every day. Books that hold no interest for anyone. Tedious, badly-written, total-waste-of-paper books that publishers put out year after year in the hope that someone somewhere will open them – “Please? Somebody? Aw come on, see how glossy the cover is!” – and take a look inside. Books that sit there in our office until there’s no more room for them, then they get jammed in boxes and tossed out. What a waste.
The Kindle DX will do away with all of that nonsense. The new democracy that revolutionized music is heading for the book industry. Decades of apathy, bad judgements, smugness, and fatcattery are about to be washed away by a cleansing tsunami of consumer power. No more bookstores, no more libraries – they’ll become museums, or just continue to be places where the homeless can go to clean up and take a dump – and no more needless hassle for authors.
I told all of this to the publicist at my own publisher the other day, and she almost turned suicidal on me. Apparently, none of this had ever crossed her mind. “But I’ll be out of a job!” she wailed down the phone.
There’ll still be publishers in the future, of course, they won’t go away. But the emphasis will shift. In this new world, they’ll be there to help authors hone their manuscripts ready for direct download to the Kindle, or whatever other device comes along, instead of putting up roadblocks to prevent them getting their work to the public, which is what happens now.
In fact, most authors will publish their work directly themselves as glorified blogs without ever going through a publisher, and the emphasis will shift to marketing. Chapters will routinely be given away for free, books will come with video clips and maybe introductory talks by the author about his work – it’s going to be fantastic and fun and energizing and extremely liberating.
For us at least. Not for people currently working in the book industry.
So there you go. We’re in the midst of something huge. To all those frustrated authors out there who can’t get their books in print – I say hang on. Help is on the way.
Speaking for myself, so far I’ve had seven books published. Some were good and still sell even now; some less so, and I wish they weren’t available on Amazon Old and Used.
The latest, Naked in Dangerous Places, is one of my very best. My editor and I, and a bunch of others, worked very hard on it for almost two years to make it as good as we could, and I’m extremely proud of it. It is, however, probably the last non-fiction book I’ll entrust to an old-fashioned publisher.
My next one, due out in the summer of 2011, will circumvent all the old ways, all the accountants and lawyers and PR people and faceless nobodies, and use new technology and internet marketing to reach its target audience. I won’t be asking anyone’s permission, I won’t be submitting proposals, there’ll be no committees or debate; it will just happen. Plus, it will be accompanied by a small film I’ll be making, which you’ll be able to download too, to enhance the experience. I mean, come on – how great is that?
I’m sorry? What did you say? What’s the book going to be about? Oh, I can’t possibly tell you. Not yet.
But here’s a clue: there’s something weird happening on the Moon. Astronauts have dug a pit and found a big black tall thing at the bottom of it that talks to monkeys and goes “EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” when you touch it.
Go buy a Kindle DX – I’ll tell you more in the summer.
TV Swami – he say YES to democracy.