I’ve seen the current publishing situation compared to the changes the music industry underwent in the past decade and called a bad thing. But is it? I used to buy more music than books when I was in college and after. The Wherehouse, Tower and Licorice Pizza owned my ass. But as time went on, my favorite artists got older and produced less of what I liked. Or I loved a song I heard on the radio but the rest of the CD sucked. Meanwhile, you were out 13 bucks for one song. I pretty much quit buying music for several years. Then I won a couple of songs on iTunes. Here was somewhere I could buy a song I liked and ignore the rest of the CD. And every week iTunes gives away a few songs for free. I’ve discovered some artists I really liked through those free songs and I’ve purchased many more. Amazon gives away a song every day; in fact several thousand songs are available there for free every day. I’ve purchased more music in the past few months than I’ve bought in years. I even bought Lady Gaga’s new album on both Amazon and iTunes because they offered different versions. Both albums cost me a total of about $12, for about 25 songs.
What does this have to do with publishing? In the music industry, there are thousands of people like me who are buying a few songs at a time instead of not buying whole CDs. Since I got my Kindle less than a month ago, I’ve acquired about 30 books I probably would not have bought in a bookstore. Some of the books were free, several were 99 cents, and others were up to $4.99. These are authors I mostly haven’t read before, but if I like them, you can bet I’ll buy the backlist and future books. (And my family is happy that there aren’t 30 books on the overburdened living room shelves.) In many cases, these books are self-published through Amazon, so the author is getting a good share of the profit. And they’re cheap enough that I’ll give a new author a chance. While the new publishing model puts more of the responsibility onto the author, at least there’s something he or she can do without waiting for New York to make a decision and loosen up some cash. This helps the midlist author, who’s not the hot new thing, nor the ghost-written celebrity being overpaid to share salacious secrets.
I’m sure I’ll find lots of authors I’ll enjoy. I’ve judged unpublished novelist contests, and so often I’ve loved a manuscript that didn’t make the finals, and didn’t like the eventual winner. Now there’s a place that manuscript that didn’t make the cut and make it to the marketplace.