Print-on-Demand changed publishing, making the printing of a single copy both possible and cost effective. PDF (Portable Document Format) made digital download possible – for the first time, you could download a page or an entire book and read it on your computer. Kindle and similar readers allowed instant download of magazines, newspapers and books. We have cell phones that text, gadgets that access the net on tiny screens and even a gizmo that will keep Twitter, Facebook and other social media up and running at all times. The iPad adds video to the mix and we are nearly full circle.
Once people read books and newspapers. It was where we got information. But then the radio came along and gave us entertainment with sound. With it came predictions of the demise of the newspaper and of books, because everyone would simply sit around their radio instead of reading. Soon, faster than we thought possible, the radio grew a screen and television was born. With television, again, experts predicted the end of printed paper as a source of information and entertainment.
When the computer and the Internet came about, there was again the prediction that we would see the last of the printed word, that paper was to go the way of the dodo. But paper usage is up by 18% - the printer attached to the computer saw to that.
But the author of today has a special challenge: it is easier than ever before to put your book into print, into digital form and into the marketplace, but who is reading them?
More books were put into print and into the marketplace through print-on-demand self publishing last year than through publishers, or as they are becoming known, “traditional publishers.” Some people actually call these entities “real publishers.” But traditional publishing is in trouble. People are not buying books as much as they once were. Books are being sold through bookstores, more than the Internet, but the Internet still constitutes a large market. Individuals who write are getting more energetic in selling their own books and the sheer glut of material being put out gives the impression of there being a boom.
A best-seller is judged by the books that are ordered by the book stores. Any that are not sold get returned to the distributor after the book has been put on the best-seller list. It is staggeringly possible for a book to be on the best-seller list and sell fewer copies than a new author's print-on-demand poetry collection. The returns would tell the tale.
So what are people reading? It's been said that you cannot sell your book on Twitter or Facebook. The reason is that on Twitter or Facebook people are already reading all they want to read. Any more than 140 characters and they lose interest.
The new fiction is Flash Fiction, even Micro-Fiction. At a reading last Friday, a young man read half-a-dozen stories he called Micro-Flash-Fiction. Each story was a paragraph. It was mildly entertaining, partly because of its novelty.
In Asia, novels are being written to be read on cell phones. What the “Graphic Novel” did for comic books, the new ePub technology is doing for books. On the television show (and movies) Star Trek, in all it's many forms, we saw no paper, no pens, no books. Anything to be viewed was presented on small screens, either stationary or portable, just as today – we read on Kindle or iPad, or Blackberry, Smart phones and the like.
It will change. Change is the watchword of the age. For now, what are people reading? Well, the kids are reading each other as they are texting (or sexting). Students are reading Kindle. Those who can afford it are reading iPad – remember, all the aps must be bought separately. Many of us are reading our computers, the television – even in the car, rather than the radio. A vast number of us are reading Twitter and Facebook updates and nothing else. Why can't you sell a book on Twitter? Because once they read the announcement, they're done reading.
Three days ago the electricity went out. Without missing a beat, I lit a candle, pulled out my acoustic guitar and played until the lights came on. Then, being a victim of my own jaded drives, I put the guitar away and turned to my favorite channel. I could have turned off the lights instead. I still might.
Today you can get Sports Illustrated with a short paragraph and a link to the video about it. Vook.com has a book with videos and claims to be the wave of the future. The leap from Kindle to iPad is a sign that things are changing, the direction is away from static print and toward moving pictures and interactive aps.
I welcome your input and am interested in your comments. I also seek an answer. The question is: as an author, what do I write now?