Gaze into the crystal ball and glimpse the future of e-Publishing

In a 1995 article for Newsweek, Clifford Stoll, an astronomer and author, said “The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”

Mr. Stoll was not uninformed about the internet. Quite the contrary, he had been working on the internet for years and was one of the first ‘hack hunters.’ But the internet of 1995 was in its infancy and like a newborn it would take time to mature – make order out of the chaos. He went on to say no body would shop on the internet, it would never catch on, it was only a fade. Mr. Stoll contended the internet missed an essential ingredient, the human touch. There were other things he felt would be big stumbling blocks, dealing with money being a big one.

The issue with Mr. Stoll’s position in 1995 was one of insight. He had none.

This past February, Mr. Stoll’s article was unearthed and was the topic of discussion on several blogs including Farhad Manjoo ( Slate Technologies) and Nathan Bransford.

Manjoo presented four principles for more successful predictions about our digital future:

1. Good predictions are based on current trends
2. Don’t underestimate people’s capacity for change
3. New stuff sometimes comes out of the blue
4. These days it’s best to err on the side of (technological) optimism

It goes past people’s capacity for change and to the heart of the matter. Stasis is not the norm.  So to Mr. Manjoo’s principles I have an addition. 5. Change is inevitable

In Nathan Bransford’s blog, originally posted in the Huffington Post, he looked at the ebook controversy and saw the ‘new skeptics,’ the Mr. Stoll’s of today.  He doesn’t speak about the enabling of the technology but rather the inevitability of it. He has his own predictions.

1. The ebook reading experience will only improve as ebook technology improves. As technology improves, new enhancements will be available, color photos and art, embedded interactive features and creative designs even in mass market books.
2. eReaders and eBooks will get cheaper as technology improves and production cost go down.
3. Finding the books you want to read will get easier, reading through the jumble of self published books to find the good books.  Many people have opined about the quality of the work being self published. Anybody can upload their novel to Amazon or other resources such as independent e-libraries, like Lebrary. New literary sites like Goodreads and Shelfari are tools readers can use to find well written, critically acclaimed, prize winning books.
4. People are ignoring the digital trend.  The economics of digital media is compelling. Digitization is cheaper, faster, and provides worldwide distribution. Other industries have embraced the trend (they too went kicking and screaming but that didn’t stop the shift): music, newspapers, and movies. Books are next.
5. Habits change. As people are presented with better options they quickly adapt.

Are we at the same point in publishing as Mr. Stoll was in 1995 with the internet? Will we be looking back at 2010 and see we lacked insight? Or will we look at Mr., Manjoo’s principles of predictions and reflect on those of Nathan Bransford before we put our stake in the ground?

I am more than just a consumer deciding on what device to buy or application to put on my iPad, iPhone or Blackberry. I am on the other side of this tidal wave, a writer. How do writers embrace the digital age when the skeptics, agents and published authors, advise against digital publishing? Is the argument that good writers will be tainted by the poor quality long associated with digital self-publishing real or imagined? Will the influx of poorly written books overwhelm the industry make it harder for good writers to be identified? Will good writers become discouraged and stop writing? What do the publishing professionals really think?

Jesse Glass, co-publisher of Ahadada Books, a self publishing press was quoted by Liz Worth on the Broken Pencil blog:

From the beginning of the history of publishing there have been bad writers and bad books. Though the new publishing technologies might help bad books to proliferate, intelligent readers have a sense of quality, of what draws them in, of what delights and instructs, and they will make an almost instinctive decision regarding what they will read and what they won’t. … Good work – and interesting work, inevitably – given time – wins out.

Neil Nyren, the Senior Vice-President, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of Penguin Putnam was recently interviewed by JT Ellison on the Murderati Blog.  He said eReaders will not kill physical books. He believes the more formats that are available, the more accessible we make books, the more people will buy.

He went on to say that the new technology is subtly changing the way editors do their work. The publishing industry is embracing the new technology to improve their own efficiencies and make their editors and sales people more effective. Some editors use eReaders to read submissions.

It doesn’t really take a crystal ball to see the future of e-publishing. The signs are all around us.

1. Change is inevitable
2. If good predictions are based on current trends, the digital press is the way of the future
3. eBook technology will improve and provide wonderful enhancements not available today
4. eReader technology will improve and become more affordable and grow the reading market
5. Well written and edited books will not disappear. Good books will always be in demand.
6. New literary sites will emerge and provide the reading public with a means of wading through the jumble and help them find well written, critically acclaimed, prize winning books. The reading public will learn which imprints to associate with good, well written and edited books.

I think there will always be a need for printed books. I have a Sony Reader as well as Kindle on my Blackberry. I buy on line, I borrow from the library online, and I still buy books.

Ruth Seitelman


2 responses to “Gaze into the crystal ball and glimpse the future of e-Publishing

  1. Ruth,
    I totally agree with you. I live in a small mountain town in PA where we are a bit behind the technology curve. I would love an ereader, especially if I can enlarge the print to make it easier to read. I have to wear bifocals. I can’t understand why they put that line in between the upper and lower halves of a lens. All too often I find it difficult to read because of that line. Even with technology improving with time I will still want some books in print because for me those books I have in my collection are treasures to be valued, whether they are in hardback or trade paperback, the value goes up if it is autographed by the author.
    Books have always been treasures to me and I can’t understand why books aren’t worth more by being autographed as football cards are increased in value by the players signature. It just doesn’t equate to me.


    • Hi Robin –

      Thanks for your comments. I too enjoy holding onto a book even though I have a Sony reader and Kindle on my Blackberry. With my Sony there are times I get so into what I am reading that I try to turn the page.

      As for bifocals, I too wear bifocals but mine do not have a line. I have ‘progressive’ lenses. As with anything, there are pros and cons for them. There are some ‘soft’ areas on the sides and you have to learn to look straight on at something – you have to move your head instead of just your eyes. I have been wearing them for a while and they are really comfortable.

      Hope you have been enjoying the holiday weekend. I decided to spend it catching up on my ‘to be read’ list and am on my third book for the weekend!

      Thanks again for your comments.

      … Ruth

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