Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why I'm Still Optimistic About the Future of Books

In March of last year I published a post called Why I'm Optimistic About the Future of Books, wherein I discussed the idea that despite the then-current difficulties of the business (which have morphed into still-current difficulties), ultimately e-books and the Internet are great things for books and everything will be fine. Everyone has a shot, people have more opportunities than ever to find the books they want to read, and eliminating distribution barriers will mean that books are not sent into drawers never to be heard from again.

And in fact, I gave a speech on said subject just a few months ago at the Central Coast Writers Conference.

So. Now that I've jumped ship and left the publishing industry for the tech world, how do I really feel?

Um. Well. The same way.

I really think the present is good for books and the future is good for books. People love to read books, they're not going anywhere, and the Internet is making it easier to find great books. Me leaving the business is not a sign that I think everything is heading down the tubes.

Sure, change is disruptive and this isn't to overlook the significant challenges the industry will face as we move into the new era. And in future posts I'll outline some of the obstacles I see coming down the pike (spoiler alert: I think agents and publishers will still be around in the new era).

But as a reader and as an author, I really do think it's a wonderfully exciting time for books. Authors have a chance to reach out to their readers like never before, readers have an opportunity to discover books they may not have heard of before, and technology will enable books to be delivered faster and more cheaply than ever before.

And that's still pretty great.

Image source


The Red Angel said...

Wow, am I first?! :D

Totally agree, Nathan! Optimism is always best, but also even though technology is pretty much taking over, there are still many people who love good ol' books. :)


The Red Angel said...

Hmm I agree that technology will definitely be able to spread novels around faster than ever before, but I still hope that there will always be a place in the world for books...paperback, hardback, concrete.

Elaine AM Smith said...

I think a books are safe for a while yet. A multi-media approach to fiction for young children - that runs alongside the physical books - will see hard and paper back books become a specialist, niche market, later.

Word Verification: imous

That must be me and you?

See Elle Oh said...

I also agree. I think brick and mortar book stores may morph into something different than what they are at present, but I don't think people will stop reading, writing or publishing books anytime soon.

Daryl Sedore said...

Optimism comes at a premium.

Being optimistic gets us through the changes mentally intact, but there will be changes nonetheless.

Yes there will still be printed books years from now. They'll be in private collections, used bookstores and antique shops. (I'm talking 30-40 years from now)

I agree agents and publishers will be a part of tomorrow's version of the industry. The difference: there will be less of them than today. (75% less)

I'm also optimistic about the future of books because there always will be books. The only thing debatable is the vehicle in which this medium is delivered.


Carol Riggs said...

Definitely. From an author's point of view, it's mostly about getting your book out to people who will read it! In whatever form. Except I have to admit I still love the BOOK form, partly because I'm an artist too and I adore the look and feeling of an actual/live, well-designed cover. :)

Chris Lunda said...

Until the eye problems of looking at a screen are realized 10 years from now anyway

Neil Vogler said...

Hi Nathan, I couldn't agree more. In fact I blogged about this very same issue just yesterday.

I think you can choose to either view this new era in publishing as perplexing and mind-bogglingly unstable, or you can look around with fresh eyes and see that there have never been more chances to get good books out to readers. And there's never been more ways to read, either.

Good stuff Nathan.

Neil Vogler's Blog: A WRITER HE MUTTERED

Sierra McConnell said...

It will be sad when bookstores become like Apple Stores. Little white rooms with pods in which you can go to download content instead of rows upon rows where you once could run your hand along stacks of books.

The book isn't going away, it's evolving. Just like computers, just like televisions, just like all forms of technology, only it was the last one to change, the one most resistent. It waited in the corner while everyone else had its chance.

I still enjoy books. Actual books. I'm going to be one of those last few people who buy an eReader. Maybe when Wal-Mart gets one...

Les Edgerton said...

Nathan, I'm wondering about an aspect of the business I haven't seen addressed (although it probably has and I just didn't see it.). I'm referring to the used book market. There are literally millions of people who love to browse in used book stores and I'm wondering if anyone has thought to create a business model to take advantage of that significant market niche with ebook versions. It occurred to me that an enterprising entrepreneur (someone unlike me... who has money), could possibly create a business arrangement with the ebook providers to purchase "used book" rights after say a five-year period had passed since publication. An outfit like Abebooks, for instance. Where a book, after it had been on the market for five years could be made available for sale to an outfit such as Abebooks for a percentage of any sales, along with a small percentage paid to the publisher and author(and agent). To bring authors on board, these sales could also result in a small royalty paid to them. As it is now, authors receive nothing on used book sales, and including them in the proceeds (along with their agents if they have one), would be very attractive to the creators of the work. It would also be attractive to publishers for the same reason. This is different from what Abebooks, Amazon and B&N and other online markets currently provide as it would apply to ebook versions only and not the "hard copy" versions. Is this a dumb idea or do you think it has merit?

Josin L. McQuein said...

Yeah, well I still hate the iPad.


abc said...

I see myself always reading books (with paper) as well as enjoying an iPad or a Kindle (should I have the money to spend on one). I'm open minded like that.

Also, people, what is your favorite book about books? Or where the reading and loving of books is a major part of the story? Like The Neverending Story. And, and, me out here.

Finally (and I thank you for your time), when is the next contest? I am feeling low and unmotivated and I think a Nathan contest would be just the thing.

Michael said...

Another interesting post, Nathan. In fact, I blogged about this same subject last night, although I was a bit more wordy and historical, and I had to mention my most famous rejection from a most famous editor.

I agree that agents and publishers will still be around, although I think their roles will change significantly and only the best will survive in this new era. It's coming quickly.

Anita Saxena said...

Ever since I got an e-reader, I find that I'm reading more. It's more convenient. And I love the fact that I can just download whatever book I want, whenever I want, or borrow an e-book from my local library. I don't see the onset of e-readers being detrimental at all to books. In fact, I think it's a good thing.

Matthew Rush said...

Good to know. I wonder if a higher amount of less polished stories will make it to market as authors publish themselves under whichever models end up being available. I'm not sure if I have a solid opinion either way.

Anonymous said...

Factor A; Mass culture or as it's come to be known popular culture.

Factor B; Technology, especially digital technology.

Factor C; Convenience and instant gratification.

Factor D; Visible prestige tokens.

Hard copy books fit Factor A because there's a significant minority who will never adapt Factor B. In my neighborhood, six of ten households have Internet connections, the others don't care for it. Seven of ten have cell phones, others don't care for them. One has an e-reader. All have and buy, read, borrow hard copy books.

Factor B will always be progressive, but it's a progress trap. Technology needs growth just like finances and energy and population so stagnation doesn't stifle the survival of the fittest paradigm of biological imperatives. However, what's today's king of the hlll is tomorrow's junk joke.

Factor C will always appeal to a subcultural group driven by Factors A, B, and D. But instant gratification and convenience are the lazy way to live and not conducive to modern survival of the fittest imperatives. Though admittedly, convenience and instant gratification go hand-in-hand with financial survival of the fittest.

Factor D favors hard copy publication. I'm sure a great deal of the Potter saga popularity drove purchase decisions due to Factor A, but didn't result in actual reading for a significant number of possessors. Possession and ostentatious display favors hard copy as token trophy acquisitions to display proudly on bookshelves and carry around so peers and cohorts can admire and envy.

I don't see digital literature cornering more than a minority fraction of the marketplace, a significant minority, sure, but hard copy will predominate because of the above factors.

T. Anne said...

Hey we agree on something! I jest, I'm sure we agree on many things in spite of the one article of discourse.

Is that your ipad in the picture? I have to say I enjoy my ipad as an e-reader immensely more than my Kindle, with the exception that I downloaded the Kindle app and read my Kindle books on my ipad. As much as I enjoy the ibookstore, I find Amazon's site still reigns supreme, and I'm thrilled that I have the option for both on one piece of equipment.

Now that your a techie I'd love a future post on what your new work day consists of. And do you at all miss the query deluge? Are you still getting them?

roh morgon said...

Optimism from a public figure with experience in the industry is something we writers need to hear.

As exciting as it is to watch our opportunities evolve, it's also more confusing than ever.

The decision whether to take the risk to be at the forefront of a new generation of e-writers, or stay safe and try to be one of the few selected by the ever-diminishing pool of publishers, is one that is becoming increasingly difficult.

As e-books and self-publishing gain acceptance, writers are torn. We're not sure if jumping the traditional publishing ship is going to land us into a lifeboat, or into a leaky canoe, or worse, into the deep waters of anonymity.

We'll continue to watch you and the other beacons of the industry, but ultimately it's up to each of us to decide which harbor is the safest.

Geoff said...

Readers and writers of stories should not fear whatever changes come. Because the simple fact - one that tends to get lost in this debate - is that a BOOK is not a STORY, just as a HOUSE is not a HOME. Do you see what I'm saying? It is content that matters - its the love that goes into creating it and the dedication required to create it well.

The amount of people that consistently freak out about too many "bad" stories getting into the market with indie e-publishing continues to baffle me. As if there are no "bad" stories in Barnes and Noble right now? Books published by the big names can have just as many typos and editorial flops as an indie e-book. And here's the really exciting part: those same editors on the horn with the big boys will soon be YOURS to hire, as they go freelance after the diminishing big-name pub house has to cut their workload.

The same talent will be there to help you present your best story in whatever form of a "book" it may take. It may just take a little more work on your end. I say bring it on. This is my DREAM, why wouldn't I want as much control with it as I can possibly get?

Both methods have their pros and cons, and both methods will be here to stay, in my opinion. To discredit one or the other this early in the change is sort of silly.

Here's the key: WRITE A GREAT STORY. WRITE IT WELL and with PASSION. Then worry about how or in what form someone will read it. Remember that there used to be a time when we simply TOLD each other our stories. And that didn't take technology or a publishing house. That just took STORYTELLERS.

Just my two cents. :D

Reesha said...

I agree with you, Nathan.

There are several books I've read since getting my kindle that I wouldn't have otherwise read.

I will never give up physical books, but I also love my Kindle. It puts books in front of me I never would have considered before.

In the future, I think being a book worm will not only conjure up the image of a person who wears glasses and carries a library card, but also someone who's holding an e-reader.

I'm excited to read your future posts on this, Nathan.
It might seem like you've done the subject to death already, but you haven't. Things are changing so fast, it's always a good topic to come back to every now and then.

Sheila Cull said...

LOL, I hadn't considered your jumping ship to the tech world would mean no future in old school books - but now that you bring it up, I'm glad you mentioned it because if I'd thought of it, I'd get scared.

Yes, that is good news to share.

Munk Davis said...

Somehow I like you more as a tech geek than an agent. Not sure why.

Dara said...

I have to admit, I'm excited to see how the future of books is changing. I think there will always be books in the traditional sense too.

Oh and I asked for a Nook for Christmas. I'm sure hoping I get it--I played with it at the store and it's soooo cool! Plus it's affordable now.

Still, many people are probably going to be hesitant about eBooks, simply because most do not like change. But it's a fact of life and the best thing to do is embrace it!

Mira said...

Good post, Nathan - and timely of you to address any concerns that popped up because you left the industry.

I completely agree with you about the future of books. In this case, deregulation is a good thing, and is opening up many new avenues for books writers and readers. Books have never been more accessible, and publishing outside the establishment had never been a real possiblity for writers before. I love the freedom and the diversity of choice this will provide.

I'm not as optimistic about the current industry surviving in any form. I'm sorry, but I really don't see that happening. I could be wrong, of course. But I think once brick and mortar bookstores fade out, the rest will most likely follow. There is just a reality here, and many people: loggers, truckers, book binders, book sellers, publishing and agenting folks will go through some changes as the technology shifts to digital. This always happens with a new technology - which brings great blessings, but comes at a cost.

But - I do think that individual people will always find their talents and experience still in high demand, in new versions of their old jobs.

Layla Fiske said...

I always appreciate your thoughts and perspective. You are a reader, an author, and a former literary agent. And you're pretty darn smart too!


Anonymous said...

"Authors have a chance to reach out to their readers like never before, readers have an opportunity to discover books they may not have heard of before, and technology will enable books to be delivered faster and more cheaply than ever before."

Your optimism about the future of books is different than optimism about the future of agents.

Smart man for getting out....

M.A.Leslie said...

I love technology and Ebooks but, you can't write notes in the margins of an Ebook. Well, at least not on the one that I have. I hope that you're right, because writing is a passion that I have been developing and I would hate when I finally get good at it, the industry tanks.

Anne R. Allen said...

I agree. I blogged about this right after Nathan made his announcement. (I'd heard his great speech at the CC Writer's Conference.) Things are changing rapidly--but in a good way. E-books are shaking the Big Publishing bottom-liners out of their rigid ways. That doesn't mean we all have to read e-books--I for one never want to be stuck in an airplane with a Kindle on the fritz--just that they're a catalyst for some much-needed change.

Anonymous said...

If there's a net win for e-publishing it's more writers have more opportunities.

There's also unforeseen benefits to take into account. Like getting to read and evaluate whatever one wants to, no matter how publication worthy any given novel or short story or essay is. That's especially good for writers who are developing their craft.

Also, digital publication favors niche publications. If there's too small an audience to justify a production print run, print on demand and print quantity needed and digital only publication can fulfill the audience's niche.

Win, win, win, just the traditional publishing route is in a more competitive marketplace and for all intents and purposes no longer has an obligation to publish artistically appealling, short print run titles. Small publishers and digital publishing have moved into that role.

For what it's worth, the top tiers of the publishing industry may be closing ranks, but in every other marketplace channel the baseline is expanding exponentially. Four-hundred-some-odd publishers in the mid 20th century, today, over 100,000 with ISBN blocks, not counting countless thousands of digital digest publishers.

Alice said...

I'm going to chime in here. On Amazon, a free offer for book and they have a kindle for your pc. So I downloaded it. Got the free book and it was fast, fast, fast.

Carrying my laptop around is a little more difficult than one of those Kindles I'm sure. But it got me to thinking, do I want to cuddle up to a kindle by the fire? I'm afraid you will all have to wait till us die hard,old fashioned, likes the old way, people expire. I'm sure traditional books will be around for another 75 years or so.

Again I thought, I'm not sure I want the government to get access to my computer book shelf, they'll know what I read. Now I'm thinking it is one more way for the gov't to access me. So I know there has got to be a novel (electronic or not) in this thought process, albeit Science Fiction? or NOT. I don't read or write that genre but now I think this scenario is kind of scary.

I think I'll go to the store and pay cash.

J. T. Shea said...

I agree agents and publishers will be around in the future, along with most publishing positions, but some with new job titles. Wearing new hats, as it were. I'd like a tall pointy one, please. Come to think of it, maybe that's what publishing needs. A sorting hat!

T. Anne, I bet the query deluge is the thing about agenting Nathan misses most!

Nathan Bransford said...

t. anne-

Oh, I'm still getting queries. Now they're just coming into my personal account.

Draven Ames said...

I hope the new job is treating you well. Very good post again. Do you think Ebooks will help authors sell books in genres they normally don't write in? Can it help break down the 'type-casting' that happens in writing? If I write a horror book, will I be obligated to write horror forever?

Steppe said...

Reading free books on Project Guttenberg is probably enough to push me over the line. The picture with your article drilled down to a full screen high resolution image that looked good. I just don't see myself writing on an Ipad which makes me prefer a one function app like Kindle. I still like old fashioned books and wish I could find a niche online house that republished classics in leather covers and acid free paper just for collecting and keeping for kicks. said...

Recently I'm checking out some of the publishing options to get onto the iBookstore (and Kindle store). It could be a very exciting time where we publish there, and then promote ourselves via the web. It's an exciting time!

Not Totally Anonymous said...

Agreed...for the most part.

The problem right now in publishing--the major one anyway--is that most publisher are still operating from a NINETEENTH century mindset. They aren't even into 20th Century thinking yet where the industry works to provide the consumer what it wants how it wants it at a fair price.

$14 eBooks? Gimme a break!

Publishing can and should survive but only after they give up the hubris and myopia that's got them into the mess that they're in right now.

JDuncan said...

Pretty much agree, Nathan. It's not like people are not reading or that reading is steadily declining (though I know it's less now than in the past), but the fact is, people will always read and want things to read, and the publishing industry will work to figure out how to best do that.

Maybe in 20 years we'll see the majority of people reading books on digital devices, once we get a generation of kids growing up on them. Perhaps the big chains will die down and the niche, indie bookstores will begin to flourish once again (not such a bad thing). Regardless the next few years are going to see an interesting transformation in the reading experience. But we'll still be reading.

Magdalena Munro said...

Am I the only person left on earth that continues to be freaked out by e-books? I LOVE our library for many reasons but one that pops out of my heart right now is its warmth and the rich emotions that arise within me as I see the tattered spines of books that have become my friends during the course of my life. I melt to see their weathered ink and even have Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh somewhere in these shelves, a book I failed to return to my elementary school library. Technology is supposed to make accomplishing tasks easier. READING is not made easier via an electronic portal and while I "get it" that it's cool that you can find passages with ease and download every book within minutes!! (wow! that's so cool! I just downloading every work by Dostoyevsky for FREE!!!!!!), I'm just not on board with this medium. Period. There..I feel better.

PS-I've been so busy that I haven't been reading your blogs and had no idea you left your job. Congrats and I look forward to unearthing what tech company you are now calling home.

Anonymous said...

Having not blogged about this last night.....sorry to ask what will surely be a ridiculous question, but how can the physical book ever really die ? I'm aware that the novel seems to be receiving last rights , but you wouldn't peruse an art book or a children's picture book ( yeah I know , apparently they're dead too ) on a digital do-dah . ( or do you ) What am I missing ?duh............?

Mo Fuzz said...

Regarding the need for agents and publishers, we know that recording artists can get their work out there in ways that were never possible before, but it seems they still need the record companies.

veryhighbrow said...

oh for sure - My brother bought me a kindle and I was like, "Great!" Then i realized I couldn't write in it, couldn't turn the "pages" fast enough, and was scared all the time that I would break it or get water on it (something I fear for books too, but not to the same degree). books are here to stay.

Sheila Cull said...

I agree with Monk Davis. You look like a tech geek, just kidding, sort of.

Claude Nougat said...

Sure, books are here to stay but the point is that digital printing and e-readers EXPAND the market: more people can read more of the time, more people are reached and tempted to read than ever before...Whoever said the good old paper book was dead is dead wrong! I totally agree with you, Nathan!

lotusgirl said...

I'm grateful for the internet in helping me find great new books to read. I've been blown away by all the wonderful stuff coming out. It's true that people love to read. That fact will not disappear. The mode of dispersal may have to adjust though.

Dick Hannah said...


I really enjoy your "week in books" posts. That being said I saw this ( thought it was interesting enough to post on my site

Keep up the great work,
Dick Hannah

Anonymous said...

I wonder if an up and coming paradigm is publish digitally, sink or swim, and if a novel has seven thousand league legs on it publish in print. Might be like a movie that goes straight to disc without a theater debut, only in reverse.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Story is intrinsic to mankind... probably genetically hardwired by now - Story and illustration been around since cave dwelling... only the delivery method changes!

Haste yee back ;-)

Trish said...

Nathan, I decided to publish an eBook on Amazon. I love the free download of the computer kindle. I also bought quite a few other eBooks for $0.99. It's like having your own library inside your computer.

I hope people will buy my story as it's only $0.99 for a short while, beings I'm an unknown author, except by my peers. Heheh even you rejected me. LOL. Different story though.) This one hasn't been queried except for a couple of times. It's doing okay though and I've sold nine books in the first three days. I've even had two great reviews.

I'm not getting any younger and I want my stories read and enjoyed by children all over the world. Who knows, I could cark it tomorrow - after all, a great writer frien of mine on AW died the day she got an agent. How sad. That could have been me.

I have plenty of other stories if an agent or publisher decides to give me a chance.

Dave Amaditz said...

I'm optimistic about the future of the publishing industry too, Nathan. I'm hoping this brave new world might open up more opportunities for unpublished novelists like me. By the way, I've included a link to another interesting blog post. Check it out if you get some time.

wanitajump said...

The world of books is evolving... survival of the fittest with a bunch of new species. However, I can't see the entire world turning to just ebooks or online. I wouldn't consider reading my 5yo and 3yo books only off the web. The best feeling in the world is sitting in their beds and reading before bed. Their excitement as they pour over the words and pictures is pricesless.
I feel the same myself each time I read an MS, starting at my little dog earred corner and falling back into my "little world" .
I wouldn't change it, for the world :)

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