Speech Delivered by Warren Adler
At the Jackson Hole Writers Conferencein Jackson Hole, WY, July 1, 2001
This is the tenth time I have addressed the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. Usually, as one of the founders of the Conference, I have been asked to make the opening welcome remarks. For the first time, I have been asked to be one of the last talkers in what I hope was a fulfilling and exhilarating opportunity to come together and meet with other writers and especially the very talented faculty. I know it was an enriching experience.
Mostly you have been addressing other issues than what I have planned to talk about today. In a nutshell, your focus has been on creating what is described today as “content.” You have focused on the craft of writing, on the presentation and development of content, of the methodology of communicating with words and sharing your work with others and replicating your output through traditional publishing technology. The name of the game, of course, is to be read, to share your thoughts, ideas and stories with others in what is essentially a one on one communication system.
The subject of my talk is beyond content, namely the way technology has revolutionized the way content is replicated and how it will impact on the career opportunities available for authors. Essentially, we are in the midst of two profound, cataclysmic changes in the way the publishing of content will be delivered, packaged and marketed.
What I am referring to is the process of digitization which has allowed for the creation of the electronic book, a paperless book, which can be transmitted directly to the reader via the internet to be downloaded and read on screens, embodied in everything from desktop computers, to portable hand held devices and a myriad of gadgets about to be launched that will simulate and replace the paper book.
In this process, the content is, of course, the same as it would be in a paper book. The words are the same. The characters, plots, ideas, nuances, insights, discoveries and subtleties contained in the prose is exactly the same as if it were delivered in a paper book in a format we have known for the last four hundred years, ever since the invention of moveable type which replaced the handwritten scrolls written on papyrus and other materials by authors of bygone times. Let us use the nomenclature of the market place. This is known as an E-Book.
I said there were two profound changes.
Technology has also made possible the Print on Demand phenomena. Let us call it a first cousin of the e-book. In this process, the words of a book are digitized, fed into a machine and in about a minute a genuine book spits out cover and all. It is a book book in what is called a tradebook format. It has also been developed in a hard cover format requiring a more sophisticated binding process that delays the process by about twenty four hours.
What the Print on Demand technology does is make a book available on demand, one at a time. Order by order. For the publisher it means no more warehousing, no more vast sums expended in printing multiple copies before they are sold. In this process the book is created almost instantly and available only after it has been requested by booksellers.
There has been much speculation on just how the impact of these technologies will alter the business of publishing in the long haul. Already the effects are being felt in the publishing world and publishers are being hard pressed to come up with survival strategies that will insure their business viability in the future. As for the impact on authors, I will try to illustrate it by my personal experience and what I as an author have done to exploit the possibilities that these new technologies have to offer.
This is the bet I have made and it has taken me a year to put it together. To my knowledge I am the only author in the world that has made this bet with such an extensive investment of time and money.
Here is what I have done.
I have harvested the rights to all of my 23 published novels and all of my foreign rights in 30 languages and have launched them under the imprimatur of my own publishing company Stonehouse Press. Many of these books had been out of print, a phenomenon that will never happen again to me or any other author. These books have all been published by the major houses with the exception of two books published by a small press here in Jackson, one a book of short stories about Jackson Hole and the other a compilation of previous published stories.
All of these books are now back in print and available on every e-book format such as Microsoft Reader, Adobe and Gemstar. They can be purchased through every conceivable outlet via Barnes and Noble, both on line and in the stores, through Amazon and online services for Independent Bookstores. They are available in the UK and wherever books in the English language are sold.
They can be read on your Palm Pilot and all other personal handheld portable devices currently available. Indeed, the complete infrastucture has been created to market and sell my books in all present and future devices that are poised to enter the market.
They are now also available in both Tradebook and Hardcover formats via Print on Demand through every outlet and can be ordered through both the major online retailers like Barnes and Noble and Amazon and Independent bookstores.
They are also carried by the largest wholesaler in the country Ingram and will shortly be available through Baker and Taylor, the other major wholesaler. In effect, I have taken charge of the distribution and marketing of my backlist of 23 titles. Once this was the absolute purview of the publishers who fully controlled not only the gateway for authors to have their works published but they also held a total monopoly on the distribution and marketing of books.
I’m not ready to say that this is a deadly challenge to publishers although it is a cause for concern on their part, and the fact that such activity can be done outside their control surely must make them stand up and take notice. It is, of course, a tiny chink in their armor and they are well aware of it and taking steps to enter the field.
They are already creating their own channels of e-book distribution, using Print on Demand to distribute bound galleys and some of their output and aggressively trying to grab the e-rights to books by their authors that were not considered as part of book contracts in the years before the technology was available.
A legal challenge is currently underway to test their contention that the acquisition of book rights also covered e-books. We shall see how that plays out.
I won’t go into the painful process of how all the infrastructure of my publishing venture was created. Hard copies had to digitized and converted to all the various formats. The process is worse than making sausage. But it is always difficult to be a pioneer and I knew the risks and costs involved when I started.
I am now tackling the process of conversion into the many languages in which my books have been adapted. First will come the European languages, then the others. Most countries are still far behind us in these technologies.
But I have also hedged my bet. While I have launched these books under my own publishing imprint, Stonehouse Press, my new novels will be published by traditional publishers.
For example, my latest novel “Mourning Glory” will be published next month by Kensington Press, a large still Independent publisher in New York with an excellent editorial staff and traditional distribution system. Mourning Glory will arrive on the scene with much fanfare, publicity and advertising all of which will refer to my website warrenadler.com in both the ads and the flap copy of the book.
Thus the marketing program is both author motivated in the new technologies and publisher motivated in the traditional way. It’s a hybrid. I cannot tell you when this backlist project of mine will be profitable, but I can say that a revenue stream has already begun. I know I am a pioneer, but I do believe that what I am doing is the wave of the future and that other authors will eventually follow in my wake.
My objective is clear. I am attempting to brand my authorial name so that it will be instantly recognizable in the years to come and to disseminate my books throughout the world, keeping them viable and in print for the foreseeable future. My books are the work of a lifetime and will continue to be written as long as I am able to create them. I believe in them and I believe in their future. Some may enjoy them. Some may not. But at the very least they will be out there and accessible which is about the only thing an author can do.
How fast will the technology develop a tipping point and become the reading formula of choice is hard to say but I believe it is coming a lot faster than we think.
There are devices in development that boggle the mind. Digital paper that can literally be rolled up and carried around containing many book downloads, a tablet that looks like a palm pilot on steroids that is light and portable and in which numerous books can be stored. Print on Demand Kiosks with hundreds of titles embedded in them that can spit out books in minutes that can be placed in libraries, coffee shops like Starbucks and airports to name just a few possibilities.
The fact is that the entire library required to educate a human mind can be contained in a storage device as small as a pack of cards.
What this technology has done for the beginning author is give him the means to self-publish his own work in a respectable format. I’m not saying it is the best course for a novice, but it is certainly a fall-back alternative once the traditional paths have been thoroughly explored.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma about self-publishing which continues to be sneeringly referred to as “vanity publishing.” Many now famous authors have gone this way from Charles Dickens to Mark Twain. The perception is slowly being changed by the new technology although the non-screening and unprofessional editing aspect of publishing these works presents a problem.
Of course, the obstacles to any wide distribution of a single published book are formidable, perhaps impossible and certainly costly. Yes, you can easily get your books published as e-books or print on demand for a comparatively modest sum but getting it distributed is a real hurdle if you want your book to be read outside of your immediate circle.
There have been some tiny instances where a single self-published book has been picked up by the major publishing companies but such instances have been few and far between. If you take this path as a first time author I must caution you not to let your expectations exceed the realistic possibilities. But then lightning does strike and people do win the lottery.
The major publishers have dipped their toes into the technological revolution putting out books by unknown authors as e-books. But one must understand that putting books into cyberspace is like listing them in a gigantic telephone book. The trick is to get the title on the cover of this infinite telephone book and making people aware that your book is in existence.
But the situation is fluid and changing rapidly. No one has a monopoly on predicting the future. The business model of mass distribution and the bestseller lists dominated by a handful of brand name authors may be in the process of radical change.
The new technology does open up opportunities, but it also signals the beginning of the end of way content has been distributed through paper books. I personally love the book in its present configuration. Most of us do. We have bonded with them. Is there anything better than to curl up with a wonderful book and follow the lives of those imaginary creations of the author’s mind?
Don’t we love the feel of these books, the papery smell of them, the way in which they excite our senses. I love them. I collect them. I write them. Books, as I know them, aside from my family, are the number one priority in my life.
But I am also aware that I am generationally handicapped. My five year old grandson is already computer literate and will be quite comfortable reading on a screen and therefore on any device that will reach the market. Believe it or not there are many people out there who do buy and read books on screens such as Palm Pilot. I have already seen the signs of income acceleration on my own fledgling adventure. There are those who are paying the price to download a book into their portable devices and they are using the internet at an astonishing clip.
People tell me that whether they read a paper book or through the use of an electronic device, it is the content that matters and the means of delivering that content becomes secondary. Stories have been told around campfires since the beginning of time. They have been written on the walls of caves, handwritten on papyrus, Monks spent centuries writing their illuminated manuscripts by hand. And of course, we all know on what kind of material Moses wrote out the ten commandments.
In the end, it is the content that matters, the story, the information, the knowledge.
We, in this room, presently published or unpublished, are the creators of this content. The method of how this content is delivered will, in my opinion, evolve and eventually find its way into the most economically viable method.
I have made my bet that the electronic media will be a significant, if not a prime method for the delivery of books in the future, perhaps the very near future. Like the disappearance of the horse as the prime mode of transportation, as silent movies gave way to talkies, as ice boxes gave way to refrigerators, as hot type linotypes gave way to computers, as the inkwell gave way to the fountain, then ball point pen, so the paper book might be fighting for its life. I hope it survives the onslaught of electronics.
It may in some form, but in the end, I am sorry to say, it cannot win.