Books vs. Bytes; Trad vs. Indie

I first dipped my toe into the waters of writing eight years ago. It has been an amazing learning experience and never more so than in the last six months when I embarked upon this wild indie-publishing ride. I have been an avid reader for all of my life (that I can remember) and an entrepreneur in the software industry for most of my working life and it is with those eyes that I view publishing.

Books vs. Bytes.

I have been in love with the physical experience of reading a book for ever. I remember someone saying to me as a child, “books are living things” and since that moment I have treated them with a sort of reverence; I never, for example, turn down the corner of a page as a book mark.

I hate shopping, but I can stroll the aisles of a bookstore for hours. I spend most of my writing time in the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, surrounded by seven floors of books and bibliophiles.

Last month, I used CreateSpace for the print version of Junkie and it wasn’t until I held that sample draft in my hand—a real, live, paper book—that I truly felt like an author. It was an amazing, cosmic, uplifiting experience…

…and simultaneously a profoundly sad one, because the world of the physical novel is doomed. The fundamental economics of the book business are just too overwhelming:

  1. The giant bricks-and-mortar retailers have gobbled up all the independent chains and have thus weakened not only the book retailing business but also, ironically, themselves. Outside of online sales, 90%+ of books are sold through the large chains and now those large chains are going under: witness Borders in the US;
  2. E-readers—Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad, Android—are selling at a phenomenal rate and the prices are dropping steadily. In five years, 70% or more of ‘first world’ families will own at least one tablet computer. In ten years all but the world’s poorest will have one, or at least access to one;
  3. A $2.99 (or $0.99) ebook can be delivered in seconds to anywhere in the world. The same book in paperback form costs the reader around $12.99 plus either a shipping charge or the time and inconvenience of going to a bookstore to pick it up. No matter how you or I may feel about the emotional experience of curling up with a paper book, financially and from a convenience point of view, it is a no-brainer to buy the ebook over the paper equivalent. As an aside, authors do not care whether you buy the ebook or the paperback. They make the same royalty either way.

We can bemoan the demise of the paper book and the wonderful, cozy book stores which sell them, we can demonstrate against store closings or mergers, we can write to our Congressmen, Senators or Members of Parliament but, like King Canute, there is nothing, absolutely nothing we can do to change the tide. It is sad but true.

Trad vs. Indie.

The question being posed endlessly on Twitter, in blogs and any place where writers congregate (either physically or virtually) is “Which is better? Traditional publishing or indie (self) publishing?” I’m starting to think that for now this might be a meaningless question, you know, different strokes for different folks.

However, publishing as we know it is as doomed as the paper book. (See Publishing’s dead… long live publishing) But… a new publishing model may emerge where the publisher makes money not by printing and distributing books but by marketing the books of a stable of authors, for a percentage of their royalties. Such a publisher would have a strong expertise in both social media and traditional media. Clients of such a new-style publisher may well be happy to relinquish 30% or more of their revenue stream for the publisher’s services. It is possible that a new-style publisher will be created by former employees of the big publishing houses or, more likely I think, will arise from the social media universe. Bob Mayer’s Who Dare’s Wins Publishing is a move in this direction and has tremendous potential.

There are a number of people with a deep understanding of social media as it applies to publishing, my favorite being Kristen Lamb. With the right partners and financial backing, someone like Kristen could emerge as a new-style publisher and have great success.

I suspect that such new-style publishing will become the new publishing model for authors who do not have the skills or inclination to go indie and market themselves.

For a good write up on the pros and cons of Trad vs, Indie, check out Ava Jae’s excellent blog on the subject.

But more importantly…

Regardless of the future of books, bytes and publishing, the authors who are going to have success are those who can write well and appeal to a well defined audience. Before even thinking about books or bytes, going trad or indie, the author should ensure that her or his books are well written for their audience. As an avid reader of indie authors, I am often saddened by the fundamental writing errors that so many of us commit, for example:

  • Great gobs of back story in the opening chapters;
  • Not getting the reader to care deeply about the protagonist;
  • Meandering scenes without any defined structure;
  • Wandering points of view;
  • Adverbs everywhere;
  • General lack of tension.

Readers deserve better and there are so many excellent resources to take the writer’s work to the next level:

  • The books of James Scott Bell. Check out his Writers Page;
  • The books of Don Maass;
  • Writing courses and writers’ conferences.

I am using them all to improve my own emerging skills.

Writing can feel like a lonely calling and we often try and go it alone. I believe that unless you are a genius level writer, a good independent editor is a must. I use Lisa Rector of Third Draft Editing in New York. Make sure that you chose an editor with great references from successful authors in your genre. He or she will take your writing to a much higher level.

Anyway that’s my current ten cents worth on the world of publishing. This post is much longer than I planned, so if you got this far, thank you. I would love to hear your comments.

—— o ——

If you would like to:

  • Be informed about new reviews, posts and my coming novels, please sign up on the form to the right, at the top of the page.
  • Check out the reviews or buy/try my novel Junkie, you can:
    • See it on Amazon for Kindle or in paperback;
    • See it on iTunes by searching for “Junkie” in iBooks on your iPhone or iPad.
  • Contact me at robert@robertpfrench.com I would love to hear from you.


This entry was posted in On writing and publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Books vs. Bytes; Trad vs. Indie

  1. Jaye says:

    Heh. Asking a bibliophile which is better, print or ebook, is like asking them which of their children they like best. I love my stories, no matter how I get them. As for traditional versus self-publishing I think the answer is and always will be, it depends. What truly matters is that the author, if wanting a traditional publishing experience, educates herself about contracts and how traditional publishing works in general. If they want to try self-publishing, ask first and foremost, “Do I want to be a publisher as well as a writer?” The answer is going to be as unique as the individual.

    Great post, Robert. I enjoy your blog.

  2. Kristen Lamb says:

    Thanks for the shout-out and excellent post! Writers are wailing that it is all so unfair that they have to write AND do social media, yet I think writers who are willing to suck it up and embrace the changes will fare far better. Change is scary. We do long for the good old days. But, if we think about those days, they aren’t worth sacrificing this bright future that writers now have.

    • Robert P. French says:

      Thanks Kristen. You are so right. In publishing generally we are all – writers, agents, publishers and perhaps even readers – in a “change or die” mode.

  3. Great post. I think a part of me is sad about the future of publishing, but I believe I embrace it more because of the endless opportunities for indie authors. Most of my book sales are from ebooks (at least 90%), and I’m not complaining at all.
    I definitely know that feeling when you get your book in your hands for the first time. I even recorded the experience here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FY9KWp9gkDA
    I’m definitely loving the indie route and have no regrets!

    • Robert P. French says:

      Hi James. I loved your video. I watched it with a big grin on my face. It is a great feeling to hold that book in your hand isn’t it. Best wishes for great success with Sellout. Cheers, Robert.

  4. Pingback: Publishing’s dead… long live publishing | Robert P. French, indie author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.