Yesterday, SuperAgent Matt Wagner Tweeted a link to Peter Osnos’ take on eBooks.  Is SuperAgent Wagner oddly tooting his own funeral dirge?  Or is Matt Wagner sensing an opportunity on the horizon the rest of us are unable to envision?


Here’s the most fascinating part of Osnos’ argument:

Another important indicator of acceptance of digital delivery is last week’s report on 2008 results from OverDrive, the dominant distributor of eBooks and digital audio to libraries. OverDrive said that downloads of digital material to the 8,500 libraries it supports exceeded 10 million items. The number of new users increased by 45 percent over results for 2007…

So the eBook has landed. The printed book is not disappearing either, even if it is increasingly in competition with digital delivery. This is a very difficult time in the traditional brick and mortar marketplace, as the results at Barnes & Noble and other booksellers make very clear. For a variety of reasons, these stores are still skeptical of or even hostile to digital delivery, which means that customers will go elsewhere to find what they want. Overall, the increasing acceptance of all these new ways to get and books is a definite plus for the cherished act of reading, and it doesn’t seem too Panglossian to conclude that there are better days ahead.

Does this signal the end of days for traditional hardcopy book publishing as we know it?  The industry is already bleeding and dry — the tombstones just haven’t been set dead in print yet.

If the trend in publishing is away from bound books and into the convenience of eBooks — what happens to the Agent and the Publisher in the traditional triangulation of intra-dependence with the Author?

Authors can now publish and perish on their own termsselling their work on the Kindle is a simple file upload — so where does the Agent take a station in the eBook landscape and why does an Author need a Publisher to promote and distribute their work when most working Authors already pay for their own proprietary distribution system in the frame of server space and the context of bandwidth costs.

What is the argument against Authors writing and promoting their books and directly downselling to their own customer base:  Copyright remains inherent and intact, 100% of profits are retained, and the distribution pipeline is already virally pre-tagged, proprietary, protected, and self-controlled.

22 Comments

  1. The way I think it will happen is this: people will sell more and more books electronically, and eventually select people will be asked by Amazon if they want to have their books printed and bound for the people like a friend of mine who can’t stand anything digital and loves the smell of a book. (Mind you, so do I, but I also own a Kindle – you also don’t go to a book signing with a Kindle!)

  2. I would like to think that the printed book will hold its own after an initial dip.
    Newspapers are still “holding their own” despite their own on-line editions and the plethora of other electronically available news.
    I also think it is a “treasure” versus “gadget” argument.
    There is a great deal of pleasure in physically owning a book – especially in my case where the classics have been passed down through the generations complete with their beautiful illustrated plates and gold leafed pages. The e-book will never be able to replicate that.

  3. Hi David,
    I can sniff the overwhelming surge of digitial/ e-book over there in the horizon…
    The authors have to just accomodate the demands of their readers – in whichever format may that be.

  4. More bleeding-by-the-numbers:

    Average weekday circulation at 507 papers was about 38.2 million copies for the period ended September 30, 2008, according to the U.S. Audit Bureau of Circulations. That was a 4.6 percent drop from the same six-month period a year ago.
    From September 2006 to 2007, the drop was only 2.6 percent.
    Sunday circulation, which was measured at 571 papers, fell 4.9 percent to about 43.6 million copies. That drop also accelerated — last year’s Sunday decline was 3.5 percent.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/industryNews/idUSTRE49Q50320081027?sp=true

  5. More paper cuts:

    The embattled publisher of Star magazine, The National Enquirer, Shape and Men’s Fitness, has once again gotten an extension to try to work out a deal to turn over control of the company to bondholders and avoid bankruptcy or liquidation.
    The new deadline to work out an agreement is 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 26, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
    The company is already in default on its $413 million in outstanding corporate bonds.

    http://www.nypost.com/seven/01142009/business/dykstra_beaned_by_book_agent_150036.htm?&page=2

  6. Gurgling in blood…

    THE past week brought another round of media pink slips. OK! magazine laid off at least a dozen employees, sources say. “Two reporters who were fired from People are getting OK! staffers’ jobs,” said an insider. A rep for OK! said, “This was more of restaffing,” adding that only “five people were let go and nine were brought on.” On Friday, Dan Klores Communications let go eight staffers. There were also job cuts at Star.

    http://www.nypost.com/seven/01142009/gossip/pagesix/media_massacre_150097.htm

  7. Good shot – that belief of mine went down in flames!
    (N(icola) B(rown) check facts before posting)
    I will however report that the sale of newspapers in this part of the world is brisk – they sell pretty well – you have to get to the newsagents before midday to get the ones you want.

  8. Generally speaking, authors have very limited if any access to the companies that throw up those big ads on, say, subways and newspapers. For the a lesser fee than your average agent, an e-agent would be in charge of getting proper marketing for their client.

  9. Hi Nicola!
    I thought you were scooping me about the UK rags! I’ve been raptly following the worldwide disintegration of paper as a meme of communication and when I read your comment this morning I thought perhaps there had been a surge in UK magazine and newspaper viability that was bucking the USA and worldwide trends.
    The only hope, it seems for the big paper writing brands to remain in business is to go web-only and digital reader. Otherwise, they’ll be going the way of the steam train and the Pony Express: Excellent, ground-shattering, ideas that outlived their usefulness and the economic needs in the human want to be faster and better.
    I have a lot of friends trapped in traditional media paper houses and I don’t know how they’re going to get out from under without being smothered. The collapse could come in 10 months or 10 years — but who can afford to wait out the abomination? The time to move is now.
    Fiction publishers can re-publish their catalogs in digital formats and still churn the money, but tech publishers will have a harder time because those books are not evergreen and the want for instant information is the new on-demand publication meme you find on the web and in blogging.
    Agents, and those that rely upon them downstream, will need to reimagine their role in the marketing, negotiation and creation of the author. They may morph into content delivery providers, or indicate networked, guaranteed, buys, or even provide PR and management advice as commodities: “Give me the right to represent your work, and I’ll pay YOU for the privilege of a minimum number of sales.”

  10. That might be one way, Gordon, but aren’t there already service providers in that niche?
    My feeling is the traditional Agent — who currently convinces a publisher to give upfront and future guaranteed money to an author client — may have to begin to pay the author for that representative relationship or face extinction because publishers are now/will be pressing the “zero advance” in favor of a 50/50 split of all live sales with an author. Where does an agent fit in that 50/50 split?
    Why would an author give up 50%? You’d do it for a publisher’s access to guaranteed sales. The e-Agent will have to find a similar place at the virtual table to re-triangulate a progressive dyad that is set to connive 50% against their best interests.

  11. Ouch!

    The Gannett Company, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, said on Wednesday that it would force thousands of its employees to take a week off without pay in an effort to avoid layoffs.
    Gannett, which owns 85 daily newspapers across the United States including its flagship USA Today, said it could not say exactly how many people would be required to take time off, or how much money the company would save. But it said it would require unpaid leave for most of its 31,000 employees in this country.
    Also on Wednesday, USA Today notified its staff of a one-year pay freeze for all employees. …
    Most of Gannett’s newspapers are small, but they include some major papers, including USA Today, The Detroit Free Press and The Arizona Republic. In this country, it also has hundreds of smaller, nondaily papers and 23 television stations.
    In Britain, the company publishes 17 daily newspapers and hundreds of smaller publications.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/business/media/15paper.html?_r=3&hp

  12. From the end of December:

    The troubled Village Voice laid off three employees Tuesday, including Nat Hentoff, the prominent columnist who has worked for the paper since 1958, contributing opinionated columns about jazz, civil liberties and politics.
    Lynn Yaeger, a fashion writer who has worked for the paper for about 30 years, was also laid off, as was Chloe A. Hilliard, who has written for two years.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/31/business/media/31voice.html?fta=y

  13. Well I have certainly had my eyes opened – I thought our newspaper industry was still fairly healthy.
    There is also the ongoing lobby that newspapers are not very eco-friendly being paper based.
    I am not sure where all the gadgetry stands on the eco-friendly scale that might be some interesting research to get your hands on.

  14. Nicola —
    Yes, newspapers all over are printing less copies. When it comes to newsstand sales, they actually want to sell out every day. That makes it look like their paper is popular.
    The raw materials are expensive. You have to pay for delivery, ink, paper, the presses and they have a union drive trucks to deliver the newsprint. It’s an old model that is outdated in today’s instant now culture of knowing.
    The day the NYTimes goes “online only” is the day every single paper newspaper becomes irrelevant.
    Pair Networks — our hosting service — has had a Green Policy for well over a year:
    http://www.pair.com/environmental_policy/
    Apple computer is also “going green” as much as possible:
    http://www.apple.com/hotnews/agreenerapple/
    There’s a movement afoot to make the virtual lives greener — but even a tiny effort is cleaner than delivery trucks belching exhaust fumes in neighborhoods just to deliver dead trees for reading every day.

  15. More bad news as O’Reilly lays off workers:

    O’Reilly Media laid off 30 employees on Thursday in a restructuring effort intended to help the influential Sebastopol tech publisher weather the economic downturn.
    “We’re being hit by the economic malaise,” said Sara Winge, a spokeswoman for the company.
    The layoffs included 21 employees at its Sebastopol headquarters. The rest were staff from its Cambridge, Mass., office and remote workers. The cuts affected almost 14 percent the company’s 222 employees.

    http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20090115/BUSINESS/901150213/1036/NEWS07?Title=Layoffs_at_O_Reilly_Media_in_Sebastopol