The danger of eBooks

To say the internet has changed everything is to state the obvious. It is also obvious to say that it has changed the book. But perhaps less obvious is just how. This is no mere superficial change, a transfer of mediums and a slight adjustment of the financial structure of the publishing world. This is a radical change in content.

To the publisher, e-books are scary, but have to be embraced – publishers have to roll with the times. They are well aware of the dangers of illegal downloads, and of simply being bypassed by self publishing authors. To the author, e-books are also pretty terrifying, but there seems to be hope. The authors themselves takes a much larger cut of the royalties – a self published work selling on Amazon for a reasonable price will win back 70%! It’s also a chance for those yet unpublished to simply get their work in the pubic eye.

But with e-books priced so incredibly cheaply, many buyers purchase books based purely on price. The testimony to this stands in the onslaught of the 99p book, and the fortunes it has made; Fifty Shades of Grey is just one example of a hit which was rocketed to fame first as an e-book.

This works very well for popular, populist books. But it’s useless for someone expecting to sell even such a large number as 40,000 copies. More serious books take considerably longer to write, and, by their less populist nature, sell fewer copies. This is simply bad economy – as Dr Johnson observed, ‘no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money’.

The result? The world of authorship will divide: those who write for money will have to churn out populist reads. Anyone else will be forced to rely on day jobs, or more likely private income. Instead of making the world of books more democratic, by allowing anyone to publish, e-books will actually relegate the serious author to the realms of the extremely well-off.

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This is of course an overly gloomy picture – hopefully people will always be prepared to spend more on a book they want to read. Hopefully, enough people will favour the hard-copy ink and paper. Maybe, the rather dryer authors will be forced to spice it up a bit, perhaps no bad thing in itself. But there is a danger worth noting, that in a world where many buy books based on price, the smaller selling, but professional author, could become a thing of the past.