The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 3)

My guest blogger today is Dale Cozort, author of American Indian Victories. This is the third in a three part series discussing the future of books. Normally I don’t post such long articles, but I thought Cozort’s analysis was too important to edit down. Cozort writes: 

Part one looked at how the filters that keep readers from having to sort through a glut of really bad writing are breaking down.  Part two looked at how authors and readers can adapt to a world where the traditional filters are less uselful. Part three is kind of an “Empire Strikes Back” section.  It looks at how publishers might react to the new environment.  I’m not necessarily advocating these solutions.  I’m saying that companies or individuals may go these routes. 

Publishers could try to restrict the number of books published by raising the cost of entry.  In a lot of industries companies have prospered by making it difficult for competitors to enter the market.  That can be done a variety of ways.  Companies can raise the cost of marketing by launching expensive ad campaigns that only companies with a lot of cash can match.  They can get patents on key parts of a production process.  They can use economies of scale to reduce their costs far below their competitors’ costs.  They can dominate shelf space and exclude their competitors. 

All of those techniques other than maybe patents have been used to some extent in the book market.  None of them are likely to stop the proliferation of small print on demand or e-book publishers or the increase in self-publishing.  Expensive marketing campaigns can drive sales of some books up.  Publishers can’t afford to do those kinds of campaigns for all of their books though.  Lesser known authors with smaller sales potential can’t justify large ad budgets, and they are the ones most at risk from competition with small POD or e-book companies.  Economies of scale do make the cost of production lower for traditional large publishers as opposed to POD publishers but their return policies and the need to maintain inventories eat up much of the savings.  Dominating shelf space works in brick and mortar stores but is less effective at Amazon.com because there are no shelves to dominate. 

Publishers could work harder to establish themselves as reliable brands.  I rarely notice the publisher when I’m trying to decide whether or not to buy a book.  I look for favorite authors.  I look for attractive covers.  I look for exciting concepts.  I sometimes look at reviews.  I don’t recall ever buying or not buying a book based on the publisher. I may be wrong, but I think most readers are like me. 

Publishers may work to change that, marketing themselves as “name brands”-places you can rely on for high quality reading.  That’s tricky because quality in books is very much a matter of opinion.  Appealing reliably to a segment of the book buying public might not be hard, but a generalized ‘high-quality’ is more difficult.  Publishers could and probably should feature their imprint names more prominently on books and in advertising. 

Many if not most small POD and e-book publishers claim to be very selective.  Some of them may be selective, but it will take a while for those claims to be widely accepted by readers. 

I hate to say this, but publishers might also rely more on company owned pen names using a variety of ghost writers, and then promote the pen names.  That’s been done with various pulp and young adult series books from time-to-time, and publishers might extend it to areas outside of series books.  Frankly I hope that doesn’t happen.  Recognition is a large part of a writer’s compensation. 

Publishers may try to differentiate themselves by reinventing the book:  We have Web 2.0.  Why not Novels 2.0?  The idea is that the technology of publishing lets publishers do a lot of things they couldn’t do thirty years ago.  The design and layout of magazines, newsletters and textbooks have changed a great deal since the sixties.  The layout and design of novels really hasn’t.  Companies trying to differentiate themselves from the glut should be asking themselves how they can make novels more visually exciting for a generation with a short attention span, just as textbook makers and magazine editors have done.  They’ll need to do that without running up printing costs too much. 

So what would a “Novel 2.0” look like?  I have some ideas I’m experimenting with, but I’m sure a professional design team could do better.  The key is to actually enhance the reading experience or at least not get in the way of it, while avoiding page after page of dull black on white that turns off younger generations of readers and avoiding a comic book feel that would turn off more traditional readers.  Good design could enhance the reader’s experience without drawing attention to itself. 

Going to some kind of “Novel 2.0” design could do a kind of filtering by raising the bar for acceptable book design, making it more difficult for individuals without design experience to make a professional-looking book. 

Novels 2.0 might be easier in e-books.  An e-book doesn’t have to be a simple transfer of an existing book to electronic format.  E-book readers are just specialized computers.  That means that they can potentially do a lot of things that you can’t do on a printed page.  The current generation of e-books may not be able to do all of these things, but eventually the e-book version of a novel could have built in mood music that changes as you flip the pages (I would hate that and turn it off).  It could have a built-in audio-book version with good professional-sounding audio.  That would let you read, then simply switch to the audio version when you had to do something like running errands. 

E-books could have hyperlinks to pop-up boxes that let impatient readers find out more about a character or a town or some event that is mentioned in passing, or even pictures of characters or scenes.  For that matter they could even have small clips of video embedded in the pages at a few crucial points.  An e-book mystery novel could have clues to the mystery hidden in hyperlinks.  It could also have “Easter Eggs”-little hidden touches that could only be accessed by a special combination of buttons.  Easter Eggs are common in computer software and DVDs.  They’ll probably become popular in e-books too.  Readers might find an alternate ending that they never knew was there, deleted scenes, insights into some of the characters, backstory, or historical notes.  Some brave authors might even include earlier drafts of the novel as Easter Eggs or additional content. 

E-books could also have more color illustrations.  Adding color to a print book adds to the cost of printing.  In an e-book the only cost would be the illustrator.  E-books wouldn’t have to be restricted to black on white print color schemes.  Without the restrictions of having to be printed, pages could be as eye-catching as web-pages. 

All of these “Novel 2.0” ideas might make it more difficult for an individual or a small publisher to create a state of the art book.  They would also raise a publisher’s costs.  Getting a state of the art novel 2.0 ready would require a person capable of creating professional-sounding audio, someone capable of making visually exciting interior page designs, probably a professional illustrator, and maybe even someone capable of making professional-looking video clips. 

From a publisher’s point of view, would standing out from the competition be worth the additional costs?  Would readers really seek out books written as Novels 2.0 rather than more traditional books?  How long would it be before little groups of would be writers, designers and illustrators found each other through the Internet and began producing their own Novels 2.0?  They might even produce Novels 2.0 before the big publishers do. 

Unless I’m missing something it doesn’t look like the old ways of filtering out “bad karaoke” writing are going to come back.  Some of the things I’ve talked about may bring back some of the filtering by “raising the bar” of talents you need to have in order to publish a state of the art novel.  Readers will still have to get used to a situation where they have more choice but they also have more junk to wade through. 

The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 1)
The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 2)

—–

 Dale Cozort is author of American Indian Victories.  Visit his website at www.DaleCozort.com.

24 Responses to “The Future of Books: The Problem of Filtering (Part 3)”

  1. Trixie Says:

    Fascinating interpretation of the industry and solutions to the problems. Thanks for writing this, Dale and thanks for posting it, Pat.

  2. Michael Says:

    Interesting concept. I love the e-book concept, but I am thrown off by the drab visuals associated with the current fare of Amazon and Sony product. I hadn’t thought about an extension in the medium until I read your post. Good stuff.

  3. eBookGuru Says:

    I recently had the chance to review a new eReading device that will allow some of the features you were talking about. It’s not available to the public yet, so I can’t talk about it a lot – but your Novel 2.0 idea may not be far off the mark.

    I have long held the ideas that eBooks are the future of literature. I think that two decades from now – eBooks will be the norm and printed books will be harder to come by. It may even happen sooner.

    Cheers,
    Trevas

  4. Yvonne Eve Walus Says:

    I love the Novel 2.0 idea. As somebody who worked with hypertext long before people knew how to use the Internet, I’ve always thought ebooks miss out on that very natural enhancement.

    Yvonne Eve Walus
    http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/eBook77234.htm.

  5. Donald James Parker Says:

    Hmm. Novels 2.0 You have introduced a topic here I had not considered. This is definitely a rabbit trail to pursue to see where it might lead. I actually wrote a book reader program several years ago but never had any success in marketing it. It might be time to dust it off and get it on the market again with some enhancements.
    Thanks again for providing this series of articles to help us in the struggle to succeed in the publishing jungle.

    Donald James Parker
    Author of Angels of Interstate 29

  6. A. F. Stewart Says:

    I love the idea of e-book “extras”.

  7. K. F. Zuzulo Says:

    Some great insight. I hope the publishers are reading it. I agree that the filters have been faltering, but are oh-so-necessary. If publishers and agents can morph with the technology, i.e. accessing and assessing new authors electronically (which many are increasingly doing), there is great potential to target quality books. But because of the volume, I believe there really needs to be “boutiquing” of titles. It’s a combination really — like a village with WiFi.

  8. Dianne G Sagan Says:

    Pat, I’m so glad you put this great information on your blog. Dale, you provided information that is valuable to all of us writers with your view of the market and ebooks. Thanks.

  9. Ken Coffman Says:

    Well done, Dale. Obviously, we’re all trying to find a way through a rapidly changing landscape. My personal feeling is we’ll make our careers by people subscribing to our work, our process and our lives. The best thing we can do for ourselves is make sure our work is as entertaining and satifying as possible and try to live up to any hype that might be generated. People crave heroes and figureheads, but you can’t buy the role, it has to be earned.

  10. Pat Bertram Says:

    The pop-up boxes would be a great place for footnotes. I find them annoying when placed at the bottom of a page and hard to get to when placed at the end of the book.

  11. James Rafferty Says:

    Dale,

    I like the idea of a Novel 2.0, but have a feeling it may go in directions different than what you’ve outlined above. One simple example would be to have an e-book which has different narrative trails. Depending upon choices the reader made, they could read through the book in different ways. I also like the idea of the hyperlinks which fill in back story that not all readers will care for. Of course, all of this requires even more work from the writer to create an experience that the reader will savor. One could also imagine “tie-ins”, where a song is mentioned and there are links to a place where the reader can buy it; this could help on the revenue side of the business (i.e. pay per click). There’s excellent food for thought here.

  12. kaliphonia Says:

    The idea of large publishers trying to keep out smaller publishers by basically increasing the cost of entry really is bad business, and obviously would not work anyway. With democratization of media, large publishers are really only being shown to be an outdated model. It’s much the same as the music industry, in that the record labels used to be the filter, but now that people and word of mouth can be the filter, the labels are much less important. There will still be filters, but the major publishers will not be it. They will still be the way to get onto a store shelf, but those are going to keep going away too.

  13. ~Sia~ Says:

    Dale, I’ve enjoyed reading your series here.

    I remember looking at some books printed in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that had 5 or 6 page size color illustrations, some had pen and ink illustrations at the head of each chapter, some were scattered throughout the book. They were fun to look at and I imagine they drew readers too. I’m not too sure how that style would work theses days with modern technology of embeds or links. When I’m reading, I just want to get on with the story. Maybe if a link with music was there, I’d look after I finished. Alternate endings and out-takes? I don’t know. They don’t particularly grab my attention with movies, except with a few comedies.

    There’s no magic formula in published or selling books. It more a matter of learning the craft of writing a good story and Butt in the chair time. Once your book is published, it’s donning the hat of business person, being willing to market and generate publicity, while having the ability of dividing your time effectively to continue writing fiction.

  14. Pat S. Says:

    Lots of interesting stuff here.

    I’m with Sia, in that I’m not sure I’d care for illustrations. Then again, I’m old. I did enjoy the small ones that headed each chapter in the Harry Potter novels.

    I’m currently using Mobipocket on a PDA as my e-reader. It already allows me to choose my font and background colors, font type and size, and orientation on the PDA screen. Additionally, it links to the dictionary I have loaded on the PDA, so I have only to highlight a word and it provides the option to immediately look it up. Additionally, I can highlight and annotate text. Several of my e-books also include illustrations quite easily (I’m thinking along the lines of some of my adventure novels that include codes, maps, pictures, etc. that exist in the print editions as well). My e-reader allows me to zoom in on those for a closer view. It’s not a far step at all to insert hyperlinks to things such as music, etc.

    I do believe the combination of talents for both writing, reading out loud, and illustrating exist together in only a few individuals; the novel 2.0 you describe becomes then a collaborative effort, rather than an individual one, with a splitting of monetary rewards in an already underpaid environment. Something to consider.

  15. Gina Robinson Says:

    Great series of articles, Dale! Lots of food for thought. I like your analogy of bad karoake.

    I’m with Pat S. and Sia on illustrations–to me they’d be a hinderance when reading a novel. I just want to read the story. I’d be unlikely to look at links, either. When I’m in a story, I’m in and don’t want to be thrown out of the fantasy. I can see that links might be good for footnotes like you sometimes see in historical novels so the reader can learn more about the historical setting, etc.

  16. joylene Says:

    I must be old. If I had to choose between a hardcopy and an e-book, I’d pick a hardcopy every time. I love the feel of the book in my hands. I like seeing how much I’ve read and much there’s left to read. I slow down when I get to the end if I’m loving the book because I don’t want to say good-bye to these wonderful characters.

    I love the internet and my Imac, but there’s something very special about a book in my hands. I doubt I’ll ever change my opinion about that.

    Thanks for the great articles, Dale. You taught me a lot.

  17. Stephen Prosapio Says:

    Great series of articles, Dale and thanks to Pat for posting and promoting it!

  18. Latayne C Scott Says:

    Super article series! I’m directing my twitter and facebook readers here!

    Latayne C Scott
    http://www.latayne.com
    novelmatters.blogspot.com

  19. D.B. Pacini Says:

    I have learned a great deal from reading this three part series. With a novel pending publication I have received much food for thought. Pat, I thank you for sharing such information with us. Dale you have been most generous with your time and knowledge. I appreciate it.

    D.B. Pacini
    http://www.astarrynightproductions.com

  20. Wendy Hardin Says:

    Love it! So much of this brings to mind Star Trek and all those cool features. Dale, especially love the “NOVEL 2.0” Maybe one day there will be an automatic novel download into the clones around us/our personal machine slaves…then they will either tell us or read to us the whole story while we sleep because we will be so busy doing everything on computers one day we won’t take the time to read anymore! JK
    Somehow, the power of a good story will live universally for the intended audience. How that context will look and feel is another matter. For clones to decipher.

  21. Linda Barnett-Johnson Says:

    Hello,

    Companies trying to differentiate themselves from the glut should be asking themselves how they can make novels more visually exciting for a generation with a short attention span,…NOT ONLY FOR THAT GENERATION, BUT FOR THIS BUSY GENERATION.

    I LOVE THE IDEA OF MOOD MUSIC AS YOU READ A BOOK, MUCH LIKE A MOVIE.

    VERY INTERESTING ARTICLES.

    LINDA

  22. Claire Collins Says:

    Very well put together articles. Lots of food for thought here on many issues writer’s have been struggling with.

  23. Sheyna Galyan Says:

    I’m writing to ask for permission to reprint these three articles in the newsletter for the Midwest Independent Publishers Association (www.mipa.org) and on MIPA’s blog (http://mipa-blog.blogspot.com). It would be of great interest to our readers. Please let me know if such permission can be granted, and what citation information should be used.

    Thanks,
    Sheyna Galyan
    Newsletter/Blog editor
    Midwest Independent Publishers Assocation (MIPA)

  24. Roberta Beach Jacobson Says:

    Most interesting – all three parts.

    I can think of one publisher with a brand and that’s Harlequin for the romance market.


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