Sorry to be so late on this. I got up very late, around eight thirty, and I’m trying to get ready for a dentist’s appointment which delayed everything. This means this post might be incomplete or too breezy, but I expect comments will be interesting.
I grew up in a country with Earthquakes. The North is fairly sound – being on granite – but the Southern part can add or lose strips of coast and horrible things can happen to buildings. If you don’t know what I’m talking about look up The Great Lisbon Earthquake.
I grew up in the North, which means I had only experienced three relatively small Earthquakes by the time I moved to the US. Experienced is a big word, since I slept through the first (I was three) despite my brother carrying me in his arms back and forth between front and back door, unable to decide whether the narrow street with its tall buildings which might collapse, or the backyard with trees and stone pillars supporting grape vines which might fall (the pillars, not the grapevines. Well, those too) and crush us was safest.
The second happened at school and was truly minor. The first started with such small foreshocks that I didn’t realize we were having an Earthquake. You see, I’d been studying for exams and was really really focused and sometimes it would feel like things shook, but it was only astigmatism and tiredness. So…
When the phone rang, I ignored the little tremblors, and headed for the stairs. In my stocking feet. Let’s say we should all be very grateful that I’m still here to tell the tale. Mom and dad had a semi-spiral staircase (Only two half curves, and broad) of polished, waxed mahogany. I was wearing fuzzy socks, since I hadn’t left the room all morning — and as I hit the center of the bend, at a half run, the real quake hit. I was picked up and flung down to the front hall. Fortunately I landed on my behind, which has always been exceptionally cushioned, and in such a way I broke nothing, though I was black and blue and couldn’t sit comfortably for weeks.
This is apropos what is going on in publishing and, from what I understand, in the rest of the professions – almost all of them. I’m saying publishing, because it’s my field and therefore I’m hyper aware of it.
It’s also, btw, a good illustration of what fools we SF writers are. Or at least we are when we try to focus on an invention and how it changes things. Say you get flying cars. The story is going to focus on being able to fly faster, and get there sooner. You can live I Kansas and work in Denver. Stuff like that.
But … but what about roads. What happens when all roads revert to forests. What happens to neighborhoods, when houses are no longer situated along roads. What happens to commerce when “city” might be a matter of opinion?
Well, we didn’t – curse it. They PROMISED – get flying cars. But we got computers. I remember feeling back in the nineties we’d got the booby prize. “Okay, so I can email people instead of the post office. And I can write faster than on the type writer. Whatever. I want my flying car.”
Except that was the foreshock. I was focused on what I was doing and didn’t realize it. I headed for the staircase of publishing, at full tilt, in my fuzzy socks…
For those of you not in publishing, let me tell you that looking at it, you should be able to think through how this will affect your field and whether it will be in the near future or you can relax a little. Only don’t relax too much. Things hit in weird ways. I’ll put at the end some of the things I see coming for EVERYONE.
When I came into publishing we were at the height of the push model. If you wanted to get published and get on the shelves, you not only had to go through the publisher, you’d BEST charm the publisher and do the politically correct thing. They published any number of books that never even got on the bookshelves. (No, don’t ask me why. Maybe a tax thing.)
Meanwhile, as a reader, I was having more trouble finding stuff to read. What was on the shelves didn’t appeal, and there was nothing I could do. I spent five years or so re-reading old books, afraid to find a new author who disappeared after three books, and finding the effort of discovering gold in the dross all too much work.
But we had computers. And then we had Amazon. My book buying skyrocketed, because I could find all those books that weren’t put on the shelves.
However, by and large, the bookstores and the push model reigned supreme. You wanted to be on the shelves, you went traditional, and you were a good boy or girl.
However, Amazon made a dent, and the old model started looking like it was in trouble.
But then came the kindle. The first one seemed like a toy. I still wanted one, but no one was seriously reading most of the stuff on them. They were expensive too. I thought we’d have… twenty years or so before the tech was viable. No one but Baen was making money from ebooks.
But then came Kindle II and all the others, and the competing readers. Smashwords, KDP and the other self-publishing programs.
Old style publishing looked a bit scared, but they were standing buff and saying that the ebooks were a fad. And even though the bookstores were now also stocking according to how you sold in Amazon, the best way to get on the shelves was still to go traditional. Validation, etc.
… The shot heard around the world just echoed. Go read Kris Rusch, then come back.
Now self-published books can get on the shelves for a very little expenditure. And the price is very little more than for traditional publishers (unless it’s Baen, but that’s something else.) And the price WILL come down.
So… what is this all about?
Boom. Unless publishing houses have been cultivating their brand (and who but Baen has?) they’re going to find themselves at the bottom of the staircase in a world of butthurt.
As for writers? It behooves us now to bring things also in paper, if length warrants. Particularly if we have a (very little) name that might make bookstores want to stock us.
Other than Baen – and I have sentimental attachment to the house anyway – I now can’t even imagine why any sane person would want to go with a traditional publisher. Heck, I’m having trouble imagining why an INSANE person would want to. Unless they’re masochists (Fifty shades of publishing.)
That is my field. I’m sure the tremors aren’t done. I’m picking myself up off the floor going “What? When? Did anyone get the number of that truck?” And I’m awake and aware. Half of my colleagues won’t realize this for a while. By then we’ll be off to the next temblor.
Things will stabilize, of course. Eventually. In my lifetime? Who knows?
Some of you might be immune from this, but I doubt you’re as immune as you think.
Look, computer control, distributed manufacturing, delivery of goods long distance, delivery of data at virtually no cost, three d printing, virtual socialization…
It’s a lot like flying cars, but more so. It brings the possibility of rendering cities meaningless, but also countries. (Which is I think part of the reason that governments have gone even more obnoxious.) It will change the way we work, the way we relate to each other, the way we pay for goods (no? Well, what if you live in a place where cost of living is very cheap but work in one cost of living is very expensive? Won’t your salary affect local economy? And long term, will it equalize prices? Or will there be crazy pockets? And with international commerce, where do fiat currencies fit in?) the way we fall in love, the way we marry, the way we have children.
I don’t have time to unpack it, but I’m sure you can. Or I can unpack it in a post tomorrow. I’m sure the following fields are next on the “hit with the change stick:” Education, movie making, programming, real estate.
… but the others aren’t far behind, and the only thing I can guarantee is that the order and magnitude will surprise us all.
They’re exciting times to live in, and like all revolutions not a bit scary.
Hold on tight and be not afraid. No one is promising you won’t have to fight and struggle, but there’s a good chance that the future belongs to those who want to be free.