Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Rise of the Ebook

In 1989, an unpublished manuscript by classic 19th century French author Jules Verne was discovered and subsequently published in the 1990's. 'Paris In The 20th Century,' was written by Verne in 1863 and is set in the great French city 97 years in his future - in 1960.

Just one of the futuristic devices featured in the novel was a machine that could transmit the image on a piece of paper to another machine in another location. Forty four years later in Germany, Arthur Korn sent a photograph from Munich to Berlin on the first-ever inter-city fax machine.

It was another sixty years on before the streamlined, electric fax machine became a common feature in businesses around the world. And another fifty years on from that it's all but extinct in the age of the internet and the email.

The future Paris described by Verne was a city full of towering buildings - written twenty one years before the the first modern skyscraper - the 10-storey Home Insurance Building - was opened in Chicago in 1884.

Verne's novel had been rejected by his publisher who regarded it as too wildly imaginative.

Verne was good at this sort of thing.

He wrote about high-powered metallic submarines, ('20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,') long before the first one was built. He wrote about a rocket trip to the Moon, ('From The Earth To The Moon,') 104 years before Apollo 11.

Let's imagine, then, an imaginary novel written by an imaginary author named John Ferne - sixty years ago - in 1951.

It's set in 2011 and it's about a wealthy entrepreneur who launches a new invention - a hand-held device on which you can read the text of a book on a flat, non-glare screen.

The books can be transmitted to the device anywhere in the world via wireless networks from supercomputers that hold hundreds of thousands of titles.

At the same time a global book store has collapsed and major print publishers are considering the way forward in an uncertain business. As print sales decline, there is a sharp increase in the ereader devices. Pure fantasy.

The novel is called 'The Rise Of The Ebook,' and Ferne's tale is rejected by 1950's book editors as being too improbable, even for s/f fans.

Of course, this is a novel that was never written. (Or was it?)

However, it's 2011 now and the scenario couldn't be more real.

It's less than four years since Jeff Bezos' Amazon launched the Kindle ereader. Aptly named, for just as kindling in the forest can ignite a fire, so the Kindle has fanned the flames of an ebook revolution, with several major ereader devices and online bookstores launching. In addition there's ebook distributors such as Mark Coker's Smashwords. These 21st century outlets are offering hundreds of thousands of books, by both established publishers and by the new wave of "indie" authors/publishers.

Global bookstore chain Borders has closed most of its brick and mortar stores, while building its own online presence and its own ereader.

Welcome to the future.

And these are the most recent developments in the rise of the ebook:

The April 16, 2011 press release from the American Association of Publishers (AAP)reported that in February, digital books in the U.S showed a 202.3 % increase against the same month of February in 2010.

The Ebook was the Number One format among all categories of Trade books, including Adult and Childrens/YA hardcovers and paperbacks. That's $90.3 million in sales for the month of February. (Boy, what I could do with $90.3 million.)

The ebook now accounts for just on 30% of all U.S. book sales.

Ebook sales outside the U.S are slower, but the trend is upwards.

My research indicates that in the UK and Germany, where ereaders have been on sale for a much shorter period of time, ebooks are estimated at around 5% and growing.

The rise of the ebook has also seen the rise of the independent author.

The 'indie' artist was once the exclusive domain of the musician, particularly rock musos. Technology meant it was possible for singers/songwriters/bands to record their own material, release it on CD or download, selling it on the internet and at 'live' shows. "Indies" gained a strong foothold in the 90's.

Now technology has done the same for authors, and it's a real game-changer.

There are many thousands of "indie" authors flooding the market with their self-published works and, sadly, many will not stand out and find readers. Nevertheless, an opportunity to sell your wares and connect with an audience is there.

And from those thousands, there are many who are achieving strong sales and excellent reviews, too many to mention here, but as an example - Mel Comley, Imogen Rose, Edward Patterson, Siebel Hodge and Nick Spalding.

There's a small but growing number who have hit the Kindle Top 100 bestseller lists, including John Locke, Amanda Hocking, J R Rain, Michael R Sullivan and Debbi Mack.

Hocking and Sullivan have been approached and have also signed with established publishing houses.

John Locke, who has many titles on the bestseller list, prefers to remain "indie" but has acquired a literary agent to field movie offers and foreign rights publishing opportunities.

These authors are an example that self-published works that are well written and edited, can match the traditionally published well-known authors in finding a readership. As such, they are an inspiration, a guide and a beacon to every other writer out there who is heading along the same path.

Locke's agent, Jane Dystel, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying this brave new digital publishing world was a "wild west."

Well, the U.S ought to know, having had the original Wild West back in the 1800's. Around the same time Jules Verne was imagining the fantastic inventions of the 20th century, which are themselves already ancient history to us. If Verne was writing today, we can only wonder what speculative fiction he might have written about the future of the digital age.

And what of our imaginary John Ferne novel, 'The Rise of the Ebook'?

In our fictional story, Ferne's grandchildren have discovered his manuscript and released it as an ebook. It's a Kindle Top 10 bestseller. Imaginary film studio, Dreamjobs, have bought the rights and legendary director Stephen Steelkirk will direct.

And for the role of an indie author who hits the big time, talks are underway with Josh Heart-throb and Christian Sale.

The real Hollywood recently released 'The Social Network,' a film about the rise of Facebook.

A real movie about the rise of the ebook? Who knows...

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