This evening I went along to a panel discussion hosted in Norwich about the future of the book industry. There was a panel of industry bigwigs there, and between them, I think I got a pretty good glimpse of what this industry is going to look like within the next 1-5 years.
And let me just say, it's pretty much what I thought would look like. I wasn't so far off the truth when I posted this a while back.
I should mention the panelists, if not by name...by profession. There were three. One was the MD of a leading Literary agency, the other was the CEO of a major publisher, the third was a 'digital media guru'. I think it would have been interesting to have someone representing the retail end of the book business...say, from somewhere like...umm....oh yeah, Tescos.
Now before I go any further, let me just quickly explain what I mean by the term 'writer-to-reader chain'. It's the journey a book currently takes from the pen of a writer to getting into the paws of a reader.
Writer > agent > publisher > bookshop > reader.
Anyway it was interesting to hear all three of the panel discuss the issue from three different perspectives. The publisher guy and agent lady were pretty much saying the same thing, that retailers almost certainly will be squeezed out of this writer-to-reader chain. But ultimately, like a balloon that's still too heavy, someone else may have to jump. Because you see, in the near future the chain will look like this...
Writer > ???? > reader.
A writer's work will be downloaded by readers onto their groovy splash-proof, drop-proof, easy-on-the-eye eBook. There will be no need for printing presses, warehouses or bricks 'n' mortar retailers. All there will be is the literay equivalent of iTunes; some body who will gather up, organise, cross reference and host digital files.
I could imagine the top echeleon literary agencies banding together and forming some kind of premium quality literary brand, that filters the wheat from the chaff. After all, whilst having lots of choice is nice, no-one wants to have to wade through the written-word equivalent of YouTube. I mean how many badly written proto-Tolkien fantasy novels can one possibly digest?
No...there'll need to be some business whose job it is, is to filter out the less desirable stuff, and then nicely organise the good stuff into easy to navigate pigeonholes. And to some extent, isn't that what Lit agencies already do?
Arguably it might be a much-reduced-in-size publisher or two who'd fulfill that role. Perhaps it would be a very small hybrid of both types of business. But one thing's for sure....there's going to be a big commercial die-off, and surely it'll be the largest animals that will come a cropper first.
Anyway, bloody interesting panel that was.
Oh and yeah...you sceptics out there, yes you!....the one's that think eBooks will never happen. Think again. It's round the corner, it really is. It's just one sexy design curve away from taking off believe me.