I happened to turn on the TV in the afternoon recently, something I rarely do, and Charlie Rose was interviewing Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com fame about the new e-reader device, Kindle. I listened intently, and afterward I Googled Kindle and read reviews, the pros, the cons, the things Bezos didn’t mention—all of which you’re capable of doing yourself. Since I don’t own a Kindle, I can’t give you my personal take on it. But there are few things to consider.
One thing to keep in mind, is the power behind the device. There have been plenty of e-readers that have come and gone. Sony released one this summer. Both companies, Amazon and Sony, are powerhouses, well-versed in media. Amazon may have the upper hand in distribution, but Sony has more experience at acquiring and creating content. Each has their strengths. And both have huge talent pools of marketing wizards, bean counters, and decision makers who would not greenlight the release of a hardware device unless they were reasonably certain that there was a market for that product. Perhaps they hope to be the company that creates the iPod for books...but it’s obvious the game is on, and the stakes are serious.
Maybe the Kindle will succeed, maybe not, at least in its current form. Maybe it won’t catch on until 2.0 or the 5.0 version comes out in ten years. But here’s the important thing to take away from all of this—at least my prediction: Digital books are here to stay.
What does that mean for the professional writer? I don’t know. But like I said a few weeks ago, the world needs writers, always has, and always will. It’s our job to tell the story. Distribution, for the most part, has always been out of the writers hands. I don’t think Kindle changes that. How we get paid may change. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to say what will happen. But money, again, for the most part, is a secondary concern to most writers. Yes, yes, we all to be paid, to have the opportunity to be the next James Patterson, but most writers are content to be paid wages that haven’t changed, or have shrunk, in the last 40 years. If you think .03 to .05 cents a word is acceptable, a professional rate for short stories, then you haven’t been paying attention…those were the rates in the 1960s—when you could buy a Hershey’s bar for a dime instead of a dollar. I’m not complaining, I’m thrilled to make .05 cents a word, but I’m also realistic about the wage. In any endeavor supply and demand dictates the rise and fall of wages—writing is no different. It’s just hard to predict how e-readers or digital books will affect the supply and demand in the future.
Regardless, the world will need storytellers. Some of us will be paid, and some of us, won’t.
So my advice about the fear that the Kindle is instilling? Keep an eye on it for opportunities that may arise, but don’t let it stop you from telling the story that only you can tell.
Fear is a four-letter word that is just as dangerous as can’t as far as I’m concerned, so don’t let the sparks that the Kindle is throwing into the wind burn out your dream.
Keep writing. It’s really the only option you have ever had, or ever will have, regardless of the devices that come and go.