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For many industries, digital technology is both destroyer and savior. Take the newspaper and music industries, for instance. The internet is frequently blamed for their demise, yet new technologies are also expected by many to help save them.
When it comes to how digital is killing and saving established industries, book publishing may not grab the most headlines, but it is arguably one of the most affected.
Take e-books, for instance: growing rapidly in popularity, not only are they changing the way many people read books, they're changing the economics of distribution for book publishers.
Not surprisingly, there are many things book publishers don't like. The pricing of e-books is a big one. Already, we've seen disputes over pricing lead to public spats between major retailers like Amazon and book publishers.
But where do writers fit in? After all, the interests of book publishers aren't necessarily the same as the writers who have traditionally had to go through book publishers to find mainstream success. Many writers would love nothing more than to self-publish and deal direct with readers. But is it possible?
On this front, it appears that writers may find that they're a lot luckier than their musician counterparts. Whereas it's still very hard to 'make it' financially as a mainstream musician without label backing, some of the most successful authors in the Kindle Store are thriving.
Take 26 year-old Amanda Hocking. She's a self-published novelist who is attracting a lot of attention. And for good reason: she's selling more than 100,000 copies of her e-books every single month through the Kindle Store. At $3 to $5 per e-book, Hocking is ostensibly making millions of dollars, which means that, as one commenter quoted by Novelr notes, "no traditional publisher in the world right now that can offer Amanda Hocking terms that are better than what she’s currently getting, right now on the Kindle store, all on her own."
Hocking may be the exception, not the rule, when it comes to self-publishing and the Kindle Store. But there are other indie authors selling thousands upon thousands of e-books to readers directly each month via the Kindle Store without the baggage of a traditional publishing arrangement. So even if it's unrealistic for indie authors to expect similar levels of success, it's still quite possible for talented authors to make their way with hard work and a bit of luck.
From this perspective, it seems quite clear: digital may not 'save' book publishers from a world that looks very different than what they've been used to, but it might very well create fantastic alternatives -- and new opportunities -- for talented writers. Book publishers may not like that, but it's a good thing for book publishing.