The Future of Publishing?

I’m readily admit to being a nerd, and over the weekend while checking out Dan Wells’s website I came across a post originally written by David Farland talking about the future of publishing with his idea for enhanced books.  I’m going to copy the post here and then give my thoughts about it as well because I thought it was a really interesting topic.

David Farland, bestselling author of the Runelords series and others, is a good friend and a brilliant business-minded writer. He has a new book coming soon called Nightingale,and I’m happy to help promote it with a guest post today. Take it away, Dave! (This section was written by Dan Wells on his blog, the following part of the post in italics is Dave Farland’s original post.)

Right now, the publishing world is in turmoil. People are buying electronic books in huge numbers. In fact, it appears that as of today, more than fifty percent of all sales are electronic. This puts traditional paper book publishers in a bind. You see, most books earn only a modest profit. But if paper books are shipped to bookstores and then returned, they get destroyed, and thus don’t make any money at all. In fact, the publisher then goes into the hole on every book he publishes.

The losses right now are so large in the industry, that as one agent put it, “Nobody in New York wants to be in this business right now.” That’s why bookstore chains like Borders and major distributors like Anderson News have gone bankrupt.

So where do the publishers make up for those losses? By selling electronic books for the Kindle, Nook, iPad and similar devices. The problem is, so many electronic books will come out in the next year, according to Bowker’s Identifier Services (the guys who make the ISBNs that you see on the back of a book), that the market will be flooded with over three million new books.

Why? Because authors who couldn’t find agents or publishers last year are self-publishing their novels this year. I was talking to a bestseller last night who groused that in the past week, he’d run into three different “authors,” none of whom had sold more than fifty books, all of whom were self-published.

That creates a problem for readers. It means that we now have to try to figure out which of those novels are worth buying and reading and which should never have been published in the first place.

Some of those novels may look good on the outside. They might have cover quotes from the author’s friends. They might have gorgeous illustrations. But inside, maybe halfway through a book, you might find that the story falls apart.

In fact, a lot of criminals are out there right now trying to sell e-books which Tracy Hickman has labeled “Frankensteins.” These are novels stolen from bits of other novels and cobbled together in a way to look like a legitimate book. The “author” hopes to steal a couple of dollars from unwary readers. Sure, it’s not a lot of money, but in some countries, like Nigeria, a few dollars goes a long way. If there are no laws against it (and in some countries there aren’t), the thief doesn’t even have to worry about getting punished.

How are we going to combat crummy novels? How are we going to get past the Frankensteins? Ten years ago we had gatekeepers in the industry—literary agents and editors—who made sure that only the best novels got published. It’s true that the system was flawed, but at least there was a system.

So who are our new gatekeepers going to be?

The truth is that there will be new kinds of publishers. Right now, I’m starting a company with my partner Mile Romney, called East India Press. We’re going to published “enhanced novels.”

Enhanced books are text files, like regular books, but they also combine elements like film clips, music, video games, author interviews, audio files, illustrations, and animations. They’re part book, part movie, part game, perhaps. These books are then then sold electronically to be read on your iPad, phone, computer, and so on.

Are enhanced books the real future of publishing? There is good reason to think so. You see, making a beautiful book in this market will cost tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a bar to most wannabe authors. So money alone will limit the competition.

These new publishers will still have to establish their own credibility. They’ll have to select great books, create superior products, and develop a “brand” presence. In other words, you’ll want to read the books because of who the publisher is and what they represent.

A hundred years ago, that’s the way that books were bought in the first place. If you went to the bookstore, the books were ordered by publisher. You might pick through the piles and find that a certain editor liked the same kind of “science fictional stories” that you did, and that became the place that you visited over and over again.

There will be other ways to judge a book. It might come from an author with a long list of awards, or great cover quotes from independent review agencies, or maybe the fact that the book is a bestseller will give it a lot of credibility.

So I expect enhanced books to become the dominant art form for novels in the next two years, replacing and outselling simple e-books on the bestseller lists, and even outselling hardbacks and paperbacks within a couple of years. As my agent, Russell Galen put it, “Enhanced books are the entire future of publishing.”

Now, I’ve published some fifty books in science fiction and fantasy. I’ve won a number of awards and my books have been translated into thirty languages. I worked for years as the lead judge for one of the largest writing contest in the world. I’ve trained authors like Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephenie Meyer who have gone on to become #1 international bestsellers.

So I know books. I know a good story when I see one, and I know how to fix a story when it needs fixing. Given this, and my own background as a novelist, videogame designer, and movie producer, it seemed like starting a new type of publishing company was a must.

In fact, I believe in this new medium so much, I’m even putting out my next novel through this publishing company. It’s called Nightingale, and tells the story of Bron Jones, a young man abandoned at birth and raised in foster care. He discovers that he’s not quite human, and suddenly finds himself at the center of international intrigue.

This is a model for the new publishing industry. I think it’s a great book, and I could have sold it through normal channels. But this is the best way to go. So we’re offering the book on our site at You can buy it on November 4 in hard cover, for your e-reader, or in enhanced mode for the more advanced e-readers, or we even have an emulator so that you can run it in enhanced mode on any computer. It also has a forty-five minute soundtrack, lots of art, optional notes from the author and other features. In the future we may add a game or trailers. I believe this is the way books–good books–will be done in the future. I invite you to check it out, and check out our new company, East India Press.

If you’re a writer, look into our short story writing contest while you’re there. You could win $1000. You can find out about more about the East India Press or the writing contest at

Ok, still with me?  Good, here are my thoughts on the idea of the enhanced book as a response to me finding this post.

The enhanced novels are an interesting idea, but I don’t think that they will take over the majority of the marketplace within two years as Dave expects.  The problem right now is that we’re at a crossroad in terms of publishing.  I read a lot, and I still purchase and read exclusively paper books, I have an e-reader that my brother bought for me last Christmas and it’s currently collecting dust.  I don’t like the idea of trying to read a novel on a screen of any kind, I like having my books.

The ability of people to self-publish their own novels because of the abundance of e-readers in the market does create the problem of finding the few books worth reading through all the dross.  Because of this, the main publishing companies are still probably going to be viable methods of publishing because they have the reputation amongst reading as serving as the gatekeepers.  The idea of a ‘brand presence’ is really the basis for how we purchase nearly everything, especially if you don’t have any preference between different options, the brand is often what will sway your decision.

Many of the things that Dave mentions as being part of his Enhanced books are interesting, but not necessarily going to sway me to buy a book.  Is a film clip going to make me buy a book?  No, that is the reason that I don’t think book trailers are effective advertising methods, you’re mixing different mediums and trying to use a visual medium (film) to sell a non-visual method of storytelling (books).  The idea of illustrations and animations fall into the same area for me.  Mixing media doesn’t work for me.

Would a videogame based upon the game make me want to buy the game more?  If it was a good game it might be interesting to look at, but again you’re mixing mediums there.  Another part of the problem with a videogame for a book is that you’re crossing mediums.  While the number of people who both read books and play videogames may be increasing, I don’t know if it is all that high.  Personally I play mostly role-playing games that generally take anywhere from 30-80 hours to play.  Do I want to play a game that long for each book that I read?  No, I might as well just play games and not read the books at all.

Author interviews are interesting, but they’re not really a selling point to me.  There are a few authors that I will look up interviews for, but it’s because I really enjoy quite a few books that they’ve written, not just one book.

For music or other audio files, I don’t know.  I used to read while listening to music, but anymore I tend to find it distracting.  Other audio files that people might use for books would include what?  Pronunciation guides?  Samples of what the author hears as the character voices?  Again, neat ideas, but it’s not going to sell me a book.

With Enhanced Books there is also going to be a question of balance.  Is the book going to be the main focus?  Or is the videogame?  How much music is there going to be?  Is the music an original piece commissioned for the book or is it a previously existing work?  What happens when an author writes the book to be read in a certain time to the music (i.e. a performance by a character in the story) and I read faster or slower than the author intended?  Now I have to change my reading habits to fully experience the book the way the author intended because of how the music plays into the story.  What happens when a company decides that they want to put a lot of effort into every aspect of the enhanced book?  When will we see the monstrosity that is a fully developed video game for computer/PS3/Xbox along with a feature length movie (complete with a full score) and the book?  When this happens (and it will if these succeed) when is the hugely expensive enhanced book going to come out?  You’re not going to get a person who wants to read to spend $100 for the full package, and if they allow people to purchase the individual parts, people are only going to purchase the parts they want (the book people will buy the book, the moviegoers will buy the movie, and the gamers will buy the game).

So are enhanced books the future as Dave thinks?  I don’t know.  I think they will be a measurable portion of the market if not a very sizeable portion.  I don’t think traditional books will ever stop, what will probably happen with traditional books is that bookstores will continue to disappear.  I love Barnes & Noble and I purchase most of my books from them.  However, selling almost exclusively through Amazon eliminates one of the biggest expenses of a publisher for traditional books because the customer pays for the shipping expense.

I’m an avid reader and I will continue to watch all of my options for how to read.  As new options such as e-readers or enhanced books continue to become more popular the proportion of people reading hard copies of books will obviously decrease.  However, I don’t see physical books being completely phased out anytime soon.

Congratulations if you made it through all of that, I’d love to hear what you have to say on the issues of traditional publishing vs self-publishing electronic novels, enhanced books, or anything else this post made you think of.

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  1. I work at a bookstore, and we’ve already seen a significant shift in sales when it comes to the publishing world. Electronic books are very much a reality. The writers that survive will be the ones who can adapt to this market.

    The benefit is that e-books make writing a possibility for everybody…

    The downfall is that e-books make writing a possibility for everybody…

  2. In the HS library where I work, there’s a book on display that apparently has online videos to supplement the story. IMHO, that would annoy the crap out of me as a reader. I want to be able to read the whole thing. now please. I like my e-reader for portability and convenience, but books will always win for me. Hybrid just doesn’t appeal. I have seen the issue of not having a “man at the gate” though with some of the free ebooks on itunes. Had I paid for them, I would have been VERY sad. While all had potential, they were not ready for publication.

    • I’m currently reading David Eddings Belgariad, and my one complaint about the series is the fact that the books don’t stand alone very well. I read a lot of epic fantasy series and I understand that the stories are too big to fit in one book. (It also helps that the series is complete and I don’t need to wait for the books.) To me the idea of having videos to ‘supplement’ the story online is a horrible idea. If the content is that important to the story, just include it in the book. Don’t try to release a half-finished book and then tell me that you need to go online for the full story.

  3. beckyday6

     /  October 31, 2011

    I made it all the way through! Haha, very proud of myself!
    The idea of physical hard copy books becoming obsolete absolutely terrifies me. For me personally, nothing compares with holding a book in your hand, and I refuse to buy a eBook or Kindle simply because of principle. I will not be converting any time soon, and the only reason I would change to eBooks is if it came to the point where I had no choice, and shops were no longer selling paperbacks. A horrifying thought.
    I think you bring up some really good points about the ‘enhanced book’ concept. I agree, I don’t see how mixing the two media’s together would work or gel well, but I guess only time will tell.
    From the text above, an enhanced book doesn’t seem like something I would want to buy. But it’s interesting how the concept has the potential to completely reinvent the experience we associate with reading a book.

    • A lot of the ideas from the enhanced book will change a lot about how we read books, the real question is whether or not it’s for the better. To me it’s similar to how videogames are changing with the increased graphical power of the newer technology. The technology makes it a lot flashier and prettier, but not better because of it.

  4. A huge question, Adam, and I don’t think anyone’s crystal ball is too reliable. I spend a lot of time in the world of children’s books, and I remember seeing a clip of an interactive word/sound/video of Toy Story for the iPad. I remember thinking that “ordinary” picture books couldn’t compete with that for the attention of very young children.

    Yet if “enhanced books” really take off, we may rapidly see the same situation we have with ebooks now. If anyone with Garageband and iMovie (or the windows equivalent) can create their own publishing company, in the end, I’m going to look to Disney rather than East India if I want assurance of a high quality product.

    Here is a grand irony – I have a friend who runs a small custom press for poetry. If we have a glut of electronic products, perhaps custom made paper books will become the “new thing.” I’m pretty sure that with POD, we are not going to have ordinary books costing thousands of dollars.

    Thanks for the provocative post!

  5. Interesting post. I haven’t purchased an ereader yet, but expect that someday I will. I love actual books! My husband and I talked about opeing a bookstore, but with the current state of publishing (and other reasons) we decided not to. Love reading about the enhanced books, but none of tha bells and whistles would make me buy one!

  6. I’ve only just read this but what a great blog post! I’m the same as you in that I have an e-reader, a Kindle to be precise but I haven’t used it in countless months now… I end up forgetting what books I’ve got on there because the only e-books I buy are ones that I’m really not fussed about having as a proper book on my shelf… The novelty has worn off and if anything it’s made me realise how much I just love holding an actual book. I’m *really* not convinced by enhanced ebooks…couldn’t careless what extra content they have. I just want a story, nothing more. Like you said, the mixing of different medias just doesn’t sound good to me either. I really doubt they are going to take off half as much as what David thinks they are…it might suit particular books but it won’t take over everything.

    Thanks for posting this 🙂 It was interesting to read!

  7. Rachel

     /  January 30, 2012

    Thanks for pointing me to your post from my blog. I think we feel very similarly about these enhanced e-books! One thing I thought was interesting about Dave Farland’s post is that he makes an odd leap from needing gatekeepers to claiming that enhanced e-books and their publishers are the “new gatekeepers.” In other words, he seems to be in denial about the (arguably) declining authority of publishers, and just saying that if publishers start making enhanced e-books, they’ll be able to retain that authority. Now, if I were to take a guess, I would think the new gatekeepers would be reviewers and bloggers (but I might be biased here, lol). The thing is, I would rather see a publishing world where anyone could put their stuff out there, and hopefully the best work would rise to the top, than a world where hardly anything gets published. And yes, there’s a lot of crap out there, but there’s also some good stuff that would never have found a traditional publisher. I’d rather make the decision about what I want to read than leave it to a major publisher.

    • I’m one of the people who thinks that traditional novels will be around for a long time to come, and while there will be a niche for enhanced novels, I highly doubt they will be the largest portion of the market within 2 years or even the next 15 or 20.

      In many ways, reviewers, bloggers, and other people referring books to you are already the ways that we look for books. Out of all the books that I’ve purchased recently (I own all but one or two of the books that I’ve reviewed on my blog) nearly all of them fall into one of two categories: authors that I’ve read before and I know their work, or recommendations from friends or from blog posts.

      Whether you like the current system of publishing with the ‘gatekeepers’ in place or not, it does serve a purpose. While I might not enjoy every book that I read, the fact that they’ve at least gone through the ‘gatekeepers’ shows that there is at least some quality to the book. If we’re moving to a model where everyone can publish everything (which is where we’re going) it’s going to be next to impossible to find anything that’s actually worth reading.

      Books are different from other mediums because they take more time to consume and it’s more annoying when you’re reading a bad book. If someone records their own album in their garage, I can sit and listen to it and if I don’t like their sound 5 minutes in, I’m done listening to it. The same thing occurs with independent movies. You can tell fairly quickly in movies if they’re horrible and not worth watching. If the acting is bad, or the movie is poorly shot, I’m going to stop watching it and at worst I’ve spent what, 1/2 hour or so watching the movie. With a book (especially fantasy novels like I tend to read a lot of) it’s going to take 10-12 hours (minimum) to read. Say you’re going to judge the book based upon the first 20-25% of the novel, that’s spending 2 to 3 hours of my time on something that is garbage.

      Now if I’m looking for some new music to listen to, I can spend an hour and listen to 20-25 different band’s songs. It’s the same with movies, I can open up netflix on my computer and go through random movies. I can watch the openings of say 10-12 movies in 2 hours and if the movie is shot poorly or I don’t like the premise, I’m done watching it. Now let’s look at the time it’s going to go through 10-12 books, it’s going to be at least 20-30 hours. I enjoy reading, and I love reading good books. I don’t have time to spend 30 hours looking for 1 good book to read.


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