But the history of publishing, like all things, always faced new changes, obstacles and new developments. The invention of the printing press allowed a wider audience to read texts that they would not normally have had access to. The structure of the novel itself that we recognise today only emerged in the late 1700s, and even then it was not in the format we are accustomed to. Books by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen were released in instalments, and people would collect them in volumes instead of the full novels we see today.
But it was the arrival of the cheap mass paperbacks of literary classics by Penguin that revolutionised publishing. Penguin reached a wider audience and made a huge profit by changing their approaches – despite the fact that other publishers had sceptical attitudes that it would work. However, this was a huge success and it has become the model that major publishers use today. The evolution of the book and publishing always faced scepticism and obstacles in the face of new change, but it has not stopped people from reading a beloved book or text. Things do look pretty unsettled due to the recent credit crisis, the cutbacks that publishers are implementing, and the struggle to survive that is the brick and mortar stores. And yet ebooks are considered to be both threatening, or have less value compared to traditional publishing. But their growth has been phenomenal in the past year or so. It is becoming more and more apparent they will be a huge factor in publishing.
But now with the arrival of cheaper e-readers — such as the new Kindle and their full support to international markets, and multi-purpose devices that can read ebooks — things are changing again to challenge the Penguin model that has pioneered the present model of publishing. I am going to have an optimistic view that once the dust settles, e-publishing will compliment the traditional model of the mass/hardback market. People will always want to own a real book, but I do think e-books will capture a new audience just like what Penguin did with their cheap classic Mass Market books.
For instance, once e-readers become more popular to college and school readers — and with the success of Harry Potter and Twilight, which shows that there is a young generation of readers who will read books and the growth of the YA genre — I think the future of publishing will be very healthy. It has always changed in its approach and delivery on how books/texts are read and it will probably happen again in the future.
The only downside to this is that traditional publishers need to embrace e-publishing. Instead of placing roadblocks like DRM, high ebook prices, and geographical restrictions which is placing obstacles to readers who choose to buy in digital format, it’s not going to stem the tide of change and it especially won’t stop or tackle piracy. Nonetheless, there will be a fallout in the time being with publishers, agents and authors getting accustomed to this new sea change, and I just hope it will settle down sooner than later.
We are living in exciting times and there probably will be drastic approaches to publishing with losers and winners in the following years, but I don’t think this is the end of books as we know it. But it will be an opportunity to attract books to an increasingly competitive entertainment market where publishing can compete with other digital mediums, and thus a wider and less tapped audience.