Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Technology and writing

Seth Godin has an interesting blog post on Kindle users and why publishers should be embracing new technology.

If what he says is true, that those who purchase electronic readers purchase more books than non-Kindle readers, the writing community really needs to figure this out. Ours is a notoriously traditional (read: stuck in the dark ages) industry. We still have those who insist on calculating word count at 250 words per page for heaven's sake as though we don't use programs every day that give us instant and precise numbers.

Last spring, I attended a workshop at the Writers' Fed on contracts. The woman who ran it was extraordinarily knowledgeable having worked in the world of contracts for a good many years. She provided us with a sample contract -- one she had created that she felt was fair for both writers and publishers. There was a section on electronic media but, she explained, it wasn't as sophisticated as the rest of the contract. Why? Because the publishing industry hasn't got this figured out yet.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've been using a computer for my work since 1991. I handled the promotion for the first (as far as we knew) practical use of the Web (online learning programs for physicians and surgeons) in 1995.

That's a few years ago.

It seems to me that we (the writing community) have to move a little faster to sort out how we want the world to handle our work or we are going to have it handled for us (as is the case right now with Google publishing out-of-print books.)

I admit that I am very behind on this myself so as I criticize I must also accept my own culpability for not keeping up-to-date on how technology will affect my work. Any number of articles I've written are available all over the Net. If I were to land a book deal, why would I expect that to be different?

But this electronic reading technology, which I have eschewed, could be a lucrative one for us writers and for publishers. And while talking money is foreign to some, where are we without it? Writing for art's sake is lovely and should remain a goal for those who have it in them. On the other hand, if no one makes any money, the industry dies and art will die with it.

As books are marked down in the large stores and less money is made, how can we continue to have a print industry? (Who was the genius who decided Dan Brown's new book should be launched at 30 per cent off? Wasn't that book a sure-fire seller at any cost? Why race to the cheapest price? And on day one? I'd like a word with you -- you are killing us!)

Could it be as simple as having a group (like the Canadian Writer's Association et al) hire a few tech gurus (to explain what the possibilities on the horizon are) and lawyers (to put together the legal wording) to help us get a toehold in this new world of electronic publishing? I suppose that's if the problem is that we just don't get it and are playing catch up. So, while this is an oversimplification of a complicated process, I suspect that our behind-the-times attitudes are at least part of the problem.

For me, I am going to educate myself as much as I'm able so that when the book deal comes (just read all that positive thinking!) I'll have a clue, if only a small one.

Now go buy a book -- full price.


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