I feel silly when I write these opinion pieces. Not because I don’t have anything to offer to the discussion, but I feel as though my opinion just isn’t as informed as it could be when offering up my two-cents. But here it goes.
So we all know that Barnes and Nobles is in trouble, bookstores have been flagging (though there is a recent report showing a change), and there’s been a lot of debates surrounding traditional publishing vs self-publishing. Another recent article pointed to a trend that the novella (a favorite format of mine) is also on the rise in popularity. All of these have supported the growing leanings of my thoughts towards what I am about to spew.
Here’s why I think books are generally on the decline, or at least it isn’t a growing industry like this writer believes it should be.
- TV is good – Let’s face it, TV is in a golden age. We are seeing more shows of a quality unseen before our time. My wife and I watch an average of 11 hours of TV a week and we cannot even keep up. Even with all of that watching, I am still behind on Daredevil season 2, and have barely even begun to watch Walking Dead or Game of Thrones… and that isn’t even the start.
Shows like Stranger Things are simply captivating to watch, both visually and from a storytelling perspective. Books have to compete with that.
Add in the ease of TV watching and it is a perfect storm. TV is just a better alternative.
- Books are too damn long – this one is one that I believe to be true. Novels used to be considered a novel at 40,000 words or more. An epic was 100,000 words. When I was doing research a few years back on whether to self-publish or try to go the old-fashioned route, I saw that there were demands that novels be at least 80,000 words before they’d even be considered. What? Why?
My personal opinion is that very few writers have the capability, skills, or whathaveyou to keep a reader riveted, much less even interested, for much more than 50,000 words… if even that. There are writers like Jim Butcher, Stephen King, JK Rowling to name a handful who can do that and more.
But more writers just fill the empty space with boring fluff to get to that word-count.
Then as I mentioned above, novellas are on the rise, and this is proving my point a little.
I like to read, but when I see a book that has 80,000 or more words, I get a little thing called procrastination. I put off even starting it. I would argue that there are probably a lot of people who feel the same way. Not that all books are long, but many are.
Then add in that one of the big things now is to have a trilogy or be part of an ongoing series. So long books essentially are even longer.
Now while avid readers see that as a good thing, the average person might see that as just too much.
- Books are too damned expensive, especially ebooks – Amazon was doing the right thing when they were fighting against big-name publishers. Amazon had the idea that no ebook should cost more than $9.99. I COMPLETELY AGREE. Even more so, I would say that an ebook probably shouldn’t cost much more than $5. E-reading devices are already expensive. And printed books have to include cost of manufacture, materials, storage, and shipment. Those aren’t exactly inhibitors for a ebook. The same pre-work that print versions have go into the making of an ebook. Programs have already been written that then convert files like .docx, .pdf, etc into an ebook within minutes. Then once the ebook is created, it can be replicated often and very quickly. And all of the while, the only space consumed is digital.
Selling a hard-cover book for $25 just feels excessive, even with the added costs that manufacture, storage, and shipment likely incur.
There are arguments that could be made to the resale ability of a printed book versus an ebook that would also drive up their costs. So as much as I would like to argue against expensive print books, I cannot. And if you look hard enough, there are plenty of opportunities to get used books for cheap (there’s a great place in Bartlett, IL just for that).
But again… ebooks should be cheap. Much cheaper than print, whether people believe it or not. In fact, I believe in that enough that I even offer my ebooks FREE when someone purchases the print version, even though I am trying to keep the print cost as low as possible while still making some profit for myself.
People have funny habits though on what they spend their money on entertainment-wise. Books need to be competitive with that. But even so, traditional publishers have built themselves up to a point where selling books at indie (Self-published) prices would undermine their executives’ bonuses, even though the volume might actually increase if people realize the affordability.
- Self-published writers are still demonized – This one hits closer to home. I’ve written on this at various angles as well. There is a movement (albeit a shrinking one) where the publishing world including all of the big to small publishing houses want everyone to believe that writers who bypass the traditional means of publishing are in fact not viable entertainment options. How can they write a good book without our great editing resources to guide them? How can it be quality without us to ensure it is so? How can they engage readers without our expertise?
Fact is that before big publishing houses, all writers were independent. The problem was that they needed printing presses to get their works to broader audiences. Then distribution networks. Eventually like many things in life, those printers and distribution networks saw the ability to grow, make contracts with writers, and lock out those who didn’t want to play by the rules they set up for themselves.
Then this bastard company called Amazon comes along, and though a behemoth itself, it has done wonders for writers who have no interest in going along traditional routes… even if it means never selling many copies of my books.
But there are incredible stories coming out in the independent arena because they aren’t bound to the traditional ideals of story-telling. And that should be invigorating.
But until people realize that you don’t have to have a perfectly polished book in order to enjoy what is read, it won’t change much.
- The polished turd still reigns – This is my last point and this is entirely built on personal opinion. It builds a little off of the prior point. Format, storytelling, etc from traditional publishers are bland pieces of shit. That isn’t to say that they aren’t good. I enjoy a lot of what is put out in the world by the old ways. But in many cases it is entirely predictably bland. There are many stand-outs, but a lot of what the traditional publishing world puts out are the safe bets. A story like my old web-serial and soon to be serialized novella “The Vigil” just wouldn’t fit, despite being able to be called a crime noir… it just is off-putting and ill-suited for the old style. But to me, that’s what makes it fun to write.
There are big-name writers such as Chuck Palahniuk who write wonderfully unusual stories that don’t sit anywhere near mainstream. His story “Beautiful You” (which could almost pass as a BDSM porn) reminded me to just have fun writing.
Unfortunately those writers are sporadic, only supported as they proved themselves as viable investment options. Outside of those, publishers like the safe bet. Writers focus on a formula, and though they are predictable, the familiar style and story make that writer’s readers comfortable.
I want a writer that you couldn’t guess what their next book would be about much less the genre, but you know you’ll like it. And of course I want to be that kind of writer.
I can be real here. The bullet points listed above could be complete bullshit. My perspective though is that books are struggling. They aren’t as popular as one would imagine. The whole point of a fiction book is to escape. I want to have fun reading a story. I want to be moved by it. I want to be scared, surprised, or whatever. I just want books that prove that TV and movies aren’t the only entertainment medium that can pack a punch.