Friday, February 18, 2011

E-Book Revolution

The E-Book Revolution

by Jacqueline Seewald

Attention: The E-book revolution is now! Amazon reports they are selling more e-books than paperbacks. Forget about hardcover sales! Even libraries have cut back on hardcover orders. Borders filed for bankruptcy. Many independent bookstores are going out of business. Should writers panic? Is literacy being challenged? Doubtful. What’s happening is a new intellectual revolution partially fueled by a depressed economy and also new technology. This is nothing unique in the annuals of history.

To us today, faced with an amazing knowledge explosion in the world of computer and internet technology, it may seem as though people in the Renaissance knew very little. However, they were very interested in the improvement of mankind.

The word "renaissance" means "rebirth". To Italians of the fifteenth century, this rebirth meant a revival of interest in the Greek and Roman classics. Yet this interest was not totally lacking in the Middle Ages. The scholars of the Renaissance put their emphasis on rediscovering the art and humanities of antiquity. In that sense, they were reactionary rather than forward-looking in their movement. But gradually, the Renaissance became something larger, a rebirth of the human spirit, a realization of the human potential for development. That realization led to many discoveries: scientific and geographical as well as artistic, philosophical and religious.

It is hard to overstate the impact and importance of the printing press on civilization at large, both in its own right and as part of the vast re-ordering of society that appeared in the Renaissance and Reformation. Did the invention of the Gutenberg printing press begin an intellectual revolution or was this technology a product of the intellectual revolution that was the Renaissance?

Before the invention of the printing press, in the Middle Ages or Medieval period, monks in monasteries copied bibles and important books by hand. It was a slow and painstaking process. It also made books quite expensive. Books were rare. Only the very rich could afford to own many books. Many books were religious in nature. Reading was for people of privilege: clergy, scholars, men of the court. Very few ordinary people had the opportunity to learn to read. Most important works were written in Latin, which was not the language of the average man.
Printing came to Europe from China in the early fifteenth century. The technique of printing from wooden blocks had been practiced by the Chinese since the tenth century and was introduced in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg around 1418. A revolutionary advance in the art of printing, the invention of movable type, which made possible the production of many copies of the same text, was achieved in the Rhineland of Europe during the middle of the fifteenth century.

Johannes Gutenberg, to whom the invention is credited, printed a number of books between 1450 and 1455. He worked and lived in Strassburg, Germany until returning to his native town of Mainz where he went into partnership for the making of books. His type was used to create the first book made with movable type, the so-called Gutenberg Bible, which was issued in Latin.

Gutenberg did not invent the printing press. As a master goldsmith, he knew how to cut symbols, designs, and letters into metals and into wax to form molds with which he cast jewelry and seals. Building on the earlier Chinese idea of movable wooden type, he realized that casting it in metal would solve most of the problems with wooden type.

Gutenberg’s work was of major importance in the advancement of learning that marked the Renaissance. Not long after Gutenberg's invention, presses began turning out books in at least ten other European cities. By 1500, about nine million books had been printed. More people were learning how to read. Ideas could be more readily exchanged. The cost of books was considerably lower. More people could afford books. Also, since most people were not educated in Greek, Latin and Hebrew like the scholars of the university, the church or the court, there was a demand for books printed in the vernacular languages, the languages that people actually spoke. There was also a demand for non-religious literature. Spelling became standardized. Language generally became more accurate. Important ideas were now discussed and debated through the printed word. When the Bible was finally written in the vernacular, it became understandable to all those who could read without the need of interpretation or the aid of a priest. This helped to lay the foundation of the Reformation, a religious revolution.

After the invention of the Gutenberg press, people who could read would have access to all kinds of knowledge and information at the same time. With such information available, it allowed for complex thinking to develop, where ideas could be pulled together to form new complex ideas. It allowed for research, the basis for developing new theories and identifying accurate information. There was a great demand for secular literature, an expansion of knowledge and learning in all areas.
So now we have a new intellectual revolution, an e-book revolution. As for myself, I have only had one e-book published so far: L&L Dreamspell published my YA coming of age/romance novel STACY’S SONG in both paperback and all e-book formats. And yes, it is selling better as an e-book!

Where do you think the e-book revolution will lead? Do you as a reader and/or writer see this as a good thing?


Kelly McClymer said...

I was just at O'Reilly's Tools of Change conference, and I can tell you three things that are possible:

1. true accessibility for people with disabilities is within grasp
2. original transmedia creations will become the new blockbusters
3. there is now more room for niche markets, including the simple, quiet, satisfying story.

I look forward to seeing it all develop (and helping do my part, too!

Bobbye Terry said...

I'm with Kelly on transmedia creations. I am also pleased to see shorter works get the credit they deserve. I owned my first ereader in the early 1990s. Now the market is ready to embrace the digital book. yay!

Great post, Jacquie~

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Kelly and Bobbye,

Thank you both for your excellent comments which add so much to this discussion!

Lynn Jericho said...

I find it interesting that "revolution" is the word used. The printing press did not cause a revolt, it was a major evolutionary step in consciousness, a formidable stage in the move toward individual freedom. Technology is rapidly evolving the ways we become literate and the opportunities we find to be free from our familiar ways of thinking and perceiving. Can we writers keep up??? Great blog, Jacqueline. Thank you for stimulating new thoughts.

Maryann Miller said...

Really liked the history of printing.
To answer your question, I think the surge in digital publishing, POD technology, e-books, and digital audio books is just the beginning and they will all soon outsell paperback and hardback. Although I hope that doesn't mean the paper disappears completely. There are people who prefer to read a book the old-fashioned way and they should not be cut out of the equation.

Anonymous said...

The e-book revolution is a giant step forward for both readers and writers, touching everyone connected with publishing. Ebook writers must scramble for all the things publishers provided and there are lots that don't have covers yet. I've got two covers coming soon from Stephen Walker at S.R. Walker Designs, check him out - I'll let you know or Facebook when the covers are up (or just check - and good luck to al of us :-)
Great blog subject!
Jackie Griffey

SlingWords aka Joan Reeves said...

Hi, Jacqueline!

Nice history of printing.

To answer your question, and I apologize if this is long, I think the ebook era may well prove to be the golden age for authors who can write well.

There are so many good authors who just couldn't fit the pigeonholes of NY publishing. I know I couldn't, not often enough at least to make me happy.

The ebook era is an entirely new world. The attitudes we all held about what constitutes a book, quality of books, pricing, etc. just don't apply here.

I've spent the last year learning everything I could about this. What I learned, I started posting on my other blog ( in the form of a serial Exclusively eBooks to help other writers get their ebooks out there with as little problems as possible. I'm going to start doing interviews with successful Indie authors in March so we can learn from their experiences.

I think more than anything that this is the world of the storyteller where you can succeed if you can tell a good story. And if you know the 4 things needed to get ebook sales then you can succeed to.

All the things that editors and agents have said over the years (no one buys books about actors, dancers, writers, whatever -- no one wants a book set in France, Egypt, World War II, whatever) just don't apply.

In fact, the young crowd who is helping Amanda Hocking pull in 6 figures (a month!!) doesn't even care about grammar, spelling, and what I'd view as cliche situations, it seems!

Consequently, AH is mulling offers from major print publishers, domestic and foreign, and had the pick of literary agents who were pounding on her door. (She finally chose Richard Curtis I think.)

So I think all this is good news for writers. It doesn't mean you have to give up on print publishing as long as it still exists. It just means you now have a way to directly reach readers, and you might be surprised how hungry those readers are for content.

In fact, I've been closing out some long-standing freelance contracts just to make time to dive into ebook pubbing. I hope to have a free book out by next week and a romantic comedy for sale too. I'm excited about becoming an Indie Publisher.

All of you who haven't set up shop yet, so to speak, go for it! It won't cost you anything, and it very well may make you a nice bit of change.

You make money and you get read! Getting read is really the biggest boon to authors who just can't get their books to the audience who might want them. With the use of keywords, that audience can find your books. And that audience that shops via keywords is HUGE!!

Best wishes,
Joan Reeves

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Lynn, Maryann, Joan, and Jackie,

You each have important ideas and information.
Thank you for commenting on this blog. Your input is so valuable.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Jackie: It's hard to say where all this will go. Even the experts don't know. For myself, I think it will level off and be just another form of entertainment. People will use an ereader when traveling or at school, but at home, with bookshelves close by, they may want to hold that old dog-eared favorite read. Who knows? Like an agent said at a conference once, "Publish any way you can--print, digital--just get it to the readers." BTW, I love the cover of your YA, and good luck with it.

Terry Odell said...

I'm all for choices and accessibility. Was there a lot of hoopla for audio books? Or Braille books? E-books are just another way to deliver a story (or facts, if you're into non-fiction) to the public.

My books are available in print and digital versions, and I think it's wonderful to give my readers the choice of how they prefer to read my books.

I'm already on my second e-reader, moving along with the improved technology. And living where I do, far from bookstores and with a very small library, the digital options make it easy for me to keep my TBR pile full.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Terry,

Point well-taken! E-Books do provide choices for readers. As you point out, not everyone has a library or bookstore nearbye. The more choices for readers, the better!

Cindy Procter-King said...

I bought a Kindle for my birthday, but it didn't arrive until I was on holidays. Now I'm so busy catching up on writing that I haven't had time to play with it. I can't wait to get to it, but I still have a huge stack of paperbacks in my TBR pile as well.

I loved your history of publishing. I've been epublished for several years, so I'm happy to see ebooks taking off. However, I do worry about an explosion of self-published books from writers who might not take the time to learn their craft. Most of us spent years in the "apprentice" portion of our careers, writing, submitting, and getting rejected. I wouldn't want my first two books published, and I am supremely happy they were rejected. It will be very interesting to see the state of the industry in a couple of years. I see the changes as potentially very positive for current professional authors...because we already have the learning curve behind us. Putting out books before your writing is ready can work against a writer in the long run. However, some writers are ready from the get-go. The market just isn't ready for them. The traditional market, that is. Those writers will have a heyday in self-published ebooks.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jacqueline, thank you! I think the underlying fact that we as writers need to keep focused on is that a great story sells. No matter the format, no matter even, as one poster pointed out, the grammatical mistakes. Readers want a great story and I know for myself as a writer, that means spending the majority of my time flexing my creative and writing muscles. Thanks again.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Joyce,

Just saw your comment. Thanks for your kind words about the cover art for STACY'S SONG.
The novel has had wonderful reviews, but this is from readers and online reviewers. Unfortunately, the "big" review pubs that librarians use have ignored the novel. I have to hope that more readers discover it either in print as as an e-book.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Cindy,

I've heard the fear voiced before that self-published e-books are often inferior in quality, probably because many of them lack professional edits. Often they are rejected books that no publisher would accept.

I agree with you. I wouldn't have wanted my first novel efforts to have been published.
I'm a much better writer today. I will not self-publish my novels. STACY'S SONG received three full edits from L&L Dreamspell. They are small but very professional. It was a good book but still got much rewriting. So if and when anyone reads the e-book they will have a quality experience.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Rebbie,

Thanks for posting your comments. I agree with you. I do believe quality writing matters.
If we consistently write good books, eventually we will be "discovered" regardless of the format or platform of our books.

Anonymous said...

Loved your post, especially the history of printing. I'm an author with 2 books out, 1 in print & the other is an E Book. So far the Paperback has outsold the E Book, but the E Book has only been out for 6 months. My biggest problem is learning how to market and sell an E Book. I love to do book signings, fairs, conventions & conferences, but how does one sell at these venues? I know I also need to learn how to market on the internet.
One more comment I'd like to make is before personal computers came along I had problems trying to write anything longer than a short story. With the PC computer I now have 2 books published and about 6 books in various stages of completion.
G W Pickle

Jacqueline Seewald said...


The computer has made a big difference for me as well. I went from banging away on a typewriter to learning to use an Apple. In fact, Appleworks was my first computer program and I loved it. I learned Word Perfect and then finally Word. It's terrific. Made writing so much easier, not to mention help with spelling and grammar. As a writer, I embrace the tech revolution.

James S. Dorr said...

Two thoughts, the first that Borders' bankruptacy, B&L's ebook sales figures, etc.are occurring against the background of a recession. Some people may be buying ebooks because of price, not preference. Also I wonder how much the easy availability of used books via Amazon et al. impacts the picture (e.g., if I can buy a book for a penny+$3.99 postage vs. an ebook for, say, $4.00, which will I choose?). I do suspect ebooks are, at the least, taking over the place mass market paperbacks used to have,which in itself is consideralble, but how much more than that (to what extent will print books become "a thing of the past"?) I don't know.

Then second, copyright used to be for something like 14 years with option to renew for another 14 (I'm doing these numbers by memory and may be wrong on exact details), then was expanded by degrees until it's now the lifetime of the author + something like 90 years (again that may not be the exact number), enough to give the author and his or her heirs an exclusive monopoly for four or five generations. Leaving aside the possible chilling effect on research and learning (e.g., what I need to build my research on is out of print and nobody's allowed to reproduce it) this ultra long copyright period makes pirating books more and more attractive -- perhaps in some cases almost necessary if a given (especially if relatively obscure) work is to remein in print, or even in human memory. So what electronic publication now does is to make pirating both much cheaper and much easier, while the copyright situation ups the demand.

This second, I think, is the more "revolutionary" aspect (in the sense of the invention of printing with movable type changing society because it no longer required priests or nobles act as the gatekeepers to knowledge), in that it's not just a change in system of delivery, but a possible destruction of even the limited monopoly an author has on his or her own work. Think Wikipedia -- but without even editors to prevent someone from changing, say, a story involving evolution to a story about creation science....

How that will play out, I do not know. (Stricter encoding, of course, for a start -- which then gets semi-instantly hacked. Will we then have a class of professional hackers to unlock the equivalent of the Bible to the masses? Do we have hacker/scholars attempting to reproduce the original versions, having gone through however many changes if only through a succession of sloppy pirates, just as we have had textual critics do with authors like Melville? Will we have more device-dependent coding so, as soon as the hackers break one code, not only does the "legitimate" seller devise a new one, but you have to buy a new reader to use it. Do books then become completely devalued from a seller's point of view since the real money is in selling the latest model decoder?)

Will capitalism be destroyed, at least in terms of buying and selling intellectual property? If an increasing number of those dealing in such property are, of necessity, the anti-capitalists -- a generation of samisdat providers outside of capitalism all together -- where and how far will this new idea(s) spread?

Any science fiction writers out there?

Jacqueline Seewald said...


You bring up many troubling, significant questions. We should do a whole new discussion on copyright and its impact on publishing and pirating intellectual properties. Thank you for your input!

kathy stemke said...

E-books have taken off and are flying beyond the stratosphere! I'm a Guardian Angel author with a picture book coming out very soon. We are connected to a new company, "Be There," which videos parents and grandparents as they read e-books to their children. Grandparents who live on the other side of the world can read e-books to their grandchildren every night. Cool, hugh?

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I love the idea of "Be There". As a grandparent myself, I can see this as a great idea.