Okay...I'm not an expert in the publishing industry as of yet. But I am a techie, and, as a techie, I've been wondering in what ways the internet and technical advancement will change the way books are published and presented.
I don't know about you, but I'm reading more and more from my computer screen. I'm not actually reading novels from my laptop, but I'm reading a fair amount of short fiction and tons of non-fiction from my internet connection. Not only that, but I'm ordering books from Amazon more than anyplace else these days, since they can supply everything in print and lots of things that aren't. And all of my local book sellers are out of business. Oh, I will go to Elliot Bay Books in Seattle or 3rd Place Books. But my Totem bookstore in Monroe closed its doors last year, and I've been hitting that evil "Buy Now With 1 Click" button more than I care to admit. Amazon has gotten practically all of my book and music buying business these days. If you want to make me feel guilty about it, don't. I fully realize what my consumer practices do to the little guy.
Anyway, the point is that I'm using technology more and more to acquire books and music. If I want to find something like a short story by John Cheever or the lyrics to a song sung by Petula Clark, I can find 'em through Google. If I'm doing research, I can search databases my local library subscribes to from my computer at home. I can even access the articles and print them out.
Speaking of Google, the folks at Google have embarked on a Library Project. The goals of the project are as follows:
The Library Project's aim is simple: make it easier for people to find relevant books – specifically, books they wouldn't find any other way such as those that are out of print – while carefully respecting authors' and publishers' copyrights. Our ultimate goal is to work with publishers and libraries to create a comprehensive, searchable, virtual card catalog of all books in all languages that helps users discover new books and publishers discover new readers.
Is the penny about to drop yet? How about this:
If the book is out of copyright, you’ll be able to view and download the entire book. In all cases, you'll see links directing you to online bookstores where you can buy the book and libraries where you can borrow it.
Now, think the words, Print On Demand...yes, Print On Demand...POD, POD....
So, if the book was first published by S&S, it will never go out of copyright, right? You may be able to borrow it for free from a library, but you'll never be able to download it for free.
So, who benefits here if the book publisher never relinquishes the rights? Just the publishing house? What about the writer who would not get any royalties for a book which is being freely distributed through Google's library? It's not just Print On Demand, it's Download On Demand.
There are so many implications here, and I haven't thought them all through. I'm just blathering here, but my mind is all over this. What if a book, Tammy's Tasty Chocolate Syrup Sculpting Book, went out of print and became a downloadable free, public domain book through the Google library. Tammy spent her $5000 advance several years ago, and S&S doesn't even remember that they published the dang thing. Then, Archie Ballinger, the famous fetish sculptor and confection enthusiast mentions Tammy's book on his enthralling reality sculpting TV program and 3,475,219 people download the book from the Google library for free. S&S doesn't know about the potential money it could have made through print copies, let alone by offering it as an internet download. But it's scratching its head, wondering how to maximize its profits. In the meantime, Tammy has pawned her candy thermometer to buy catfood.
Alternately, S&S retained rights to the work, so, when Archie becomes the tipping point for this work, S&S can offer downloads of the book for a price. They don't sell as many copies as were downloaded in the free scenario, but they make a profit and Tammy experiences an unexpected windfall.
Okay...that's just one scenario. I know there are all kinds of things I haven't considered. And maybe I'm way off base and am missing the whole point. But we be living in interesting times. Yes, indeedy.