Future of Book Publishing – Fiction versus Nonfiction

by jking on November 20, 2009

The pace of change in the book publishing world is increasing and that is very exciting, especially for us working primarily in the nonfiction area. This change is particularly interesting in the area of electronic book readers, such as Kindle and others in development.

This is where the worlds of the nonfiction book versus the fiction book diverge. Although Kindle and other eBook readers are working hard to replicate the look and feel of a book for those of us for whom that really matters, it is the next generation that is already comfortable with accessing information electronically and not in book form.

Nonfiction books (along with magazines and newspapers) were once the primary method of disseminating problem-solving information. Where do you go when you have an immediate problem to be solved now? The Internet. We don’t have time to wait for tomorrow morning’s paper that might or might not have what we are looking for and we don’t have time to either go to a bookstore or order a print book from Amazon.com. You get a health diagnosis and you Google it. You need a recipe for blueberry muffins and you Google that. You want to know the test scores for your new school district and you Google that.

The purpose of nonfiction books, then, has to be not only to give information but to analyze it and help the reader integrate it into the rest of his or her world. The reader will still want this information instantaneously, which is where Kindle comes in.

Because of this clear and pressing move to electronic media, I am more and more concerned about new authors signing contracts with publishers that sell electronic rights and particularly for the current small royalties in exchange – 15% to 25% is typical. Electronic rights royalties should be 50/50 and my prediction is that they will end up there over the next few years. If you are contemplating a new contract, try to build in a clause that allows you to renegotiate the royalties for this right every few years. This is the biggest area of change and since the author contract is for the life of the copyright (the authors life plus 70 years) that is a long time to regret selling electronic rights for 15%, especially when future sales of your book might be 90% electronic and 10% print in the not-so-distant future.

Although there is no question that the new generation will read novels on Kindle and other readers, I think that there will always be more print poetry books, cookbooks, novels and children’s books than you will find soon in the self-help and business nonfiction book world. In nonfiction where the information itself is what is being sold, electronic media is the perfect way to get that information out. In the fiction world (and the more creative part of the nonfiction world) the reading experience is paramount and books will continue to be the best way to have that full experience for some time to come.

It is interesting that we talk about book publishing as a whole when the futures of nonfiction versus fiction are probably quite different, both in the development of the intellectual property and in the media most appropriate for them because of how we want to experience them.

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