J K Rowling, the most successful author of recent times, has famously embraced digital publishing.
'It was quite straightforward for me . . . It means we can guarantee people everywhere are getting the same experience and at the same time. I am personally lucky to have the resources to do it myself and I could do it, I think, right. I could find the right people and take my time. There was no other option for the fans or for me. Potter fandom was probably one of the first with an online community . . . It is my view that you can't hold back progress. I love printed paper . . . This year for the first time I have downloaded e-books and it's miraculous . . . I feel good about bringing it into this world.'
This will mean a lot to her fans once Pottermore starts marketing her writing as cross-platform ebooks. But it also means a lot to the many indie writers who have found an audience via digital publishing.
Here's a digression to explain what I mean.
I was surprised when a close friend suddenly had it in for me. What had I done? I'd told her that I'd published an ebook. Instead of the expected, 'Well done! What's it about?' I got the kind of treatment you'd expect if I'd just robbed the local bookstore.
Now, my friend is not a bad person. Quite the opposite. She's a poet, a community volunteer working for the local hospital. But in her eyes, I'd gone over to the dark side.
She told me that she feared the demise of the local printing firm that publishes her poetry. That she fears for the local bookstore and that, if it went, we'd be heading into a new dark age with kids without books. Amazon was to blame for all this in my friend's eyes. I'd joined the enemy.
A few weeks later, our local bookstore did indeed close. It had been living on borrowed time for years. But I was well and truly in the frame as one of the culprits, one of the vandals destroying modern culture. And what had I done but publish a digital book?
I had a similar reception from two more friends, an elderly couple. When they heard I was a Kindle author, there was no, 'Congratulations! Well done! What's it about?' Just a quiet, underwhelming, 'Oh, that's nice.' I heard them saying under their breath as we parted, 'I hate amazon.'
So J K Rowling's conversion to digital publishing matters, not just for her fans but for the many writers like me who have been having a tough time. She knows what it's like to struggle as a writer. She knows the hard work that goes into creating something meaningful. And her loyal fans respect her for that.
When JKR came out in support of digital publishing, I gave a loud cheer. Support like that is game changing.
I don't expect to change my friends' minds. But from now on digitally published authors need not be on the back foot. JKR put it simply and directly. We all love printed paper books. But there's a large role for digitally published books, too. The two formats will co-exist. The reason – it's reading that matters, not the form in which it's presented.
A final irony. The wife in the couple who were so unenthusiastic about my ebook is a massive Harry Potter fan; she's read all the books from cover to cover and back again. I wonder how she's going to come to terms with J K Rowling's embracing of digital publishing!
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