What do Dr. Seuss, William Faulkner, J.K. Rowling, George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Stephen King have in common? All six were repeatedly rejected when trying to publish their first famous novel. With the announcement of iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, Apple isn’t just giving the education system a much needed boost: they’re attempting to resurrect the dying art of the written word by taking absolute power out of the hands of publishers and putting it in the hands of aspiring writers. We’re on the cusp of a renaissance.
Have you ever tried to get a novel published? It’s a nightmare. You have to write submission letters to over 30 different publishing houses. Sometimes you’re only allowed to mail one at a time. Sometimes you need an agent. Sometimes you don’t. A lot of times your novel will sit for months in a slush pile of submissions, and when it does get read it’s most likely it’ll be by some bleary eyed intern who’s overworked and in no state to judge the merits of your book. Maybe an editor picks up your manuscript and they think it’s good, but if they don’t think they can make any money off of it they’ll send you a quick note saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.” This crappy system is how the literary world is managed.
Enter Apple. iBooks and iBooks Author are two amazing tools that will allow writers to self-publish, while also helping evolve the role of traditional publishers into one more suitable for the 21st century. But they may have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future, just like the music industry before them.
We all know that iTunes radically transformed the music industry. Labels hate the idea of being controlled by Apple, but in many ways, iTunes and the iPod saved music. Before iTunes, record labels decided who could and couldn’t release an album, and the result was a lack of experimentation. Music didn’t exactly stagnate, but it took longer to change. With the advent of iTunes, Apple put the power of music back into the hands of the people. Rather than being forced to go to the big labels, indie bands could record an album fairly cheaply, post it on iTunes, and then promote their work via the internet. Yes, the profitability of the labels was lowered, but the quality and diversity of music actually increased while giving citizens the opportunity to have their voice heard.
Literature is poised to make the same jump music enjoyed with iTunes because independent writers now have the tools they need to circumvent publishing houses if they so choose.
But the problem of publishing houses isn’t going to change overnight. Publishing houses will still throw money behind already popular writers and celebrities to ensure profitability, at the expense of up-and-coming writers doing more daring work. What iBooks Author changes is that aspiring writers no longer have to rely on publishers in order to see their work in print, or to get that initial push of momentum going that will get the publishers taking notice.
Not that this cuts publishers out entirely. They’ll still be needed, but they won’t be the end-of-line. Apple’s new tool is cheap and easy to use, which gives anyone with access to a Mac the ability to write a book, publish it to iBook and then promote it themselves. Writers will be able to gain almost immediate fulfillment in seeing their words in print and immediately have an avenue to promote their own work.
Detractors might say that self-publishing has been around for years now and we have yet to see the scale tip in its favor. While it is true that companies like Amazon and even Apple have allowed writers to self-publish their work, one thing that has been missing in self-publishing is a great tool. Apple’s now given it to us.
What I think we’ll see over the next 10 years is a shift away from publishers as the key holders to the literary world to a role where they are instead the best promoters of truly astounding work. Publishing revenues will go down, but their profitability should be somewhat consistent or better than what it is now. Rather than sifting through the slush pile, publishers can swim in the iBookstore and search for independent authors who’s works aren’t’ garnering the attention they deserve. Publishers’ roles will change to something more akin to a promoter who gets your book to the top of stack.
Perhaps I’m blowing this whole thing out of proportion, but I think Apple’s announcement today at the Guggenheim may be one of the most important days not just in the company’s history, but in the history of publishing. But even if that’s just hyperbole and bombast, one thing’s for sure: we need to make it easier to writers to reach their audiences. America doesn’t need another John Kennedy O’Toole, who killed himself in despair of how difficult it was to publish his masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces. America’s literary talent needs better platforms for creatives to express and promote their work, and Apple just gave them one.