My 17-year-old son Jake and I had an interesting conversation recently about technology and how it has evolved in positive and negative ways. Depending on your point of view, technology has enabled us to do so many new things we never could’ve dreamed of even ten years ago, and it has changed the way we live and communicate. Those of us who came of age before the digital revolution will probably agree that we work much harder than we used to because there is so much more we can do.
But sometimes more is better.
My daughter’s boyfriend is living overseas for the next few years, and they FaceTime every day while keeping in close touch by text the rest of the time. When my husband (then boyfriend) was stationed overseas in the Navy in the early 1990s, we considered ourselves lucky to have one phone call a week—with a terrible connection that sounded like it was coming from Mars rather than across an ocean. We kept in touch by regular mail the rest of the time. Remember letters? Ha!
When we lived in Spain from 1992-1995, I would’ve KILLED for Skype and FaceTime or even email to keep in touch with my family at home. None of those things were invented yet. Can you remember a life without email?!? I barely can. The first Christmas in Spain in 1992, I ran up a $500 phone bill talking to my parents during my first major holiday away from home. Today, those conversations would be held face-to-face on a screen and wouldn’t cost us a dime beyond the expense of Wi-Fi.
My children, ages 17 and 20, can’t imagine life without the whole world at their fingertips via the phones they carry with them everywhere they go. They live their lives “out loud” on social media, through Instagram and Twitter and SnapChat and other forms of social media that didn’t exist a few years ago. Their world is so different than ours was only one generation removed. Think about all the things that used to be so prevalent that aren’t as much anymore—payphones, landlines, DVDs and CDs, to name a few.
This is slightly off topic, but it’s relevant. Recently, Jake made a comment about how one of his friends has to reach across the car to unlock the door for his passenger, as if this was the most insane thing he’d ever heard. We realized he’s never been in a car without a power package, so how would he know they all used to be that way? And yes, we’re considering summer camp in a Third-World nation to give him some much-needed perspective!
My conversation with Jake about technology arose when we noticed that one of the Game Stop stores in our town had closed down. “They might all be gone before long,” Jake said, noting that games are now available for immediate download through the gaming consoles, rendering the retail stores nearly obsolete. Not that long ago, people were “sleeping out” to get the latest new game the second it was released. Now they can do that from the comfort of their own homes.
The same thing happened to Blockbuster and other video rental stores when Netflix and video streaming came along. Blockbuster, once among the biggest chains in America, simply disappeared from our culture.
As someone who relies upon technology to make a living and meet my payroll, technological advances that result in obsolescence have me thinking about how technology will affect my business going forward. We all know how the digital revolution and the advent of ebooks completely upended the publishing business. A couple of years ago, I heard a longtime editor say that more changed in publishing in the last five years than in the previous twenty combined.
There was a time, not that long ago, when some in publishing referred to authors disdainfully as “content providers.” I’ve actually heard this term used with my own ears, more than once, or I’d never say so here. Back in the not-so-distant past, authors were often treated like cogs in the wheel, even though we were the critical element that made the wheel spin in the first place. We were endlessly replaceable because there was always someone, burning with the desire to be published, standing in line to replace us if our books failed to sell or if we refused to work for the terms we were offered.
That made it easy for some—certainly not all—in publishing to be dismissive toward authors who were often paid far less than they deserved for the critical role they played in the process. I want to say, for the record, that my experience with traditional publishers has, for the most part, been very positive. I’ve been treated much more as a partner than a cog, but I know that not everyone has had that experience.
Though ebooks were available in other formats, such as PDF, early in the 2000s, the real sea change in publishing began in 2007 with the advent of the Kindle, which changed the way so many of us read. Little did we know then that it would also change the way we publish. Around 2008-2009, Kindle Direct Publishing heralded the era of digital self-publishing with other retailers soon following, creating platforms that led to NookPress, iBooks, Kobo Writing Life and Google Play, among many others, as outlets for authors to sell their work directly to readers. And the readers showed up in droves to successfully “legitimize” self-publishing as a real path toward career success for authors.
In the scope of eight short years, everything has changed for the content providers. Prior to the ebook revolution, we had one possible path to our customers—through traditional publishers and distributors that put print books into the hands of readers in retail outlets. Now we have multiple paths to readers through print, ebook and audio formats. We have the choice to self-publish or we can try to pursue traditional publishing, or we can do both at the same time the way I do.
But what does the future hold for authors and the delivery of content to readers? Do we need to be worried that we’re the next Blockbuster, on the verge of being replaced by something better?
I believe we’re at the very beginning of the technological revolution when it comes to publishing. I believe this so strongly that I’ve taken legal steps to ensure that my children and grandchildren can continue to profit from the content I’m developing today long after I’m a distant memory. I believe there will be many more advancements in the delivery of stories to consumers, and I believe these developments will happen as quickly as other advancements did.
As authors, we can take comfort in knowing there’s one thing that technology will never replace and that is the creative minds that come up with the stories that readers and listeners voraciously consume. There will always be a need for the content providers. Technology will come and go, but the one thing that will never go out of style or be replaced by a computer is the writer who dreams up the story in the first place.
There has never been a better time to be a content provider. Advantage author.
What do you think the next big thing coming down the road will be for getting stories to readers and listeners?