The missing piece of the puzzle.

Last time out, I hinted in the comments that there was one more thing that needed to happen in order to defend indy epublishing against a theoretical future where Amazon and Barnes and Noble decide it’s time to get out of the industry.

Here it is:

sansa

This, my friends, is the Sansa e260, 4 gig model. It is an MP3 player that, while it is showing its age in the form of diminished battery life, has served me well over the years. While this particular model is a thing of the past, SanDisk has kept the brand alive.

I bring this up because it doesn’t matter where my music comes from. Ripped CDs, Jamendo, it can even take songs from eMusic or iTunes, were I so inclined (which I’m not). There isn’t even a “right” kind of music management software; all I do is plug it in to the computer and it’s recognized as another external drive.

You do see where I’m going with this, I presume.

We need an ereader that can seamlessly handle books from anywhere–buy it from one of the stores, download a freebie from Project Gutenberg, even check something out of your local library, it shows up with the same exact reading interface. In the same library.

Almost as acceptable would be an eink reader with Nook and Kindle and Kobo apps preinstalled.

Open vs. Closed, a concrete example.

So, over the past couple of years, writers and novelists have been talking (and fretting) about the future of their livlihoods, vis a vis the rise of ereaders and the newfound ability of new and untested creators to forge their own path outside the traditional publishing circles.

It all sounds very much like the webcomics debate that’s been going on for over a decade now, but I’m not sure if the traditional authors side has anyone as vehemently opposed to the future as a Ted Rall or Wiley Miller.

There is, however, one big difference between webcomcs and indy books, that authors would do well to keep in mind:

The World Wide Web.

Tim Berners-Lee and the others at CERN who developed the Web were enlightened enough to donate the technology to the public domain. Anyone can use it, and everyone does. Even those few webcomic collectives that have tried to hide their offerings behind a subscription paywall have done so using the Web.

The only barriers to entry on a webcomic are the creativity and drive of the individual cartoonist, and the only stumbling blocks to a successful run are persistence and bandwidth costs.

Indy ebooks, on the other hand? Sure, you can find them for sale on the Web, but they’re not really of the Web. Their existence, at least at the moment, has everything to do with the self-interest of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

But mostly Amazon.

This may prove to juse be worst-case-scenario speculation on my part, but I can see either bookstore deciding that the terms they’ve been offering indy authors are far too generous, and that it’s time to stop leaving money on the table. What one does, the other will duplicate. That, or one of the major publishers decides to strong-arm them, offering their upcoming guaranteed bestsellers ebook versions to the stores that drop the indy titles.

Either way, it’s gonna hurt.

Solutions? Authors need to find exposure beyond the closed platforms of the bookstores, above and beyond personal blogs, guest blogging, and banner ads. Something like Comic Rocket or The Webcomic List. A directory specifically for independant authors, organized by genre, content, and the like, to let readers find out what’s out there.

I think there’s a market for it.