There are two great areas that are subject to the changes brought by the ebook. First, we now have the ability to publish books without moveable type and without paper, which means we don’t need the elaborate methods of shipping and storage that paper books need. We also don’t need warehouses, distributors, booksellers in their stores, and paper journals and reviewers. Second, and this is a consequence of the first, we are now liberated from the control of the publishing houses, for now we can buy our books directly from the writer herself, without an intrusive intermediary.
For gay people, these transformations are stupendous. During the last forty years, New York publishers have gradually narrowed our reading to a small range of subjects, and gay people in consequence have stopped buying gay books. A gay man, a “finder” for a literary agent, wrote me last summer that the market for gay literature has “vanished.” I don’t think gay people are any less interested in gay literature than they used to be, nor are they any less intelligent, but I do think that their refusing to buy gay fiction is a result of the damage that publishers have wreaked on our literature in the last forty years. There is just not a lot of interesting fiction out there.
But now we are free. A writer can write the book he wants to write and, with a minimum of expense, can reformat the book into ePUB or DOCX, thus making it readable on all ereaders. We know how to put these books on the web, and we will find on the web the books we want to read, and sites will grow up to provide us with reviews of new ebooks. This will happen because the ebooks will be there, and the readers will be there, and the need for a site for reviews is already extant, so we will have them.
What we see right now at the beginning of 2011 is the old publishing model trying to retain its old power over the publication of books. Random House just made the news signing a contract with Apple to present its books on iBooks. Neither Random House nor Apple understands the future like we do. We already know we can buy books from anybody. And Apple and their iPad are going to learn to sell books by any writer, too, and not just those under contract with Random House. Any book by anybody. We don’t have much to wait for, either. Certainly not as long as Johannes Gutenberg. I don’t suppose paper books will completely go away, nor will bookstores for the purchase of paper books. But I suspect they will gradually come to be seen as a niche market, there for a certain kind of book or a certain kind of collector. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, the future is already here.