Historical Reference for Competition of ReadersPublished in Southern Writer’s Magazine Suite T Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Not in the so distant past, an author could only compete for readers by using established publishing houses. Those houses were very selective in the manuscripts they chose to print. Unless you were a well-recognized name, or just plain lucky, most authors submitting their work rarely stood a chance. Enter vanity publishing where authors pay to have their work printed, usually only in large numbers. If you are good at hustling, maybe you manage to eke out a living from writing. Print-on-demand, which is only about seven years old, is now the predominant method for printing books. But who reads hard copy, right?

Amazon opened a whole new world to wannabe authors — eBooks — lots of eBooks. eBooks spun from the classics, well-known authors, and authors by the tens of thousands. It may be surprising for you to believe, but eBooks originated in the 1930s. It wasn’t until 1998 however, that eBook readers began to be mass-produced. At about the same time, libraries began providing eBooks to the public through their web sites. Amazon didn’t come out with the Kindle reader for almost another ten years. However, others noticed the potential from Amazon’s foray into eBooks and jumped onboard.

Further separating independent authors from potential readers (listeners) is the audiobook. Audio readings can be traced back to vinyl records. In September 1935, President Roosevelt signed an executive order funding the Talking Books project and placed the American Foundation for the Blind in charge of it. In the 1960s, the baton was passed at the invention of the cassette tape. Then came the Internet, new compressed audio formats, and portable players. The attraction to audiobooks increased considerably during the late 1990s and 2000s. Books on tapes dominated during this period but became nearly obsolete by the introduction of book CDs in 2002. But even CDs reached their peak in 2008; losing ground in favor of digital downloads (MP3). The resurgence of audio storytelling is widely attributed to advances in mobile technologies and multimedia entertainment systems. Overall, audiobook sales in digital format have increased year-over-year since 2014. Nonetheless, recording an average-size novel into an audio book is a very expensive proposition that preclude most authors from using this format.

Lately, a new competitor has taken form — flash fiction. Now, writing a story, often with 1,000 words or fewer, has drawn even more writers to the table. A lot less daunting than producing a longer piece of work, flash writing is filling a niche demanded by many of today’s readers.

Consensus is, the amount of time we have for reading has dwindled and continues to force these changes. We no longer have the time to dedicate to reading as we did twenty, ten, or even five years ago. And, much of that time is now being shared with social media platforms. We want it fast, and we want it now.

Are novelists too late to the party as authors? Has reading becoming a lost art? Only time will tell.

Published in Southern Writer’s Magazine Suite T Wednesday, August 22, 2018