Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Next Publishing Revolution

As if it's not enough that we've had the e-book revolution in publishing, it seems that the next big thing is just around the corner. Bitcoin is coming. Already available for some US bank accounts, Bitcoin allows micropayment for some online products. It's been touted as the way we will pay for internet, a minute at a time, or for news, one article at a time. The sticking point has always been the merchant's fee that puts a flat transaction charge on every payment, but economic pressure is bound to change this model. 

So, imagine if you could sell your book one page at a time, at say 0.01 pence per page. Readers could decide how long to stick with your book without having to commit to any full, up-front payment. One penny is not a big risk for 10 pages or so. There are advantages to the writer: it presents a way of easing into the market without having to give away books for free as a loss leader. But what it also might mean is that the writer can no longer afford to have any dull sections. Every page must crackle. At the moment a reader may stay with a slow section because he has already made an investment and does not want to waste the sum he has paid already through giving up too soon. With Micropayment there is no risk, no waste. The reader will pay only up until he/she is no longer being entertained.
This is a scary thought. I sometimes enjoy reading a slow burner. It is often good to ease into a story and get to know the characters and setting before any major conflict comes along. As a reader, will I still be given that choice? Is this the end of the slow-burner? Will writers live in terror of the cultural change that will end the cash inflow at the precise moment when their story begins to slow?
We are still at a time when the industry is trying to come to terms with massive change, and yet here comes more. I guess only time will tell if we make the most of these layers of change stacked upon change, as opportunities for new expression. Or will we simply find ourselves with an endless succession of fast-paced high-octane thrillers and little else?

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