Kindle, iPhone, iPad: Exploring the Impact for Writers and Authorship

Pictured above: My office at Writer’s Digest, from L to R: Kindle 2, MacBook (with iPhone sitting on top), iPad

When I started working in publishing (1998), the epic dream of writers was to get their book published, have it win awards or hit the bestseller list, then allow that success sustain a lifetime of writing more great books.

That is still the Big Dream.

Yet this feels more and more like an archaic dream—not because people will stop reading, or because the book form will disappear, but that this path:

(1) may close off entirely for new writers, depending on the future of traditional publishing

(2) may not present sufficient earnings (if it ever did!)

(3) envisions the book as the end result and ultimate achievement of a writer’s effort.

Writers remain completely focused and obsessed over getting their work published, marketed, and financed by authority figures. Alain de Botton, my favorite successful traditional author, recently tweeted, “Peculiar how writers imbue publishers with an aura of parental/pedagogic authority—when they are in fact simply folks in business.”

And it feels more peculiar than ever considering how much we talk about publishing being broken.

I gave a keynote this past weekend at the Mad Anthony Writers Conference that emphasized the need for writers to think beyond the book when envisioning their careers. If writers desire to spread a message, have an impact on a readership, and be heard, then there are many ways to do that aside from publishing a book.

Sometimes a book, or a book traditionally published, is not a smart or efficient way to spread a message or to gain a readership. A book is just one form, one component, of a larger career.

Especially now.

This has been a long intro to say a few words about the e-book and gadgetry wars that promise to transform how writers and publishers work together (or don’t work together).

Gadgetry Thoughts
I have a Kindle, MacBook Pro, iPhone, and now an iPad via my company. Since 2009, I’ve been buying and reading exclusively e-books, but I purchase probably 3 times as many titles because it’s so easy—and it’s widely reported that Kindle has led to additive book sales for the industry.

However: I am reading far more online-only material via blogs, communities, Facebook, Twitter links, etc, than book material.

I discover new writers/authors/experts primarily online, and those writers don’t become more valuable to me just because they have or will have a traditional, printed book. Who cares? I just look for compelling stories, superior content, eclectic recommendations of others to follow (or things to read), and opportunities for authentic interaction.

If you, as a writer, are not participating in any of this, how can you expect to get known? Are you hoping you’ll make an impact by appealing to that diminishing group of people who still browse the last remaining bookstores? What happens if bookstores disappear entirely? Then how will you find readers?

I don’t mean to imply that gadgetry will save you. It’s probably not going to “save” publishing either. As my colleague Guy is fond of saying, it’s not the tools that are important, it’s your strategy. You choose the right tool to accomplish your goals.

My assessment of a few new tools, so far:

Kindle. Yeah, people make fun of it for looking like it came from the 1980s. But it works perfectly for reading and buying books without a hitch, and that’s all I want it to do: offer an immersive reading experience, the same as a physical book. Mission accomplished.

iPhone. Like a Swiss Army knife—you can probably accomplish anything you need it to, on a limited scale. Mobile apps by far are the biggest area of untapped potential for writers and publishers to exploit … which …

iPad. … is an effect even MORE amplified by the introduction of the iPad, also app-based. Go see Alice on iPad
for an idea of what I mean.

But when it comes to reading black-and-white, long-form text? Overkill. I hate it. Kindle wins.

When it comes to reading four-color PDFs, magazines, or illustrated documents? Dreamy. So far, this is a superb multimedia toy—great for TV, movies, games, cotton candy reading/browsing, online socializing.

When it comes to productivity, I’m just not feeling it. Perhaps it works great for artists. Or maybe I’ll change my mind when there’s more advanced functionality in apps like Keynote or Pages.

To clarify, what does this have to do with you? Go read more from people smarter than me:

  • Software Is Media. If we’re communicators, then we have to acknowledge the role that software now plays in all communication (written or not).
  • Reality TV, iPhone, and the Future of Technology. A fascinating lecture about how our lives may turn into a giant game, a la Farmville. I’m slightly amused and also horrified. But important for writers and all content creators to take note of.

I’m offering a webinar this week on how writers can prepare, adapt, and flourish during a very transformational time in publishing. Go find out more and register.

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8 thoughts on “Kindle, iPhone, iPad: Exploring the Impact for Writers and Authorship

  1. Jane Friedman

    @Cheryl – I’m not so sure there has been a decline of journalism. Certainly there are more people/places than ever offering their opinions and sometimes untrustworthy information. Or, as you point out, there has been a democratization of media. For me, the next step is curation – finding the people/sources who are reliable and authoritative, and can point us to the most worthy information.

    I found the Atlantic article on Google-stupidity to be fascinating and illustrative of habits I too have developed. But thus far I’ve been reluctant to issue value judgments on what’s happening. You’ll find studies touting that the new media (and/or our more visual interaction) is beneficial rather than detrimental to our development. It all depends on the perspective you want to take. These days you can find an argument or the data to support nearly any point of view.

    Most importantly, though, one should never judge a technology or medium by the people who misuse it. There are people who misuse phones, snail mail, events, and meetings. But we can’t decide to stop participating in the world because of it. As Gandhi said, we must become the change we want to see in the world.

  2. Cheryl

    Finally, I’d like to say, that I still like “holding” a physical book. I like the intimacy a book provides, and how a good story can still bring me into that world. If I’m looking a gadget, and the story is competing with other applications for my attention – it makes it that much harder to read and focus.

    Thanks, Jane, for all the links. I’ll be sure to check them out. Meanwhile, I’ll share a few of my own. Sorry to go on at length… I like to cite credible sources as you do, and I look forward to more research on what all this is doing to our brains.


    “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (The Atlantic, 2008)

    PBS Frontline documentary: “Digital Nation”

    Scientific American: “Beyond IQ: Children Who Can Focus Do Better at Math”

    Scientific American: “Online Versus Print Reading: Which One Makes Us Smarter?”

    Psychology Today: “You Are Not a Supertasker”

    “Researchers at Stanford University found that the people who multitask the most are also the worst at it.”

  3. Cheryl

    With the craziness of multiple applications being available via gadgets, people can be fooled into thinking they can multi-task. Meaning, they can text and drive, or text and listen to a speaker. A recent article on “supertaskers” indicated that only 2 per cent of us can actually multi-task with any efficiency. Most people way overestimate their ability to multi-task. I think the Internet has helped lead to such assumptions, the belief that we can read our e-mail inboxes, attend a meeting, text a friend about lunch – all at the same time. We just can’t. My husband says computers can’t even multi-task, even though they “appear” to do so.

    In Japan, there are “cell phone novels” exploding into serious moneymakers. I guess… I would have never predicted we’d move from “Gone with the Wind” or “War and Peace” to Twittering or texting.

    A NYT article discussed the promise of the Internet, that we would have a great “democratization” of content, that more writers would have the ability to post their ideas and material. This same article said that many publishers view the Internet as a “great morass.” Filtering through some 70 million blogs, (may be lower or higher, depending on the stats that are available) – to find something of merit – is a needle in a haystack indeed.

    Some say that the Internet cheapened writing and lowered the bar for meaningful content. Many blogs that were breakthrough successes in 2001, 2002, were often rife with controversial content, seemed to invite flaming and vitriol.

    With Twittering and Facebook, there are also angles of the incredible self-involvement those app’s promote.

    I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get… from people self-promoting something. It’s depressing. I won’t even get started on our cultural narcissism and celebrity fixation, but Dr. Jean Twenge’s research and books on the subject are terrific.

  4. Cheryl

    Jane: Great blog and links. This is a real hot topic for me, electronic versus print.

    I love the ease of the Internet. Research can be a breeze. But I also have to question the credibility of sources. That’s what the decline of journalism has led to. No more editorial oversight, just lots of people spouting opinions, and some of it hateful and nasty.

    There is rising evidence that reading online is changing how we read, making us less capable of reading anything past 700 words.

    If we cannot concentrate or focus, we cannot read, we cannot engineer or design, we cannot invent.

    “Is Google Making Us Stupid” began to raise questions about this… if memory serves, the author of the article said he used to read lengthy novels, and after researching and reading on the Internet, he found he couldn’t concentrate as well.

    A preliminary study cited in the excellent Frontline documentary (“Digital Nation,” referenced below) said that researching online, like “Googling,” fired up different parts of the brain. Tech and gadgetry advocates and manufacturers looked upon this as solid evidence that reading online was superior to the stationary printed page. But that’s not what the researcher said at all…. He said that it stimulated different parts of the brain, and that it couldn’t be interpreted as “better.”

    My kids are still pretty young, although I’ve got a teenager now. They really struggle with attention issues. I myself struggle with being able to “read” a regular book after being online for any amount of time. Two Scientific American articles are included below. One mentions that online reading, moving a mouse and advancing “moving” type is a much different cognitive experience than reading a stationary book.

    Cheryl (continued)

  5. Jane Friedman

    @Steven – Fascinating approach with the serial! I also know authors who have had success using serials in audio form. Wondering at what point novelists will use mobile apps to launch serials.

    @Dorraine – I think you’ll love the Kindle. 🙂

    @Theresa – I once thought I’d never stop buying CDs, and that I’d never use a phone for anything but a phone. A huge turning point for me was owning an iPhone. I think THAT device has been the revolutionary turning point, more so than the iPad.

  6. Theresa Milstein

    I’m going to check out these links, and try to refrain from becoming demoralized about the state of publishing. When I get that publishing contract, I want to be ready to go where the industry is heading.

    With all the new technology facing us, it will be interesting to see which devices are still standing in a couple of years.

    I spend a lot of time online reading blogs, but they haven’t replaced books. Because I love bookstores, I’ve been resistant to buy an electronic book holder. But when I went to New York City this weekend, lugging my laptop and hardcover book until I ached, I realized how wonderful (and light) it would be to be able to work on my manuscript, e-mail, read blogs, and carry a book on one device.

  7. Dorraine

    Appreciate your insight, Jane. The informative links you provided will keep me in the know. Thank you so much.

    We might as well embrace change, it’s the one certain thing we have. This technology bloom has opened many new doors for writers and readers. There are so many options now. It is a bit unnerving at times to see such radical developments, but exciting, too.

    As far as social networking, why not take advantage of sites that offer ways to connect? I’ve met some amazing people thus far. A few I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting in person. Work smart, play smart.

    I’ll be honest here. I don’t own a Kindle, a Nook or an ipod. The old-fashioned me would never! But thankfully, I’ve thrown off that musty box. I’m saving my money for a Kindle. I’ve been speaking with readers, and many love the whole concept of downloading books for less, and many titles at a time.

  8. Steven Crandell

    Thank you, Jane, for an invaluable post. The current wave of change is both exhilirating and intimidating. Your insight and list of resource articles will help me navigate.

    By the way, I chose to seek adventure by publishing my latest work as a serial novella. It’s currently running on Huffpost. "A is for Amy & Adonis" is a comic story of romantic redemption. It uses a 19th century genre (serial story-telling) on a 21st century medium (mainstream blogging site).

    My first book was a traditional print effort — "Silver Tongue — Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara." ( So my e-novella experiement has been a real departure — not to mention a blast.

    I try to remember that we writers are by nature originators. No template for success? Just make one up! See if you can figure out the means of conveying the words as well as the words themselves. In a sense, we are being given more creative control, and we get to choose the frame as well as the picture. All the best, Steven Crandell


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