For several weeks, I’ve been reading through an online conversation between authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath.  It’s incredibly long (hence the several weeks reading it) and some bits are not worth reading, but for the most part, it’s very insightful.  The premise for the conversation is that Eisler, a successful author, just turned down a $500,000 contract with a legacy publisher (one of those big-name, traditional, advance-against-royalty-paying companies) in order to self-publish his books.  Konrath is a talented young author who has made a fortune by self-publishing.

They make some very sound points, though there are some holes—specifically, their knowledge of baseball history, according to Mike Shatzkin.  Shatzkin also points out how Amazon-centric the conversation is; the authors don’t mention the wide variety of self-publishing services available.  On the other hand, if Amazon’s CreateSpace is what Konrath used to become hugely successful, would you expect him to worry about any other services?

So I wanted to add my two cents.  Here’s my big idea: No one is sure what the future holds, but everyone can see some probabilities.  For example, Konrath states what seems to be a high probability when he says, “Paper won’t disappear, but that’s not the point. The point is, paper will become a niche while digital will become the norm.”  I think it’s true, and it’s probably the direction that the publishing side of my company will be headed in the next two years.

Here’s where I think Konrath is a bit short-sighted (not that it matters much to him, since he’s made a killing already).  He says that one point in favor of digital publishing is that

virtual shelf life is forever. In a bookstore, you have anywhere form a few weeks to a few months to sell your title, and then it gets returned. This is a big waste of money, and no incentive at all for the bookseller to move the book.

But ebooks are forever. Once they’re live, they will sell for decades. Someday, long after I’m gone, my grandchildren will be getting my royalties.

He’s spot-on about the no incentives for booksellers bit.  But eBooks will not be “forever” for long.  Again, I don’t know this for a fact, but it seems consistent with past trends.  I’m predicting that within the next year or two, Amazon will roll out a maintenance fee for every title in its virtual store.  Why?  Why not? They’ve done all they could to become the top dog in bookselling, they do everything they can to get their cut from publishers, they essentially tried to buy up the entire eBook market a year ago, so why wouldn’t they start taking a bigger cut than they already do from authors?

Konrath’s books may sell for decades, but his grandkids will have to fork over a significant cut to get those royalties.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only player in the game, and authors will probably be able to cut some sweet deals with other booksellers for a while.  But once everyone else sees how Amazon plays the game, I’m guessing they’ll want a piece of the action as well.

We’ll see in a few years if I’m right or not, but one thing is certain: things aren’t going to stay the same as they are now.