Dan Brown’s latest, “The Lost Symbol,” has set a new one day sales record. Far more than one million copies have been sold in the first twenty-four hours of its release. I can say from personal experience that ninety-nine point nine, nine, nine… percent of all authors, myself included, would be delighted with life time sales of a million books. Of these envious authors, myself included, there are very few of us who would not say that he or she is a far better writer than Mr. Brown. Not so many of us would say that about ourselves and Ms Rowling, but Dan Brown is not only one of the best selling authors of all time, he is the poster boy for what other authors believe is wrong with the publishing industry.
“How,” we demand, “can there be any equity to this process when a bad writer, like Dan Brown, makes billions, while good writers, even great writers (modesty prevents most of us from placing ourselves in the great category. We will only own up to the ‘good’ category, expecting the reader to elevate us without any further assistance.), suffer the indignity of sporadic publication and poor sales?”
How ironic it may be if the “hack” Dan Brown is the bell cow that legitimizes electronic publication. In an article published yesterday, Don Risinger of CNet News took note of the evidence that the book was selling faster at Amazon in digital downloads to Kindles than in hardcover. Over all, in all sales outlets, the printed versions are swamping the digital versions but, over at Amazon, the Kindle continues to hold its own.
What will it mean for the publishing industry if Brown’s book does as well in digital form as in printed form? Brown’s latest is an important test because it appeals to the young unwashed as much as it does to the older unwashed. The younger cohort is far more likely to be comfortable with acquiring and reading the book in digital format. However, older people are more likely, as a percent of the total geezer population, to buy and read books than the younger, puppy people. While certainly no scientific marketing analyst, I have to say, that if Brown’s book, in digital form, breaks even or bests its hardcover brother in Amazon sales, the game has changed. Whatever the answer to any of these questions they are important.
It could mean younger, digitally hip readers like literary crap and will turn out in remarkable numbers to consume it. It could mean that digital readership has penetrated far more successfully into the elder population that is generally thought. It could mean that Brown’s readers, generally, are, as a group, less techno phobic than the general population.
Whatever it means, it means that the role of “gatekeeper” has passed from the hands of the all powerful literary agent and his/her compatriots in the publishing houses. This role has now passed, or soon will, to the tale salesmen, the impresarios of pitch, the merchants of message, etc. In short, the authors who win in the new environment will be those who know, either themselves or have a person who knows working for them, how to find their audience.
In a digital world, anybody can publish. Believe me, sometimes it seems as if everybody is publishing. The key will be finding an audience and figuring out how to monetize that audience once it is found.
Who could have predicted this? Dan Brown always the frustration of those who believed themselves better writers, almost everybody who writes, is now the hero who shows the way to the brave new system.