I’ve seen a fair amount of writer/industry bloggers commenting on how the e-reader–and iPad–revolution is totally going to change the future of the industry, all the traditional publishing houses will collapse, &c.
Obviously, no one’s going to make such an extreme prediction, but I still disagree with the majority opinion. I think the big publishing houses will remain on top of the game.
For one, people are lazy. No one will sift through miles of self-published and not-all-that-heavily-edited drivel which, as you may have noticed with the advent of free website (and blog) posting, is inevitable. So publishing houses do have an important function: the function of picking and choosing what people should read.
The simultaneous push from the other direction–people making demands on content–is undefinable. Because most people demand content based on what they’ve been exposed to (my sister has developed a mysterious love for Coldplay, and who hasn’t experienced a hatred or sudden love of books they had to read in class?), in the end it all comes back to the history of the publisher. And most of these concern only the fiction market: e-textbooks are happening, but a lot of students want the ability to take notes and flip through books while also on the computer.
Two, let’s look at convenience. There’s no denying the comparatively limited environmental impact of an e-reader (although we do have to take into account the awfulness that is plastics). But what about ease of transportation? Most e-readers are bulky–the iPad is definitely not the kind of thing that could be stuffed into a purse; at that size I’d rather have a netbook with all its capabilities, especially as wireless networks spread through even the stultified air of the United States. A small book–especially paperback–can be just as easy to carry, and it has the added benefits of not running out of batteries or being easily broken or valuable enough to steal. (Most of the books I buy cost a few dollars and have marks of previous ownership. The ones I obtain new stay at home.)
Anyway, I think there’s more potential for small publishers and individuals to get out there and market, but you have to envision a growing system with maybe a few middle performers and then the bestselling giants far above an incredible pool of DIYs. If you just want to be published, this might be fine with you.