So maybe Borders managed to bankrupt itself through poor marketing of its own ereader (seriously, I’m convinced that’s what did it…they were pretty damn popular), and maybe it’s now possible to cart around a whole library in one little flat device (hold on, didn’t Douglas Adams predict this in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’? Aweeesome)…nevertheless:
Why has nothing about the way readers interact with (successful) authors changed?
I mean, it’s still the same old system: you put out a book, people buy it, and maybe things are corrected and/or updated (if it’s the type of science fiction or nonfiction book whose fundamental premise is eventually threatened by obsolescence)…but that’s that. There’s a professional editor, there’s you.
I’ve been playing Minecraft lately. (It’s awesome, by the way. Like Legos with violence.) The system Minecraft is going on right now is, you can buy the beta version at a pretty good discount. In return for putting up with the total lack of structure (as my friends told me, it’s the one game where you really can’t feel guilty for looking stuff up), and also for the occasional game crashing bug, you get the full version for free once it comes out. There’s a mutual benefit: Mojang gets a ton of beta testers so when he’s ready for the final release he has excellent data and things really will be ironed out; plus, users get to try it out early, and offer their own feedback (or build their own mods if they are technically awesome enough).
So how come we can’t do this with books?
Really, I would love to see (and, if I can get my act together, will do it myself) a beta model. Say you write up your novel. Put it out for free (or, like, 99 cents) and provide an email address, so people can let you know what they think and any errors they find (stylistic, grammatical, and factual…whatever they choose). Then, once you release the next version, give it to the people who emailed you for free.
I’m aware of some drawbacks with this method–above all, the impossibility of pleasing everybody–but, well, what’s the point of having an enormous audience if you never make use of it?