PopularSoda hasn’t been around in its current form for too long, but we’ve had our eye on ebooks since the beginning. Right now is a great time to get into ebooks. Here’s how the ebook market got here, what’s going on now, and what’s happening next for self-published and ebook authors.


An early version of the Sony Reader

      During the first wave, early adopters bought the first (and incredibly expensive!) ereaders. Everything was shiny and new, and this stage was mostly about figuring out the technology and capabilities. There was virtually no self-publishing: ebooks were nothing more than digital copies of already-printed books. Users could upload their own text files to the ereaders, but there wasn’t a place to share individual writings worldwide, or a way to make money off of them.

      Limited market meant limited choices. Limited technology meant that ebooks were really just text files. There was no interactivity and even the rendered images (when available) weren’t that great. Despite these hurdles, some people saw the potential and jumped on board (Lila is going to out herself as an ebook hipster here because she had a PRS-500 Sony Reader before they were available to the public). Most readers didn’t pay any attention to ebooks until the second wave.

      At this point, the technology was solid and ereaders were being mass-produced. The price was still pretty high and preserved ereaders’ status as a novelty and not a necessity. Self-publishing options opened up,but confusing programs and pricing structures as well as a lack of customization initially kept some authors away. The DIY publishing technology expanded and evolved over the course of this wave, becoming more accessible with every update.

The cover of one of Amanda Hocking’s books

      In the second wave, we really started to see the first success stories in ebook self-publishing. Amanda Hocking immediately jumps to mind. This self-published twenty-something author sold millions of her ebooks, landed a traditional publishing deal, and sold the film rights for one of her series. She wasn’t the only one to find indie success: John Locke, Michael Prescott, Louise Voss, and J.A. Konrath are also among the top-selling self-published authors. These highly publicized outliers and newer, better self-pub technology and increased availability of ereaders led to the gold rush of the third wave of ebooks.

      And that’s where we are today. The easy-to-use publishing tools and amazing success stories led to an explosion in the ebook market. Today, the problem isn’t getting your book online. It’s getting your book noticed in the vast ocean of content.

      Some authors continue to go the old route, posting their books and waiting for sales to roll in. However, more and more authors are taking the ebook business seriously. There’s an obvious potential to make money here, and authors, editors, designers, and marketers are trying to figure how to work the system.

      For their part, readers are no longer impressed with the simple novelty of ebooks. They’re looking for interesting stories, engaging writing, error-free books, and standout covers. The publishing saying money flows toward the writer” no longer applies. Today, self-pub authors can spend hundreds of dollars on cover art and editing before the book is ready for sale (finding credible professionals is an issue, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post). The truth is, most authors don’t have the necessary skills to do everything related to book publishing. And that’s okay!

      One of the biggest hurdles for an ebook writer is marketing the completed ebook. There are thousands of ebooks published online every day. There’s an infinitesimally small chance that any ebook will go viral by itself. Instead, authors flock to Twitter, Facebook, Smashwords, and other sites in order to establish a presence and gain fans. There are blog tours, publicity services, book tweeting accounts, site-specific sales and promotions, online giveaways, and Skype meetings with book clubs.

      It’s much easier to get your book available to the public. But in the ebook landslide, it seems as hard to get people to care about your book as it used to be hard to convince literary agents and slushpile readers to take notice.

      PopularSoda believes the fourth wave of ebooks is coming soon. Its first influences may already be felt. In the next wave of ebooks, we predict that the business around ebooks will explode as consumers look for quality control. Professionally designed covers used to be exceptional: soon, they will be necessary. Ebook author databases already exist: we predict that author database sites will soon become highly curated references for outstanding writing.

Handwritten pages

      And we are so very sure of this last prediction: ebooks will circle back to print content. Again, the first parts of this have already started. Indie authors are printing collectibles like bookmarks and trading cards. Some Kickstarter Publishing projects are offering printed rewards or print books for ebook publishing projects. We predict this will go even further in the future. We see authors offering handwritten pages from their first drafts as contest prizes and fan rewards. High-quality posters of ebook covers will replace famous faces. These posters will be autographed, personalized with a message specifically for the reader, and mailed around the world.

The fourth wave is about to break. Let’s see who can catch it.

Think you’re a better fortune-teller? Leave your ebook predictions in the comments.