Sometime in the early 1970's, my father bought my mother our first microwave oven. I can still remember the excitement in our family: we weren't the type to buy every new gadget that came down the pike, but my dad was convinced that microwaves were going to revolutionize cooking and change our lives.
My mom's birthday fell not too long after we got the microwave, and my father announced that this year, he was going to make my mom a birthday cake. Himself. In the microwave.
If you've never tried to make a cake in the microwave. . .well, don't. Yes, it was faster, but it was also burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. Made for some great family folklore, but not very good eating.
Now take on the other hand the introduction of the refrigerator into American culture. Once we had the ability to keep foods cold without depending on blocks of ice, our options for cooking flew wide open. We didn't have to worry about keeping milk, butter, eggs or milk fresh in the heat. The fridge really did change lives.
While the microwave was undoubtedly an important tool, it didn't really change the culinary world long-term the way the refrigerator did. We couldn't see that in the early 1970's, but now we can.
I look at the e-publishing revolution in the same way. Right now, it's (relatively) new and shiny, and we can see its potential. It could open up avenues to more authors who are hungering for publication and it could also shift some of the power in the publishing world from the editors and agents to the authors themselves. It could be the fridge of publishing in the 21st century.
But the pivotal word is 'could'.
Because e-publishing could also be the microwave oven of the publishing world. It could become a tool instead of a revolution, something useful for boiling water fast, melting butter or heating up leftovers, but not so great for cooking a chicken or baking a cake.
I'd love to embrace e-publishing wholeheartedly, without reservation, but it's still early days. It's going to take years before we can fully understand and see clearly what the ramifications will be. Meanwhile, all the people who are declaring traditional publishing dead would be wise to bide their time.
After all, while I do have a microwave built into my wall in the kitchen, I also still have a regular oven. And that's how I bake my cakes.