Of the million ways that digital technology has impacted on publishing, one that has not been noted to my knowledge is the significance of manuscript submissions online. Only a few years ago, the only procedure for submission of manuscripts by authors and agents was US mail or, in urgent cases, courier or messenger. Emailing manuscripts as attachments unless expressly requested by editors was a breach of protocol to say nothing of good manners.
Two or three years ago that changed. Though unsolicited material was still prohibited, email submissions by recognized authors and agents were accepted, and today this practice is commonplace. But until the introduction of the Sony E-Book Reader and the Amazon Kindle, editors receiving emailed manuscripts printed them out and read them in the traditional way – on paper. Agents and authors rejoiced because the cost and bother of printing and mailing manuscripts was shifted to publishers. And though publishers bore these burdens stoically, the scramble for photocopier time, the expense of purchasing and maintaining high-speed machines, and the wasteful generation of paper were just further proof that publishing was still stuck in a twentieth century brick and mortar/mechanical business model.
Last summer, an editor told me at lunch that her company had experimentally distributed Sony E-Book Readers to its editorial staff and encouraged it to download manuscript submissions into the device and read them that way. She said she was deliriously happy; it solved a million problems from schlepping heavy manuscripts in back-straining briefcases and backpacks, to shameful waste of environmental resources. Some other benefits were the ability to read books on crowded buses and subways without having to shuffle pages.
Since then, publisher after publisher has followed suit. As a great many editors commute between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the subway line between the boroughs has been nicknamed the Sony Express. (Some editors prefer to read submissions on Amazon Kindles.)