If you have not heard about e-publishing, you're likely in a third-world country in a cave, or are so willfully ignorant that you qualify as a vegetable or a tea-partier. Things like the Amazon Kindle (pictured above) and the Barnes & Noble nook are e-readers: devices that let you download digital copies of books. My Kindle has something like 500 books on it, and I love the thing. Buying e-books is significantly cheaper because you're just buying information, not a hardcover book with hundreds of pages and so on.
An unexpected side effect of this is that self-publishing has now become a real, viable option for independent writers. Self publishing has existed for years (sometimes also known as vanity publishing) but the costs of publishing your own physical books and distributing them was so incredibly prohibitive that hardly anybody did it, and those who did almost never saw any substantial profit.
But now, that's all changed. the digital marketplace and the rise of the e-book has paved the way for the indie scene. This is actually very similar to the rise of other digital indie media, like games and films. Thanks to digital distribution services like Steam and the X-Box Live marketplace, small video game studios are producing cheap, fun games and selling them online. Small film companies and studios are releasing webseries via YouTube and other streaming sites. So it was only natural that books got in on the action as well.
So what does this mean? Well, it means that if you're like me and sick to death of being rejected by literary agents, you can just publish your own damn book(s) and strike out on your own. The number of indie books has exploded in the past year to absurd numbers, flooding the market with reams of crap as well as some genuinely good pieces. Some indie authors have sold millions of e-books and gone on to sign contracts with traditional publishing houses. That's the miniscule exception to the overwhelming rule of selling almost nothing, however.
Indie publishing is finally starting to catch on with the general public, due to even lower prices (99 cents being the lowest, although sometimes authors will have promotion days where they temporarily mark their books as free), and the fact that the publishing industry as a whole is becoming more and more creatively bankrupt.
Even if you're not a writer, it's still incredibly interesting to watch the paradigm start to shift. Literary agents are now also becoming e-publishing consultants. The Big 6 publishing houses have people whose job it is to just patrol and monitor up-and-coming indie authors who they can then sign into their stables. And, god bless 'em, there are some indie authors who have given the finger to traditional publishing and continue to pave their own way.
I'm not 100% against traditional publishing. I'd still like to have a publisher give me money to write. that would be cool. But being an indie author isn't such a bad gig either. It's actually pretty cool, since you have more creative control and you set your own publication dates. They both have things to offer, but indie publishing keeps growing at a phenomenal rate.
Definitely something to keep an eye on.