But there’s a reason that I’m highlighting this end-of-publishing article out of so many, rather than just slipping it into This Week in Publishing: it’s actually pretty good. It’s dishy and trenchant. Of the articles in this extremely crowded genre, there’s some good information that everyone should definitely check out.
Now, I have confirmed with people who have been in the business longer than me that the “end of publishing as we know it” sentiment has been around as long as they’ve been in the business, with everything from the publishing mergers back in the ’80s and ’90s to that one time Maxwell Perkins ran out of gin being viewed as a harbinger of the publishing apocalypse. So I’m not by any means endorsing the view that we should all just give up and go sell steak knives.
My reaction to the article can be summed up as so: the coming years are indeed going to be tough for publishers as Amazon, Sony and other tech companies muscle in on the publishers’ traditional sphere of distribution. And you can see in the article the pressure to come up with some new means of making books that can deliver consistent margins. But at the same time, this is a time of tremendous opportunity for authors, especially those who can deliver an audience consistently.
But what do you think?
Kim Haynes says
I agree with everyone who commented that our job as writers is to keep butt in chair and get the stories out there. I am also one of those people who can’t entirely get behind e-books for my own reading, though I should probably give it a try, considering how much I read.
I am curious about how these changes will affect what is published and how it’s published. If the technology allows more people to get published and read, I’m all for it. Frankly, I don’t have a trust fund and I do have a day job, but I’d rather have a smaller advance and “invest” in the future of my career as a novelist. Of course, I’m unpublished as of yet, so maybe that’s easier for me to say right now….
Thanks for the blog, Nathan — I read it regularly — and for posting this article. Very thought-provoking.
Lauri Shaw says
This is a wonderfully written and well researched article that has its finger on the pulse of the publishing industry’s current plight and its fears. Thanks for linking to it, Nathan.
Here’s hoping that publishing can learn from music’s appalling errors with both artists and consumers during these transitions, which will take years.
The music business crisis has provided new opportunities for those artists who were ready to change and take risks. In many ways, the collapse of Big Music is still separating the wheat from the chaff. Most unsigned musicians I know look wistfully at the majors and hope to someday attain land their stamp of legitimacy. But in the mean time, they’re doing a lot more DIY, and they’re using the internet to its fullest capacity. The most enterprising of acts can more than break even without any middlemen – which is often better than they’d do on an indie label.
These changes are both good and bad. The artists must work much harder than they would have 30 or 40 years ago. Musicians lose valuable time creating music when they have to do 100% of the business as well.
It all makes me wonder how long before self-publishing begins to lose its stigma as the POD houses adjust to a completely new market. I imagine some experienced industry professionals will gradually make their way over to the POD side, where they will offer writers’ services at various prices, thus giving some order to a leg of the business that is still very much the wild west of publishing. Perhaps at some point we won’t be able to get published with traditional publishers at all until we’ve literally “paid our dues” at a POD and sold x amount of units to prove our worth. Think it can’t happen? It’s that way in music to a large extent right now, and has been for at least a decade.
Lauri Shaw says
P.S. My apologies for writing a “blomment” *smile*
Jenny Jill says
It can’t be the end of publishing. I am just beginning! Canada has a much smaller market than the US (31 million vs. 300 million people) but there are markets for specific topics. Do you have any opinion on this: the cover page of my book? I am having discussions with the designer and not getting my point across!
Apologies if someone has already mentioned this, but there’s been a lot to read through.
Alexander McCall Smith has just begun to write an interactive on-line novel for the UK Daily Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk/arts). He has serialised his Scotland Street novels before, producing daily chapters. Now he is writing a chapter each day which will be published on line. He intends to develop the work by responding to readers blog comments.
I think it takes a very confident writer to be prepared to do this. The idea really doesn’t appeal to me as a writer and once I’ve got into something I want to keep reading. I wonder how he’s going to manage to keep sight of the flow and shape of the novel.
I’m not an eBook reader, and I don’t know anyone who is, frankly. Downloading a novel feels disposable, like a liposuction of words, and doesn’t foster the same “sitting” mindset that holding a book in my hand does. I don’t mind exploring new forms of literature online, but they tend to lean towards quick shots and the kind of impact I expect from a magazine story. There’s no “stage”, which the paper and binding seem to represent, so my attention easily wanders.
As a professional marketer, we’re forced to explore new ways of reaching target markets. Email seemed a dream come true at first, but a variety of factors have relegated it to being a possible “support” method to other activities, and hardly anyone I know wants to be solicited in that way although everyone seems to want to find a way to use it. Are we simply witnessing a backlash of over-publishing in the same way email solicitation culled out the fast-talkers and snake oil salesman from direct mail and at the same time identified them? Maybe.
So digital technology opens the door for a new animal, but I don’t see it supplanting the old one. And just as traditional publishing methods seem to incorporate a filter of higher standard, the inverse seems to be true with electronic publishing. There just isn’t the same effort involved in selling the experience of the work and quite often the material bears that out.
There’s an interesting article on the BBC website that covers this topic pretty well. If anyone would like to check it out:
Wanda B. Ontheshelves says
A cool and groovy physical book…and cover (see pic)
Yesterday at the library for my poetry group, I went with someone off to a small entryway – the door is blocked off, so you can’t go out that way – but that’s where they have their FREE BOOKS.
And I picked up a nifty copy of Henry James’ The Ambassadors published in 1960 (hence the green and black cover), the pages nice and tan. And there was another book with a nifty vinyl cover on it, so since I was in the free books entryway, I slipped off the vinyl cover from one book and stuck it on the other. Voila!
I said to my friend as we went back into the library: “Don’t rat me out now” (for slipping the cover off one book and putting it on another)
And she replied: “Don’t stick beans in your ears”
Anyway…to make a long story short…I remembered reading about a paper thin computer screen…I mean, if they make a paper-thin computer screen…then why not 382 of them, of the size (let me get out my ruler) 4 x 7 inches…use black ink on a tan background…stick it in a plastic cover, and then offer a selection of vinyl, cloth, etc covers…voila! The bibliophile’s Kindle. Call it a Biblindle (oh no, the Bible on Kindle = Biblindle).
I can imagine in a future time, if a Biblindle was cheap enough, you could have 5 or 6…and then ONLY download textbooks on one kind of reader, mysteries on another (i.e., that simulates a paperback)…etc…really personalize (make tangible…tangiblize?) the ebook…
oh well, I am making up a bunch of garbage-y words today…so far in reading The Ambassadors, it’s really nice to see just the edges of the blue-black-silver vinyl covers as I read…
I am 44 –I grew up with the publishing business being dinner table conversation—All my life I have heard the words, “The book business is in trouble.”
During the worst of it, the 70’s, people at Bantam Books routinely said, “Thank God for Louis L’Amour.” My dad and Barbara Cartland kept that imprint afloat (according to Bantam).
The book business will always be in trouble… they will always worry. People are not going to stop reading. For me, with the large amount of research I am doing for my current book, I still like a book in my hands. I like to lie down and read and get lost without harsh lighting. But –if there were enough books available on Kindle or if I travelled all the time I would probably buy one…as for right now…I like the feel in my hands,I like taking down a well worn friend from the shelves. That’s pretty simple isn’t it?
Zen of Writing says
It was a good article.
I think I’m not going to get a Kindle or e-reader or any of those, on principle.
I think all we need to turn things around is another Harry Potter-type book…did you see the article about the 21 best-selling books of all time? The Harry Potter books were all there.
I think it’s going to suck for publishing when Oprah goes off the air, although I haven’t always liked her picks.
In the last couple of years I’ve visited bookstores in Paris, Montreal, Ville de Quebec, Vancouver, Victoria (BC), Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide (Australia). What I find most perplexing is the American angst over the death of publishing while people in these other nations continue to embrace books. Americans are not a nation of readers. At the same time, those of us who are American readers do need to rebel. Visit and buy from independent book stores. Do it now. take a book with you wherever you go. Leave the laptop behind when you go to the coffee shop. Take a book, or better, a lit rag instead. Show people that you are a reader rather than a consumer. You, as a writer, carry some weight in society. Carry a book, too.
Maya Reynolds says
Nathan: Thanks for the link.
As you say, the article is “dishy,” which made it a fun read. However, as you know, there were no new insights or any new territory staked out in the nine pages.
I’m hoping Michael Cader has video of this week’s NEIBA convention in Boston. Both Bob Miller and Jonathan Karp are featured speakers. I’d love to hear their thoughts now that they are committed to their new imprints and business models.
What I think? I think I chose one heck of a lousy time to start pitching a book proposal to publishers and agents. It could explain the quick response from agents and the dreadfully long wait for word from a publisher…
As for the state of affairs with the literary world, I dare say that the wolf may be kept from the door. If the economy tanks (as I suspect it will), people will still seek entertainment as a pleasant distraction. Book sales may take a hit, but not be killed off entirely.
Then again, I am the perpetual optimist.