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?
I think I’m going to keep on keeping on and focus on the task at hand. Which is to keep my butt in the chair and rewrite. I also think I want a kindle for Christmas.
m clement hall says
“Change” is the current demand and current technology renders with ease the ability to change what we are used to having. Caxton brought about change and changes will occur with intimidating acceleration. Those who deny the change will be left behind.
The change does not necessarily mean a diminution in quality. Caxton made useful information and the pleasure of reading available to the masses. Those who care about content must ensure that quality of content keeps pace with the inevitable tide of changes that Canute could not hold back. But to deny the change will mean a refusal to engage in quality of content.
Yes, the publishing industry as Caxton, and even Perkins, knew it is coming to an end — but that does not mean the dissemination of information has ended — it’s only a question of how.
Margaret Yang says
One part of the article jumped out at me, the part about marketing not working. Marketing for books has never worked. Interesting. Books still sell by word of mouth, yet people get in a tizzy about promotion. The next big thing seems to be the old thing. In the end, there will be changes with ebooks and podcasts and other cool things, and changes to the way the business is run, but I don’t think that writers will have a big influence over those changes. We will be affected by them but we won’t make them.
I agree with abc: focus on the task at hand. Miss Snark had precious words for writers that I have posted above my computer: Write well. Quit obsessing.
Anonymous Gimp says
While I think E-publishing will take off, I don’t believe the good old fashioned book will ever go out of style THIS generation. I grew up holding paper books in my hands, and while I may get an E-reader or a similar device, I will never give up reading from physical books. This might change with the next generation, the generation RAISED on E-books, but I don’t see real world books going away any time soon.
I mean, that would be like NEWSPAPERS going out of business… And we know THAT could never happen!
the new generation frightens me, and I’m only 26.
“…as we know it” is the key clause, isn’t it?
Publishing may change but it may be a good thing. It certainly never seems to be a QUICK thing. But, it’s interesting to speculate about where everything’s going.
So yes, another writer who’ll ‘keep on keeping on’.
Stina Rose says
Change is not always a bad thing. That said, I don’t think that we are looking at the end of the printed word. Too many people, myself included, enjoy sitting down with a good book. There is just something about words on the page, and the smell of a book. Things may be different in the future, but I believe that hard copy books are going to be around for a long time yet.
My Semblance of Sanity says
It’s all about the paradigm shift. In this industry, one cannot have the attitude that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” Everything has an ebb and flow and if you learn to assess the ‘ebb’ and then go with the ‘flow’ you are golden!
Publish me and all your troubles will be over, cross your heart.
Mark Buckland says
It’s not the end of publishing but there certainly is a sea change in the air. Like all other entertainment sectors, self-publishing and the reduction of the price of technology used to make media formats means that the demise of the major publishing houses is on the horizon.
Rita Meacham says
Hey, the end of most all that we know is coming. Pack water, disinfectant, and faith. Do good deeds now, and read my blog.
Robena Grant says
Wow! I read the entire article instead of writing, but the day is still young. Anyway, just want to say thanks for posting this it was enlightening. I’d heard murmurs and read snippets here and there but all of this info in one article is priceless.
john askins says
Somehow it sounds a lot like the current situation on Wall Street — overreaching followed by remorse but no lessons learned. But publishing and books will go on, or had better, at least until my book is published!
m clement hall says
I’ll bet the men who made clay tablets in Ur thought they’d never be out of a job!
Furious D says
I’m having one of my psychic flashes! :O
I predict that when the dust has settled, books will still be published, people will still go to bookstores, because a lot of people like pestering the grad students who work there, and books will still be published.
I love technology! I’m one of the first to hop on that band wagon when I can, and so when e-books came out I thought it was revolutionary and fun. I went right out and bought an e-book for my husband for Christmas. He loves to read. Perfect gift! Right?
At first he enjoyed it, because it was unique and cool, but he had to turn it off when he was taking off and landing (he does a fair amount of travel and that’s when he really gets to indulge in reading) so he would miss 1/2 hour to 45 min. of reading time each leg of the flight, and so it wasn’t worth it to him on trips. So for that and many other reasons, he put it aside and never picked it up again.
Jeez! I thought. How can he be so old fashioned? Whatever! I decided to just re-appropriate it to myself rather than waste the money. I was excited to get started using it. It was going to revolutionize my life! Ha! After reading a couple of books on it, I put it aside too. Now it just collects dust.
I missed holding the book in my hands, the building anticipation as the pages at the front got thicker than the pages at the back, the sound of paper rustling as I turn the pages, and so many other things that I would have never suspected until I lost them.
Maybe someday e-books and kindles, etc. will take over, but as long as there are people like me around it won’t stick for long.
Changes are often painful and changes are inevitable. The tricky bit is knowing what changes will become the norm.
You won’t be able to line a room with e-books.
While I’m not an e-book, Kindle kind of guy, I was ecstatic when they first brought out books on CD. I used to travel a lot more than I do now, and the music just droned on after a while. At the same time, I would occasionally see one of those old school travelling salesmen driving along with a book open and no clue of the road in front of him, and thought I’d better speed around him or I might die when he wrecked.
But a Kindle? I’d love to have any books I may someday get published to be digitized, or whatever, for one, sure. But I don’t see myself using one for anything other than a reading nightlight for my books, a la Opus.
But that’s just me.
Am I the only one who found it interesting that your blog about publishing being so slow that publishers try to call it a feature and not an obstacle, came just before this one about the end of publishing?
I hope you guys can get that book explaining about that new-fangled wheel-thingy out while the interest remains high
Perhaps this is a good thing for agents. Sounds like it will probably take a dedicated professional to suss out which of the various possible media — print, e-books, new formats of which we have not yet dreamed — would be best suited to each project. But people will always want stories in one form or another, and every story starts with a writer. That would be us.
Marilyn Peake says
Fascinating article! I’ve been noticing the past few years a number of sweeping changes in the publishing industry, beginning with the mergers of many big publishing houses into five global conglomerates, followed by a huge number of small presses springing up, mini-mergers between some of those small presses while others fail rather quickly and close their doors, and the increase in popularity of eBooks.
It seems to me that, at this point in time, there are both new and lost opportunities for writers. Competition to get published with a large advance by a big publishing house is tough these days. Some famous authors who had best-selling books decades ago are now published by the new small publishing houses. Good news for brand new writers is that they sometimes have the opportunity to work alongside those authors, sometimes getting published in the same anthologies, while growing their own careers. However, at least in a rough economy, many of those small press books don’t actually earn any real money at all.
I think one of the biggest challenges for writers in the future will be whether or not all books will be made available in free eBook format, as some large technology companies have advocated. Those same companies would make money through advertising on eBook pages, however. I’m hoping that possible future does not become reality.
Lady Glamis says
I happily agree on two comments made: “you won’t be able to line a room with e-books” and “people will always want stories in one form or another.”
Yes, the publishing world of the printed word may change, but writers, editors, agents, everybody involved – will change with it.
The most common response from those who want to read my work? – “Can you print it out for me? Reading a 114,000 word novel on the screen hurts my eyes.”
And of course – I’ll print it out.
Since the younger generation was mentioned in some comments – I just asked my 15 year old son what he thought about ebooks vs paper books. (I don’t have to ask the 17 year old what he thinks. He spends almost all his free time on his bed with a book. He adores them.)
The 15 yr old- who spends most of his time on a football field, but still likes to read- said he would NEVER want an ebook. He said it would “not be the same. you can’t take a computer with you EVERYWHERE.”
I agree. Most of my reading is done in waiting rooms, at the pool, and curled up in my bed. I don’t want my laptop with me at those places.
Just the opinion of a couple of readers.
It’s just another way to sell my material. At the end of the day, I still have to write the story.
Yeah and as for marketing not working, visit my site http://www.intheloopmobile.com. We allow businesses to stay connected with their audiences via text message. Mobile marketing should make it easier for you to reach your audience instantly. Who in these days and times does not carry a mobile phone and the use of the service is free. Go ahead and sign up.Let us know if you have questions. Give me your thoughts after using. 🙂
Guy Stewart says
Fascinating. Perhaps what I gleaned from this most clearly is that technology will certainly change, but there will always be a deep desire for storytellers — be they stories of the imagination or stories of the world.
I will keep telling my stories.
Romantic Heretic says
Thinking about it, I’m just going to write the story, find someone to publish it, either print or electronic, and be happy with the money I get.
I live on a disability pension and when I look at a $500,000 advance I think “I could easily live on that.”
I like writing and that’s all I intend to do. Everything after that is gravy.
Other Lisa says
I think this is about half-right. That is, eBooks are here to stay and there will be more and more of them, but paper books won’t be replaced. Paper books are a really convenient, sturdy and efficient book delivery device. And when you line your walls with them, they provide additional insulation, thus saving on heating costs.
Great article. I really wonder what will happen to the author advance model. Most writers need advances to live. On the other hand, advances at the low end keep shrinking, so what does this all mean?
Probably more writers keeping their day jobs, I’m afraid…
R.J. Keller says
What did you think of this remark?
“I think agents often like for there to be problems, because they can be the stalwart support behind a writer.” —GARY FISKETJON, KNOPF EDITOR
Nathan Bransford says
Trust me, agents don’t like problems. We are, however, stalwart supporters, partly because of the prevalence those problems, partly because it’s simply our job to be.
I read that article yesterday while at my day job. I almost kissed my boss after lunch (yuck).
Seriously, people will always read books one way or the other(unless the movie Idiocracy proves to be more prophetic than stupid-funny), so we should still write them. Just my humble newbie opinion.
I like the idea of making books on demand work. Let’s ask Google; they seem to be able to fix everything.
Marilynn Byerly says
I agree with a lot of what this article said. I said the same thing in June in a series of blogs I did on the current state of publishing.
Here’s a link to the whole series if you don’t want to have to scroll through my blog to find all its parts.
Chris Redding says
The iTunes hasn’t made the music industry go away. I’m all for e-books, but you still need a publisher.
Just look at most of what IUniverse puts out.
And authors who don’t end up skeletons sitting in front of their computers waiting for an agent to wave their hand in blessing. This is another reason to just go about your business and not hold your breath on getting “the agent” or “the publisher.”
Do you want to get published or not?
If so, then ignore the conventional wisdom and go for it. Small press, micro press, your own damned press. Who cares?
Again, I’ll go anon because I don’t want to be tainted with negativity toward the status quo.
they will probably sell you the ebook, then, since you already have digital rights that will probably entitle you to a printed copy if you wish. thats what id do anyway.
and i think books need more marketing. when even the presidential race is sensantionalised and glamourised hollywood style, i wonder why authors dont get the same treatment. as much as i love books and reading and such, its easy to see how books could seem ho-hum, and dull to the outsider. that needs to change i think.
god bless oprah for oprahs bookclub tho. and abc too.
As a writer, my response is simple: this is terrifying, but I can only do one thing, and that is write.
If I do that well, I have to trust it will be enough, and that others (agents, editors, publishers, marketers) will do their jobs well and help me put my stories in the hands of people who will enjoy them.
It’s not bravado; it’s just how it is.
Also, I’m only on page 3 of the article so far, but I think a lot of what they’re saying — about the paying wild advances ahead of time and then losing out on those gambles — doesn’t mean the system is broken, only that it was misused. I think most authors would be happy to live “comfortably” (as opposed to lavishly off) their writing. I know I would. So if that’s the way we’re headed — turning writers back into fairly paid intellectuals instead of literary superstars — I can live with that.
Adaora A. says
Sometimes I feel like these articles come out like clockwork to put the fear of whoever or whatever in is. I think we’re all aware and mindful of the fact that the industry is changing. You mention publishing houses change in how they release books, and we know that Sony, Amazon and a few others (?) are doing things in new ways. We know that. With that said, it baffles me that they still constantly send a constant stream of ‘be very afraid the publishing industry is going to end.’ Honestly. I just prefer to ignore it and keep reading this blog. I’ll mind the gap.
I like the part where it says book trailers smack of desperation. Thank you!
Lorelei Armstrong says
I was once told that any time you see a system that is always in chaos and never finds stability, then chaos is its stable state.
Feel free to skip this comment if you know me already, because you can probably guess I’m going to say it.
If you think of history as a wheel rather than a line, we’re just at one somewhat nasty spoke. Every time there has been a change in technology – Gutenburg, web press, et cetera – some people won and some people lost.
What’s important is that more people have access to an audience than ever before, and many of them are simply jumping at the chance. They keep jumping and jumping like a room full of hyperactive schoolkids, in fact. I should know because I’m one of them (and the hyperactivity might explain the length of this post).
What I think is key is that anyone who finds a way to bring new voices to readers will be on top of this game. The same, old same-old has a place; will the new technology bring us a new literature and along with it a new view of culture? Sounds high fallutin’, but you can also make a nice buck off it if you do it right.
The King is dead, long live the King. Publishing will go on as long as there are readers, and that means we have to give ’em something they want to read. The old ways may die, and perhaps the old view of literature will die. But a new one will spring up to replace it.
I just had to jump back in here when I read that most writers would like to be able to live comfortably, not lavishly, from their writing. I’m going out there and declaring my mercenary intentions; I have lofty goals of living lavishly and making pots of cash and enjoying fame and fortune…sorry to be so crass, but it’s my truth. I’ll let you know how it all plays out.
I guess since publishing has never worked out for me, I’m okay with it coming to and end.
I can’t see ever giving up my physical books. Yeah, they’re a pain to store and move vs ebooks, especially when you’re a packrat bookworm like I am. I have a fair assortment of ebooks as well, which are rather nice to toss on my Alphasmart Dana and take with me to work to read when I’m either not in the mood to write, or it’s busy enough that I am interrupted too often to get much going in the way of writing. Ebooks are nice for reading to pass time, but when I want to curl up with a good book, it has to be on paper for me.
Nancy D'Inzillo says
One thing I noticed is that the article seems to address the end of big publishers, and doesn’t actually address small publishing or self-publishing. Either way, I figure publishing will pull through because I don’t think reading everything electronically will catch on to the point that the printed book becomes obsolete.
I am curious why, if, as the article hints, Amazon is trying to corner the market with the Kindle, publishers aren’t paying to have their own e-book readers created so that they won’t be at Amazon’s mercy.
As for the new 50-50, lesser advance model. . . The way I see it, most writers don’t get a huge advance, so expecting to be one of the few that would get a huge one is just a gamble anyway. Why not go with this option? And, really, who becomes a writer for the money? (It’s a laughable thought really.) It’s common enough knowledge that often enough even published writers still need a second job, and that’s even with decent advances.
Vancouver Dame says
One late comment – When I’ve been in my local bookstore – Chapters – I see people from all age groups still buying books. A whole demographic group, with purchasing power – the much talked about boomers, will not want to read ebooks. Naysayers will always predict the ‘end of – (whatever)’ whenever the status quo is threatened. Change will happen anyway or things become stale, and the bottom line will be whether the consumers want to buy one product or the other. Consumers need a choice, and if that isn’t addressed, the publisher will reap his just rewards.
I remember when books were considered something of value to be cherished and collected like antiques primarily because they were well-bound, had leather covers, pages that would never fall out, good quality paper that felt crisp when you touched it, and most important books were originally printed on acid-free paper so they would never decay and fall apart. Those books are now antiques and collectible at astronomical prices precisely because of their inherent value as lasting forever.
In today’s industry, the standard is mass production with ultimate throwaway value: books printed on acid paper, majority published as paperback, longevity lasting as long as the shelf-life of the book which isn’t much, and generally speaking fostering a lack of respect for the value of a book over and above the flavor of the month author on a best seller list and the profit. These books eventually end up as landfill because they are no longer worth keeping….they disintegrate in a few short years.
Libraries have hardbound books but they too are on acid paper which will eventually have to be thrown out. Our famed authors and their books are disappearing. Book publishing has become mass production to reach all audiences for the sake of a quick and profitable sale. The era of valuing books just for the quality of the book is gone. IS it any wonder that the industry as it exists now has dug itself a hole it can’t climb out of?
With environmental issues looming as our forests disappear, the possibility of paper disappearing jeopardizes the future existence of a physical book. Mind you there are other products out there such as hemp and so forth that could be used. What this suggests to me is that it will be inevitable that books and all other products made of wood product will eventually disappear into the technology that will replace what no longer works.
There is no point in bewailing the fate of the publishing industry. The die-hards of the old guard will have to take a long hard look at where it is all headed and get busy getting there ahead of their competition or they will be left eating the dust of those who know where it has to go.
Further comment about libraries – as a librarian myself, e-books and libraries that have nothing but e-books is the new model for future libraries. There is one being built in Philadelphia that is paper and pen free. Everything is electronic and accessed as well as read that way. The reason why this is becoming a commonplace event in future is because they are concerned about losing the purpose in having books exist – to preserve the knowledge and inherent entertainment value and quality of good book writing for future generations to come. Our libraries are the reservoir of writing history and they want to keep it that way. They have recognized where it is all headed and are investing in the future by getting a start on the future model of libraries before all the books of value have disintegrated and been lost to time.
Deaf Brown Trash Punk says
people always cry about stuff like this everyday. i’ve often heard claims that hollywood is dying off and then we get huge megahit films (See “The Dark Knight” for example).
So i’d hardly worry about the “end of the publishing world.”
oh, and Harry Potter? Twilight? James Paterson? Yeah I don’t think the end of the publishing world is near.