A few weeks back, publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin had an interesting post on the fragmentation, or as he calls it, “atomization” of the publishing industry as the act of publishing grows increasing dispersed.
Without the requirement of an organization to reach the public through bookstores and without the requirements of capital or knowledge to create printed books, any organization that is routinely reaching people interested in a common topic — whether or not they are creating content around that topic now, but especially if they do — will find it constructive to publish, and well within their reach and means to do so.
That is: publishing will become a function of many entities, not a capability reserved to a few insiders who can call themselves an industry…
This is the atomization of publishing, the dispersal of publishing decisions and the origination of published material from far and wide. In a pretty short time, we will see an industry with a completely different profile than it has had for the past couple of hundred years.
He goes on to say that while the package of services that publishers provide to authors will still have appeal, he’s not sure whether those services will be enough to constitute an industry that looks like the one we know.
For now, publishers can still rely on those services and their print distribution to attract authors. In the future, they won’t have that. And as those services become the central differentiator, you have to wonder if the adversarial approach publishers occasionally take with authors (slow payments, lack of transparency) will give way to a true service-oriented approach.
When everyone can be a publisher, traditional publishers will have to compete on their service.
Art: Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster by Daniel Maclise
Melanie Schulz says
So many changes in such a short period of time for the publishing world
Joanne Fritz says
I fear this very thing. And I believe it's happening already. While it may be fantastic for authors who haven't been able to find a traditional publisher, it's diluting the industry and how it serves.
When everyone's a publisher, who will buy all those books? Who will read them?
Elisabeth Zguta says
Businesses need to spread their message and authors need to find readers – the didgital age is not only upon us, it has been happening for awhile now. Freedom to share content, and the ability for readers to choose what they read is a great liberation. The publishing industry needs to evolve if they want to keep in business. Antiquated systems need to change just like in any other business.
"tale as old as time…" ~Beauty and the Beast
Hasn't it always come to down to service, or more pointedly, relationships? Readers are most likely to buy books that their friends have suggested. Writers are more likely to transact with publishers who are friendly.
Sure, every now and then, a company is so fast or cheap that it doesn't have to be service-oriented, but that never lasts forever. Service, attentiveness, caring, etc. is how you win hearts and influence people. (Ask Dale Carnegie.)
Michael Offutt, S.F.A. says
Maybe what's needed is a revamp of the traditional publishing model with regard to bookstores. Allow me to explain:
Best Buy just partnered with Samsung following Apple's model of featuring tech giants having their own stores within a retail space and then having those specialists who work for the parent corporation on site to assist in picking out products.
Why couldn't Barnes and Noble or another kind of brick and mortar store do the same thing?
Why couldn't you have retail space divided up among traditional publishers like Random House and Knopf with specialty spaces and employees that work those spaces there to talk about their books?
Cynthia Washburn says
I've never been able to figure out why the author's contribution was only worth 4% or perhaps 15% with some publishers. Authors receiving 30 cents per paperback sold. I mean, without the author there would be no book, right?
J Keith says
I think the publishing industry will always have one thing small or independent publishers don't and that is the means to promo on a widescale and with already established relationships. Sure you can put your book on Amazon yourself but distribution and promotion are easier for large companies like big name publishers than they are for small ones.
Carmen Webster Buxton says
The digital transition made possible the rise of self-publishing, and this has, in turn, altered the balance of power. Authors have previously always needed publishers to get their work to their readers (and to make money). At the same time, publishers had a limited supply of authors (limited to those who had the talent, drive, and resources to produce readable typed manuscripts). Now, technology makes it possible for anyone with a few spare hours every week to produce a word processing file that he or she can call a book. On the other hand, authors who have honed their skills and grown a readership no longer need to settle for what a publisher will give them for handing over the rights to their work. The balance of power has shifted but publishers still provide value, mostly because authors don't want to have to spend time on anything but writing. Also, ebooks are still not the major format for sales, and getting books in bookstores still requires the kind of infrastructure and network that publishers have. Whether this will still be true in 10 years is a huge question.
I hope it doesn't go away. Publishers now serve as a sort of filter. They only publish things they think will make them money, and usually that means the book has some value.
coffee + cocoa =) says
as long as the people have the capacity and means why not.
I have to wonder if this atomization won't lead to even more competition for readers, with getting attention being the first hurdle. Aside from the very top tier of well-known writers, it may be increasingly difficult for writers of excellent stories to find a readership. That trend would seem to devalue what writers create, and demand more of their time marketing, rather than writing their work. I suspect the trend will be to bring down compensation for writers, rather than providing better services for them.
Mirka Breen says
Look at us here in the blogosphere; we already are publishers.
Some have begun to figure out this marketing thing also.
Brave article by Mike – and a powerful one – for a consultant to be so blunt and take such a stand undoubtedly made a strong impression. It's completely on target, imho, and I applaud him.
So, when you post these types of things, it gets tricky for me, Nathan.
Several months back I severely critiqued the Big Pub Houses on your blog, because posts like this led me to think that your stance had changed and was closer to mine (anti-BPH) ….But I was completely dismayed to find I had misjudged and I was totally offending you, which was the last thing I wanted!
Today, I find myself tempted to do the same thing, because I've never hear you say the the BPHs aren't service oriented and have an adversarial relationship to authors. Of course, you say "occasionally", while I would say "constantly", which is my clue not to rant, I guess.
But I will agree with your point. Publishers will need to transform into service providers for writers in order to compete. Definitely!
Jim Ryan says
"Publishing will become"? More like publishing *has* become. The movement towards authors doing it for themselves, making their own way and getting their own hands on the process, has been upon us for some time. The need for old publishers to be more responsive has come with no movement from them towards better authorial treatment, and has necessitated this sea change. It's no longer a time to wait to yell "Viva la Revolucion!" but time to get your memoirs published about what you did when it arrived…
My first job as an advertising creative took place during the Macintosh revolution. Almost overnight, typographers were out of business. And with more powerful computers and Adobe Photoshop, retouchers and photo-compositors either re-trained or retired. And would anyone even consider buying anything but a digital camera today? Hardly anyone goes into professional photography anymore, it's a zero growth profession.
And don't get me started on what happened to the music industry…
So here we go again, another huge industry turned upside down. Lots of people will be hurt by this and some will be helped. I have always been glad that I am on the content producing side of all this change,
they haven't been able to digitize creativity or imagination…yet.
Everyone already is a publisher. They can put up a poem on Facebook, or Tumblr, or wherever, any old time they want.
But I don't think traditional publishers will be competing for authors as much as all of us will be competing for readers.
As Carmen Webster Buxton says, "Now, technology makes it possible for anyone with a few spare hours every week to produce a word processing file that he or she can call a book." As Joanne Fritz says, "When everyone's a publisher, who will buy all those books? Who will read them?"
Which leads us to Marta: "Aside from the very top tier of well-known writers, it may be increasingly difficult for writers of excellent stories to find a readership. That trend would seem to devalue what writers create … I suspect the trend will be to bring down compensation for writers, rather than providing better services for them."
Publishing is tough, but it's not the toughest part. It has never been the toughest part. The toughest part is, has always been, and will always be, finding a customer base. A readership.
The new era will not be free of gatekeepers. It will just have different gatekeepers.
And who knows–maybe if none of us can make a living by selling our writing anymore, possibly we'll return to the model of having wealthy patrons bankroll our art. O Earl of Southampton, you're looking lovely tonight …
Lorilyn Roberts says
I love the free market economy.
Writing and publishing will take on the pattern of most commercially produced products: the best of anything made the public buys; those products that are inferior won't be bought and those companies won't survive. That's how business works.
The book industry will now be more subject to the same rules as other commodities–you better write a good book, have a good editor, and a good book cover, and lots of energy and time to promote it, or you won't be successful.
I believe more effort will need to go into the promotional end — maybe authors will even start advertising on TV, like movies and other products.
I believe it's a win-win for both the producer and the consumer. I will put my books up against anyone else's because I know they are good. I am in this for the long haul. I am not looking for a quick buck. I am looking for followers, consumers, those who will come back and read future books.
That kind of mindset will serve those well who are serious about writing. It's a business. The industry deserves that kind of quality — not controlled or monopolized by a few. The reader will have many more authors from which to choose.
Talent and creativity will serve the writer well who possesses them in abundance, along with some good business savvy.
I look forward to letting the readers determine the next best authors rather than a few publishing companies that would never give me the time of day. I am too old for them to invest a lot in but too young to believe I can't start another career.
I am enjoying the journey of self-publishing. So far it's been challenging, but I wouldn't trade what I have learned for any contract from any publisher.
Knowledge is power, and I want as much knowledge as I can gain. With power comes opportunities. I think if anything, we tend to make our hopes and dreams too small — too many rejection slips have some convinced they can't make it.
I believe the best is yet to come.
This past weekend a friend sent me a contract to look over before he signed it. It was with a small start up e-press, and the contract was boilerplate. Just from Amazon e-book sales alone, the author receives 28%…which is where most of his sales will mostly likely come.
As I said, this is standard, and this was only a small e-press. I've been in the same position more than once myself. In other words, you can't negotiate these things with small presses. So the small author has no choice but to sign and see what happens. Unless he or she decides to self-publish and e-book, which I have done, and have found my royalties to be consistently better than with any small press out there. It's all going to come down to finances as time goes by.
The fact that a genre author can now make more money self-publishing than he or she can with a small e-press says a great deal about the future. And, best of all, the author can price the books lower for readers and still make more money on the back end.
And please keep in mind that I'm not talking about hyped up sales figures. I'm talking about genre authors suplementing their incomes and making a few extra bucks a year. It's not a magic formula for millions. But it is better than only getting 28% on e-book sales.
The increasing ease of self-publishing certainly allows for more voices to be heard and more stories to be told (especially ones that aren't viewed as especially marketable). And I think that's a great thing! But it will also be easier for authors to write something and try to sell it without having gone through the editing most books require.
It will be interesting to see how readers make book selections. With so many books being published, will there be more emphasis on books that have won awards? Will readers view editors as more important — a book with a well known editor will (perhaps) be a smoother, better read? Will places like Goodreads become more necessary for finding good books? Will there be more professional review sites, like their are for films, to help people select the best book for their personal tastes and interests? Whatever happens, it will be very interesting! 🙂
I think competition is usually very helpful. So, if the ability for everyone to be a publisher makes the publishing industry better, then hopefully everyone (author, publisher, and reader) wins.
Emily @ Falling For YA says
I can see this issue both ways. While everyone becoming a publisher is diluting the market it is also forcing the big six to change how they deal with small things like e-books (there is a HUGE price fixing class action lawsuit right now against them), and other smaller publishing houses.
A little competition never hurt anyone and I think that everyone becoming a publisher is forcing readers to become more discerning when selecting books. Rather then blindly trusting a publishing house to select trends in the market readers can find whatever they want to read online through indie publishers, or self published authors.
Susie Lindau says
Do you believe that?
I think there is more than a package offered by traditional publishers. They offer a prize still held by many writers as an endorsement of a a good product. Who wouldn't want that?
I still feel that most readers prefer hard copy books and the majority of e-books aren't being professionally edited.
Publishers definitely need to evolve, but I don't see them disappearing.
Jami Gold says
I agree. I talked about this last August on my blog–that publishers were only as good as what they could offer to authors above and beyond (or easier) than what those authors could do themselves.
Publishers must be a value-add. Period.
I've been saying for years that publishers should treat their authors better. I've published many books traditionally and am a smart woman with a law degree, yet publishers treat me as if I'm a little girl, refusing to tell me their print run plans, not asking me for input on covers (which once resulted in the picture on the cover looking nothing like the way I described my protagonist), not sharing their promotion plans with me or breaking their promises about promotion, issuing complicated royalty statements (even complicated for a lawyer to read) months after the sales, taking many months to write a revision letter and then rushing me to do the revision, etc.
Stéphanie Noël says
I believe that with the increase in self-publishing, traditional publishers will be forced to change their approach with authors. Their services will have to be more competitive.
I do fear, however, what this will do to the publishing world. Self-publishing means that anyone with enough money will be able to publish books, some of which, let's be honest, will not be of very good quality. As saturation of the market will also follow. what will come out of that?
Now I think self-publishing will also evolve (at least I hope) to prevent such a thing, or at least part of it. Somehow, I feel like low quality books could have the same effect poor quality TV is having now, that is the production of more poor quality programs. And, even worse, a demand for such shows.
I don't think there is anything snob in wanting to maintain the quality level to a certain standard.
I guess the next few years will tell.