Friday, July 6, 2012

Publishing: An Industry Turned on Its Head

The publishing industry is in a state of upheaval. Duh. An hour’s worth of internet research can tell you that. The Net is packed with blogs chronicling the shifting sands of the industry. We can only be certain that nothing is certain.
Here’s a snapshot of the current situation as I see it. Traditional publishers are under incredible budgetary pressure. The number of titles they produce each year has dropped dramatically. This means each one has to earn more money. A book that loses money hurts more than it did a few years ago. Publishers can’t afford to take risks anymore. They need guaranteed sales. Luckily for them, there are two categories of books that can provide this.
The first are Non-fiction titles by widely known authors. Hence the glut of displays at your local book store touting titles ‘written’ by celebrities and reality show stars (Snooki wrote a book? I didn’t even know that chick could read!). Everybody knows their names and faces. The cover usually hints at the promise of inside gossip or something along those lines. These books have a short shelf life and probably won’t see many printings, but publishers can accurately predict how many they’ll sell.
The second group is made up of fiction written by the publishers’ stables of established authors. A publisher knows it will sell X thousand copies of anything with Stephen King’s name on it. The same goes for most established authors. They are known quantities and, as such, pose little to no risk for the publisher.
The big losers in this scenario are new fiction authors. It’s harder than ever for them to break into the ranks of the published. No one is willing to take a chance on them. This seemingly insurmountable obstacle to getting published coincided with another phenomena: e-books.
Since its introduction in 2007, the Amazon Kindle has been gobbling up market share faster than Pac Man after a power pellet. E-readers gave people the ability to shop for and buy books from the couch, bed, coffee shop…even from the bookstore for those with a penchant for irony.
As if that wasn’t enough, authors could now upload their own unpublished works for free and achieve instant access to a worldwide readership. The big publishers laughed. They were the gatekeepers, after all. Nobody would dare read an author without their approval. Well, people did read the books of these self-published Indie upstarts. They read a lot of them. The publishers were unmoved. To prove their superiority and protect print sales, they boldly offered e-book editions for the same price (higher price in some cases) as their print editions. They’re still doing this by the way.
Indie authors, on the other hand, are producing books of equal quality and production value to those of traditional publishers. And most are selling their novels for $2.99 or less. True, these indie titles are a mixed bag, but the market has done a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff so far. I’ve linked the blogs of several of the more successful indie authors on the left of my blog. Most have self-published best sellers. A few actually share their sales info. I’d lose control of my bodily functions over a fraction of their numbers.
Is this the end of traditional publishing? Maybe not.
A funny thing is happening more and more. These super successful indie authors are signing fat book deals with big publishers. Amanda Hocking, Tracey Garvis Graves, and E.L. James are just a few.
It makes good business sense for the publishers. These ‘new’ authors are a known quantity. They already have a following. The brand is established. And most of all, they have proven they can sell lots of books. Could it be that successful self-publishing (once stigmatized as the last resort of the truly desperate and untalented) is becoming the new gateway to traditional publishers? If you already sold 300,000 books on your own while earning 70% royalties, would you even want to sign with a publisher?
Who knows. The industry is changing so fast, it’s hard for any of us to know where it is, let alone where it’s going. But there are great opportunities for those aspiring authors willing to take a literary leap of faith. I don’t know how long this window will last, so if anyone is thinking of jump in. The only thing I have to say is, “Start writing!”

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