The Future of Publishing?
A number of people have asked me what I think the publishing world will look like when the dust has settled on the current revolution, and last weekend I was invited to participate in a think tank on how to promote books in a changing industry. There have been a lot of posts about print vs e-books. There’s also been a lot of hand-wringing about piracy, and of publishing going the way of the music industry. But very few people are seeing this for the opportunity it is.
My instinct is that, with e-books still a relatively small proportion of total sales, the changes will not be as dramatic as many fear and we should all settle down and get back to the work of writing and producing great stories.
Ultimately, I suspect that many new writers will go straight to e-books, even if they are published by a major house, and that the most successful books, the ones we want to keep and have on display in our homes as an expression of identity as clear as the clothes we wear and the way we decorate, will also be printed as collectors’ pieces.
Mid-list authors need no longer fear the day when their books go out of print. They can enjoy renewed life as e-books and bring in a tidy income, if the story is good enough.
What does concern me is the trend to play safe. The major houses have to watch the bottom line, and are therefore taking less and less risk with unconventional storytelling or smaller, more personal stories. They want “big” books. But that leaves the reading public intellectually and emotionally poorer.
For those who write big books the future has never looked brighter, and if you take Kevin Mowrer’s advice to heart on the creation of meta-stories (stories that can shape-shift into video games, movies, merchandising, etc), the sky’s the limit. But not every story is suited to that kind of treatment.
I do anticipate that there’ll be a flood of e-books of inconsistent quality, fighting for attention with well-edited mid-list authors’ e-books and new ‘straight-to-e-format’ books. So where’s the filter? How do we find the nuggets of gold in the mountains of sand? There’s a need for some kind of aggregation or sub-categorization of e-books to help people find what they want. We will need e-book curators, picking the best and displaying them for the time-challenged reader.
The question I have for you is, what form will that take? How can we make it easier for readers to find properly edited, quality e-reads?
Suggested Further Reading:
The world of book publishing is going through turbulent times. For nearly five centuries the methods and practices of book publishing remained largely unchanged, but at the dawn of the 21st century the industry finds itself faced with perhaps the greatest challenges since Gutenberg. A combination of economic pressures and technological change is forcing publishers to alter their practices and think hard about the future of the book in the digital age.
In this book – the first major study of trade publishing for more than 30 years – Thompson situates the current challenges facing the industry in an historical context, analyzing the transformation of trade publishing in the United States and Britain since the 1960s. He gives a detailed account of how the world of trade publishing really works, dissecting the roles of publishers, agents and booksellers and showing how their practices are shaped by a field that has a distinctive structure and dynamic. Against this backdrop Thompson analyzes the impact of the digital revolution on book publishing and examines the pressures that are reshaping the field of trade publishing today.