Posts Tagged future of publishing
Three days ago, The New York Times published a rather doomsday on-line article written by Scott Turow (current head of the Authors Guild), titled The Slow Death of the American Author . I must admit this is a great title, guaranteed to scare the pants off the best of us. In fact, I received so many frightened e-mails from writers who wanted me to address this article, that I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer my analysis of Turow’s assertions.
Turow is Absolutely Correct
There is a slow death of the American Author…of the Old Paradigm.
What Turow doesn’t appear to grasp is that technology, particularly communication technology exacts sweeping cultural change that cannot be reversed (short of war or global apocalypse). Most modern humans aren’t going to trade in their flatscreens and XBoxes for a “good old-fashioned story told by the fire.”
“Technological change is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological. One significant change generates total change.” (Postman, Technopoly, 18)
To Everything There is a Season…
The bard slowly disappeared with the invention of the printing press. Those who were good storytellers had to learn to write them and publish their stories if they hoped to make a living.
Storytellers who wanted to continue standing on corners reciting epic tales (as had been done for centuries) eventually came to the hard realization they’d been replaced by a paper book that could be read by a cozy fire. No more invitations to wealthy homes to tell tales (for pay).
Rich people were too busy reading novels.
If storytellers wanted to eat and pay the bills, they needed to pick up a pen and put it to paper. They had to change the way they’d always done business if they wanted to
The Death of an Era
The American Author, as Turow understands it, writes books, relies on an agent and publisher, and trusts to earn as many royalties as possible from as many sources as possible. FREE! is anathema and social media is too plebeian…and yes, these types of authors are slowly dying.
What Turow is failing to understand is that the fundamental job expectations of the writer has transformed in the Digital Age. This is one of the largest reasons I encourage authors to engage on social media, to blog and create a platform that regularly interacts with fans (and recruits new ones), and to learn the business of their business.
When we create a community on social media, not only will fans buy books full price but they will also be some of our fiercest watchdogs for piracy. I’ve had many author friends who discovered their pirated work from a fan and, subsequently, were able to take action to have the pirated work removed.
Let Them Eat Cake
But I know authors of the old cloth who rail against technology. I’ve met too many of them. When I mention engaging on social media and talking to regular people, they curl their lips and sneer, “I don’t want to talk to anyone. I just want to write” (actual conversation).
Doesn’t that make you want to hand this person money?
We’re in a tough economy. Money and time are scarce. Yet, there exists this old literary aristocracy who cannot be bothered talking to us lowly proletariat (code for “readers”), because it might “steal time from their art.”
Here’s the thing. If we expect people to support us, give us money and time they don’t have, the very least we can do is talk to them and have a good attitude about it.
In the Digital Age, the best way to generate sales, decrease piracy, and translate FREE! into a sale is to be active on social media and engage. All this costs is some extra time and genuine friendliness. Yet, I find the authors who howl the most about the evils of FREE! and who are the most concerned about being ripped off are the same ones who grouse about ”having to actually talk to people.”
And if I hadn’t encountered this priggish attitude so many times, I wouldn’t bother mentioning it. Yet, this starchy thinking is not unusual among the Old Paradigm Author. They denounce social media, criticize e-books, and wail about the evils of Amazon.
Yet, strangely these authors never seem to question why the Publishing Monarchy hasn’t parted with more of the spoils. In this new age (where e-books cost so little to produce) why are so many of the traditional authors still the ones who are paid the last and the least?
Viva le Roi Vive le Revolution!
We are in a Revolution. In the Old Paradigm, the reality of life as a writer was nasty, brutish and often unfair. A small few enjoyed the fruits of being real writers. There was the small percentage of those whom the Publishing Monarchy granted titles and access to court (literary contracts), while the regular serfs in the field accepted their lot (“aspiring” writers who gave up and returned to the day job).
A handful of the writing majority worked tirelessly in hopes they, too, might earn invitation to join the upper crust of being “published.” Once the writer gained access, he could scrabble up the
ranks list for a chance at earning his writing royalty title #1 New York Times Best Selling Author.
And these types of promotions into Publishing Aristocracy happened with enough regularity to keep the dream alive among the masses and prevent all-out revolution. Additionally, without a real invitation from court (a publishing contract), there was no other way to “make it” as a writer. Self-publishing was mocked as a false coat of arms and regarded with general disdain.
It’s a Contract, Not a Panacea
In the Old Paradigm, a publishing contract had the power to get a writer’s foot in the door, but was hardly a magic bullet for success. Only a very small handful of writers earned enough to quit the day job, and most of the wealth was held by a tiny top tier percentage. There was a weak and struggling author middle class, and the rest of us were literary serfs dreaming that one day we’d live like the author on the hill.
I don’t say this with any judgement. Before the Digital Age, there was only one way to make it. The New World had yet to be discovered…
The Winds of Change
Then with the advent of social media, e-books, and other digital tools, suddenly the entrenched power structure could no longer keep tight control of the industry. We writers no longer had to rely on favor granted by the Publishing Aristocracy, because they no longer held sole keys to the kingdom (publishing and distribution).
The Digital Age has created a robust bourgeoise of writers who are a hybrid of artist and innovative, hard-working entrepreneur. This new bourgeoise embrace FREE! and harness it to power future sales. This new breed of author is as creative in business as she is in her novels, and she works the crowds like she’s our near and dear friend (not pouting like a debutante required to do community service).
As Mike Masnik from Tech Crunch states in his blog Author’s Guild’s Scott Turow: The Supreme Court, E-Books, Libraries and Amazon are All Destroying Authors:
If you’re an author earning nothing at all, then you’ve got bigger problems than technology. It probably means you’re mired in obscurity and no one knows who the hell you are.
On top of that, it means you’ve done nothing at all to connect with your fans. Because we’ve seen authors who actively encourage the piracy of their books, but who also work to connect with their fans, and have seen their sales go way up, because those fans want to support the authors.
The new Digital Age Author understands that blogging and tweeting are hard, but they also appreciate that these are the very activities that the amatuer is too lazy to do and what the old aristocracy is too good to do.
The Author of the Digital Age refuses to accept the 93% failure rate of the “good old days” and he boards the rickety boats and sets sail for the New World, knowing that while it is full of danger, blistering work, and uncertainty, there is also vast treasure to be discovered.
The Age of the Author
People are reading more now than ever in human history. They are craving and consuming information at unprecedented rates, and it is an amazing time to be a writer. But the old business model is crumbling. As mentioned in Nathan Bransford’s blog, In the Future, Will Everyone Be a Publisher?, big publishing is atomizing.
The power structure is caving. The parties are no longer as lavish, and the court doesn’t dress nearly as nicely as they did in the publishing heyday. BUT, for the first time, authors (especially fiction authors) are making a really good living doing what they love—WRITING.
While Turow wails that authors are dying, he seems to be forgetting about Barry Eisler who famously turned down a half million dollar deal with his publisher to go on his own. Turow is also apparently unaware of the many successful self-published authors who’ve translated successful e-book sales into favorable print deals with traditional houses. He looks all too unaware of the astonishing success of publishers who’ve passed up the old business model and innovated to keep pace with a new culture.
An Age of Freedom
These days authors no longer have to accept whatever deal NY offers. If the author doesn’t like the terms, she can partner with the emerging digitally savvy publishers who “act more like partners than gatekeepers” (Masnik).
The Bottom Line
It all boils down to this. The world has changed. There is a new paradigm and it’s birthing a very new type of reader who has very different expectations. This, in turn, has altered our job requirements if we hope to be successful.
Yes, it is more work, but the odds of success are far higher. The Old World had 172,000 books published in a year and 160,000 of those sold less than 1,000 copies (per Book Expo of America stats 2006—pre-e-book explosion and social media saturation).
Welcome to the New World of Publishing
The New World, however, is ripe ground for the author-entrepreneur. Fiction authors are now making enough to write full time. Many are making six and seven figures, a pay grade once relegated to only a handful of the upper crust.
BUT, there is a cost.
In this New World there are few existing structures and many of the rules have yet to be written. We are setting foot on wild shores with no blacksmith or stables. No established farms or existing housing. We are responsible for building it.
The authors of the old model can learn from the passionate and generous indie entrepreneurs. Publishing houses can innovate. IT IS A GREAT TIME TO BE IN PUBLISHING. Yes, we all have new roles and more work, but the good news is…WE ARE NOT ALONE.
To end with a little laugh, some Mel Brooks…
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!
changes in the publishing industry, future of publishing, indie publishing, Kristen Lamb, Nathan Bransford, New York Times Slow Death of the American Author, publishing climate, Scott Turow Slow Death of the American Author, WANA, We Are Not alone
The Reader of the Digital Age–Trust me, he won’t miss paper.
Ah, the times they have changed. The year was 1983 and life was good. Summers filled with trampolines, swimming pools and evening walks to the snow cone stand. Cartoons were only on Saturdays, and if we stayed up too late playing Bloody Mary and toilet-papering the neighbor’s trees and overslept, we were out of luck for another week.
Music stores were a rare treat, a place to spend birthday money or blow our allowance, and a Fox Photo Hut graced virtually every grocery store parking lot. My mother would always turn in the film and then the car would break down and we’d run out of money. No one knows how many of my brother’s baby photos were lost.
What did they DO with all those pictures people couldn’t afford to pick up?
Who would have thought that one day, everyone would walk around typing messages on a phone? Or taking and then sending pictures with that phone? Who would have believed that a computer company would be a larger distributer of music than Tower Records? That car stereos would stream tunes from satellites floating above the Earth’s atmosphere? No more cassette tapes. Who could have envisioned a day that Kodak would be a memory and a home telephone an anachronism?
It is an amazing time, and I can say that Star Trek fans did envision a lot of these changes. Yet, even when we see it coming, it is very surreal to see it actually here. As an avid Trekkie, I do like to think of myself as a Futurist, so today we are going to indulge my future vision.
The Big Six have a new problem…Microsoft.
Yes, it does look like Microsoft is what is going to save Barnes & Noble’s tails. From this article by Felix Salmon on WIRED:
Barnes & Noble has sold a 17.6% stake in its digital and college businesses to Microsoft, for $300 million — a deal which values B&N’s remaining 82.4% stake at $1.4 billion. And while the $300 million is staying in the new joint venture and therefore not available to help the bookstore chain with cashflow issues, the news does mean that Barnes & Noble won’t need to constantly find enormous amounts of money to keep up in the arms race with Amazon. That’s largely Microsoft’s job, now.
So why is this a problem for the Big Six?
The same reason that Apple (a computer company) was a problem for Tower Records, that Sprint (a cell phone company) spelled death for Kodak and that Amazon (an on-line distributor of everything from camping equipment to push-up bras) gave Border’s its mortal blow.
The Big Six are dead. Welcome the Massive Three. More on this in a moment…
The past ten years have been nothing but market Darwinism. The slower species who refused to adapt to the new climate after the comet strike (birth of the Internet coupled with an affordable personal computer) are now being devoured by the faster, hungrier and more agile creatures.
Notice Tower Records, how it defended how music-lovers, “would always want CDs and music stores.” Instead of realizing it was in the “music business” not the CD business, it stood there, dumb and immobile…..*munch* then the Appleosaurus Rex ate it whole.
Then Kodak stood looking at the shiny black hole that was its business plan. It put both feet in and got stuck. Sprint flew out of the sky and took chunk after chunk while the Kodak beast cried foul. “People will always want film pictures!” it wailed as it bled.
All the Kodak beast had to do was grab the digital stick, but it was too stuck. Soon the other digital predators smelled blood and the parsed the Kodak beast until it finally died in a pool of red.
Now we come to the book distributors and publishers. “People will always want paper!” they cry, even as they can smell Border’s bloated, dead storefronts rotting in the sun.
I think the metaphor is clear.
Amazon took out Borders and gave Barnes & Noble a nice flesh wound. The Amazonasaurus also took a nice chunk out of the Big Six. B&N and the Big Six need to ask the hard question.
Will people really always want paper? Did they really always want records and CDs? No. Did they really always want film? No. The view from the cave is nothing but a graveyard of former giants, bleached bones from the rulers of an age that has passed.
Adapt or die is the message. Ah, but the Big Six could have a problem.
See Barnes & Noble has proven it can scrabble with the best of them and even get in some sucker punches below the belt. They had no problem devouring the indie bookstore when it suited them to claw their way to the top of the food chain. Now that it has partnered with Microsoft, should the Big Six be worried?
My opinion? YES.
Barnes and Noble likes being an apex predator. It got a taste for being on top in the 90s, and, make no mistake, it longs to revive the glory days.
Who can blame them?
If I were the Big Six, I would worry big time. Why? Because, the only disposable part of this relationship is…the publishing houses.
I have to say, my hat is off to B&N. That company has moxie. I’ve blogged a number of times how the Big Six should have revisited its relationship with B&N. Once books went digital and e-book sales took off, propping up a paper distributor was just a bad plan.
In my blog Bracing for Impact–The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm I said there was really no reason that the Big Six couldn’t sell directly to the consumer and just distribute the books themselves. I advised that they make the move and go digital. For paper? Focus on POD technology, the consignment model was too inefficient.
Hmmm, a fan of this blog sent the link to that post to the CEO of B&N. Curiouser and curiouser…
I LOVE NY publishing. I have consistently tried to help them. With the model I proposed, New York would never again have wasted money on books that didn’t sell. They could have ruled the Digital Age well. The Big Six would have only sold books that, well…sold. And in my model, they could have partnered with Barnes & Noble and done it together.
Ah, but B&N has a new friend, and you know the saying, “Two is company and three is a crowd.”
Some see Microsoft’s investment as a good thing for publishing. Finally, Amazon is going to get a run for its money. Not only does the Nook now have the backing of the Windows giant, but now consumers don’t need to buy an e-reader to have one.
Now an e-reader will be built into every Microsoft operating system. Kindles and Nooks will eventually be for only the die-hard fans, because readers won’t really need them (kind of like cameras were replaced by our cell phones).
Amazon has been able to gain market share by capitalizing on its Kindle. Ah, but that was before the Microsoftisaurus decided it wanted to get into the publishing business, and, Barnes and Noble, being the crafty survivor, made a big new friend a bad new digital world. Microsoft is investing because it just makes sense.
Amazon shouldn’t be the only one reporting record gains each quarter. While the Microsoft-B&N deal is serious bad juju for Amazon, I think they will weather just fine. Amazon is the very definition of “adaptable.”
I have consistently wondered why New York didn’t grab hold of e-publishing. Why couldn’t the Big Six open digital divisions? Why didn’t they seek out Microsoft? Why couldn’t Random House have a self-publishing division that allowed authors to upload e-books for sale (um, like B&N’s PubIt). Then they could vet out authors, and only “officially” represent those authors who’d met a certain standard (X amount of sales).
I know this new world seems very strange, but it seems as if computer companies are destined to rule the Digital Age, which I suppose only makes sense. It has a bit of poetry to it if one thinks about it.
The Big Six, in my opinion, are in big trouble, because they really are no longer…necessary. This doesn’t make me at all happy to predict. I’ve tried and tried and tried to help, but to no avail. The Big Six might remain for a few more years, but frankly, what advantage do they hold? What do they really have to offer other that a crap load of overhead?
Sure they have a love for the written word that the new giants don’t possess, but then again, Kodak held an unrivaled passion for photography and that didn’t save them from the iPhone.
No matter what way I look at it, I can’t see how the Big Six can remain relevant. The Windows has closed, pardon the pun.
Literary agents and editors have home mortgages to pay, and they’ll go where the money is (and NY is hemorrhaging cash). No one can fault them for wanting to eat and be able to put braces on their kids’ teeth. Cover design? I think Microsoft can handle finding a graphic designer or two.
Oh, and then Microsoft doesn’t have to build in stratospheric Manhattan rents and horrific costs of shipping paper into the book price.
NY once had a sole lock on distribution. Well, that went away. Then, they were the Gatekeepers who offered us the promise of a certain quality (just ignore the Snookie book deal).
Yet, indie has really changed. Some of the best books are coming out of this movement. Additionally, some of NY’s best talent has defected (Bob Mayer, Joe Konrath, and Barry Eisler to name a few) and more are bound to follow. Authors are getting tired of the depressing odds of success in the traditional paradigm, and instead of NY offering its authors a bold new plan for the future (like partnering with Microsoft FIRST), it comes up with brilliant gems like “agency pricing.”
Oh, and then there is the new talent, the fresh ranks. Unpublished writers are seeing their friends self-publish and make thousands of dollars a month and that is very appealing. Logic dictates that some of the best writers who work the hardest and who are the most professional might just try it alone first.
Writers now don’t have to keep querying and hope for gatekeeper approval. We can go to the reader and try our luck there. We might not make enough to live off at first, but, frankly, the slush pile doesn’t give us gas money.
*waves to Amazon*
What I don’t understand is that these companies don’t seem to grasp that the nostalgia card only plays so far. Microsoft understands what the Big Six doesn’t. People won’t always want paper. They want to push a button and a have a book delivered quickly and cheaply from outer space.
In a world where gas is $5 a gallon, why would we want to fight traffic across town to go to a physical bookstore? In a world where we can have hot yummy pizza delivered to our doors in 30 minutes, why would we wait a week for a book in the mail?
So what do I see? Instead of Big Six, we now have the Massive Three–Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. Amazon likely will open physical bookstores (probably in old Borders storefronts). And Microsoft will just use B&N to sell paper and maybe some Nooks. Yes, paper will always be around, it just won’t be the lion’s share like it used to be.
And writers? We are artists and they will always need us to produce the content. We have to adapt as well and this is why I have dedicated the last few years of my life training writers for the Digital Age. It is a WONDERFUL time to be a writer.
Welcome to the future. Beam me up, Scotty!
Okay, so what are your thoughts? Does someone see what advantage the Big Six still holds? How can they pull out of this tail-spin? Do you think I am wrong about the Massive Three? Is this a good thing for writers? Is this bad for writers?
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Note–Will announce the winner Friday. Thanks .
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.
Amazon, authors, future of publishing, indie publishing, Kristen Lamb, Microsoft deal with Nook, Microsoft partner with Barnes and Noble, PubIt, self-publishing, traditional publishing, WANA, We Are Not alone, Writing
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