- From Frankfurt: OR Books Preaches Elegant, Direct Model [Publishing Perspectives]: Their model: Direct sales, low advances/high royalties, big marketing push, and licensing to trad publishers.
- Will technology kill book publishing? Not even close [Harold McGraw III and Philip Ruppel, USAToday]: "Why is there such a gap between the perception of a dying industry and the reality of a rapidly adapting one?" Five myths.
- Random House sees e-book sales jumping: CEO [Reuters]: "Random House…expects electronic books to contribute more than 10 percent of its U.S. revenue next year."
- Publishers’ crazy e-book prices [Dan Gillmor, Salon]: "Having taken control of pricing from Amazon, publishers are foolishly pushing down demand."
- Trying to borrow library e-books a frustrating exercise [Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun]: "I've recently borrowed a Kobo e-reader, and for the past two weeks I've been trying (in vain) to borrow an e-book."
UPDATE: See Alan de Smet’s comment on the “Will technology kill book publishing?” piece: “. Traditional publishers will find themselves increasingly marginalized. To the extent that publishers continue to dominate, they will do so as highly streamlined companies that serve authors, not bookstores or even readers.”
- October 12, 2010 @ 06:50:07 [Current Revision] by Scott Rosenberg
- October 11, 2010 @ 22:55:13 by Scott Rosenberg
Alan De Smet
The “Will technology kill book publishing?” article feels desperate denials of reality. “We’re not doomed. You need us. Because the publisher practically part of the creative team! And who will make the multimedia that ebooks obviously need? And I hear paywalls are coming back, so that’s good, right?”
Sure, publishers will still exist. But you’re going to see serious, successfully works created without them. Traditional publishers will find themselves increasingly marginalized. To the extent that publishers continue to dominate, they will do so as highly streamlined companies that serve authors, not bookstores or even readers. This is the route music has been going for years; half of the music I’ve bought in the last five years was directly from a self-published artist. The avalanche of online video, both short form and long form, is giving hints to where we are going.
To take one concrete example, the tabletop role-playing games industry (Dungeons & Dragons and the like) is slowly accepting exactly how niche it is. Beyond the two or three largest companies, the market is vanishingly small. Companies tend to be a handful of people. Editing, layout, and illustration is increasingly provided by individuals working on a contract basis for the author/designer, not a publisher. When the author is satisfied, it’s sold as ebooks and print-on-demand. The margins are thin; few people are making a living at it. But it’s generating lots of innovative work, creators are happy, and so are the customers.
Part of accepting the future of publishing is accepting that profit is going to disappear. Prices must be low, or you need a dedicated following. If your prices are considered too high, there will be copies. The music industry failed to make DRM work, and the movie industry isn’t having much success. Why would the book publishing industry be immune? With aggressive pricing, making a living at writing could well be a full time job for the creator, who will be forced to do marketing, production, customer support, merchandising, and more. There won’t be the margin to support a monolithic publishing house. See the more successful webcomics whose creators have successfully made it a full time job for an example (Penny Arcade, PvP, Megatokyo, Sluggy Freelance, Dresden Codak, and more). Of course, how many authors make a living at writing now? People doing work as editors, illustrators, or designers will have to sell themselves to keep a stream of work to pay the bills. (Here, see the RPG industry, where many skilled editors, illustrators, and designers work contract-to-contract.)
The future is scary as hell. But McGraw isn’t providing clear-sighted truth; he’s wishing for everything to stay the same. Denying the future is going to make it worse when it arrives. Perhaps he’ll be lucky and the fall of big publishers will be slow enough to not impact him. But it’s coming, and the successful will be the ones to adapt more quickly. I notice that Comedy Central is making every episode of The Daily Show available online so they can make money off advertising instead of giving it away to YouTube and the Pirate Bay. That’s a sign of a company honestly grappling with the scary future.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Alan. I’m with you most of the way. I do think there will be room for publishers to carve out smaller and more creative roles for themselves as things change (I found the OR books piece interesting in that regard). But McGraw/Ruppel definitely seemed more in denial — like newspaper publishers a decade ago.
Just to be clear: when I link to a piece I’m doing so because I think it’s noteworthy in some way, not because I agree with it…