Sunday, August 8, 2010
A couple of interesting developments in the field of writing lately.
1. Amazon.com recently announced that the majority of their business in books is now in ebooks. More people are now reading their books on their kindles and computers than ordering their physical counterparts.
2. Dorchester Publishing, a mass market romance publisher, has just announced they will be dropping the traditional print publishing model in favor of ebooks and print on demand.
Ebooks are the future...and they are a future where the author has direct access to the market if he is willing to go it alone. And there are lots of authors doing just that. So the question I've heard floated around recently is, "Do publishers have a future? Do they serve any real purpose?"
The simple answer to those questions is...Yes.
As the market changes, those publishers who adapt to the new realities will survive. The larger ones who continue to try and preserve their roles as gatekeepers will be the ones that suffer the most, since the reality is the walls have been knocked down all around the gate they're trying to keep. But I still view them with worry as I can envision them trying through legal or corporate means to put the genie back in the bottle and causing a lot of mischief before they fail. My biggest worry is some kind of business arrangement being made with Amazon.com where they only carry works by publishers on the kindle, in return for bigger profits on the books by publishers that they sell. I know that sounds paranoid, but I can imagine that idea being bounced around at the top offices of Random House or elsewhere. I think such an effort would be doomed to fail, eventually, but it's just evil enough I could envision somebody trying it.
Oh well, outside of paranoid scenarios, I still think publishers have a role in the business. I think it's an emerging threefold role in the coming market, and the publishers who realize that and work with it will be the ones who prosper. Those three roles will be...
1. Replacing their roles as gatekeepers with roles as guaranteers of quality. In the new market where anybody can publish anything, there is going to be a lot of dreck out there. Reputation will start to become a very important thing as readers learn to view each new ebook with suspicion, wondering if it's just another poorly edited and formatted work thrown out there in hopes of a quick buck. Publishers can use their names as a seal of approval, for works worthy of that.
2 Not all authors are going to be either tech savvy enough, or confident enough, to go the route of self publishing. They will always prefer the security of a publisher between them and the market. I don't foresee there ever being a dearth of writers who just don't want to deal with non writing stuff. Thats a trait shared by a large number of writers. This role is different from publishers who view themselves as gatekeepers...this type of publisher will view themselves as enablers.
3.Even authors who can self publish, could find the services of a publisher useful. First of all, there is the editing. A publisher who offers editing and other services could build a clientele of self published authors. Same with cover work. Not all self published authors can just whip up their own covers. And of course theres that process of getting a copyright and stuff like that. A savvy small publisher could develop good relationships with self published authors while selling them their services. I think relationships will be an important part of the future between writers and publishers.
So the three new roles that the new market will need are quality guaranteer, enabler, and service provider. The publishers who adapt and rise to meet those needs will be okay. Those standing around guarding gates out in a lonely field somewhere will probably not do as well.
Also, there are times when even a competent self publishing author might feel a particular project would be best served being published under a trusted publishers name. I know a lot of self published authors view publishers in an adversarial light, but I think that's short sighted. I believe that small publishers and writers, even self published writers, have a lot to offer each other and having a good relationship with each other would benefit both of them. Even though I'm getting better and more comfortable with self publishing, I can think of several situations where I might still prefer to use a publisher. It's all a matter of having the right fit for the right project.