Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dying Embers

Months ago, I wrote a post in which I talked about the transition the book industry is undergoing.  I wrote this without a lot of research, only what I saw going on in the world around me.  Through a great deal of looking around since then, my awareness of books in transition has only been heightened, and I've become aware of something I believe to be undeniable:

Traditional publishing is dying.

Some folks who visit this blog will shake their heads and call me another disgruntled writer who is joining the ranks of those who are trying to bring down an industry that has been at the cornerstone of our intellectual society for nearly 600 years.  I can only ask that you trust that isn't the case.  I sent out barely a dozen queries nearly a year ago and haven't sent any since.  This is not burned out bitterness, simply a realization of fact.

It may take years to decades for the industry as we know it to fade completely, but the more I read about the trends, as well as the industry's reaction to those trends, the more I'm convinced that we're witnessing an industry that is in the throes of death.

More than a century ago, the horse and buggy industry went away because it forgot what its mission was.  It wasn't to sell people horses and buggies, even though that's what they thought - it was to provide for the public's transportation needs.  When some newfangled contraption called an automobile came along, rather than embrace it and adapt, they poo-poo'd it as a fad that would never last.  Sound familiar?

Let me be clear in this - I don't believe that novels or stories sold to the public are going anywhere, only that the people who get them to us are shifting.  The coming of both ebooks and low cost print on demand have changed the game.  Those who wanted to self publish were looked down upon as not good enough, and it was exceedingly expensive to accomplish well.  However, that's no longer the case.

In the print world alone, places like Lightning Source and CreateSpace have changed the dynamic.  It is now cheap enough to print a high quality book without going into hock or having to max out 12 credit cards the way William Paul Young did.  Thanks to the Internet and demand, graphic artists have sprung up and can create a great cover design on par with what you get from a traditional publisher for as little as $500, which once uploaded to your favorite POD company, can churn out a product that matches what you get at any bookstore.

But it's the ebook that has really revolutionized the way things are done.  They've made reaching a far wider audience easier for a cheaper price and have removed the constraints once faced by those who wanted to get to an audience.

Publishers seem to think their job is to sell hardbound print books and have forgotten that their real job is to get the stories of good writers in front of audiences for a reasonable price.  Instead of putting their considerable resources into truly cornering the digital market from the outset, traditional publishers have instead reacted the way the horse and buggy industry did - by digging in.  Ebooks are seen as a major threat against print books, so instead of lowering prices to attract buyers for new ebooks, publishers have instead tried to make ebook prices on par with their print books.  This is not some clumsy attempt to recoup investment cost, but rather a clumsy attempt to price ebooks out of the market so that folks have to continue to by print books.

When publishers had a headlock on authors, that might have worked.  However, stellar writers like JA Konrath, Sarah Hoyt, and Terry Goodkind have figured out that they already have an audience, and if they can reach that audience without forking over 80% or more of their money to a publisher who does little more than take control from the author in a market that is rapidly diminishing(print), why not strike out on your own?  These pioneers have helped remove the stigma of self publishing and led a lot more who might have otherwise given up once rejected to wade into the deep end.

Again, instead of figuring out that good writers no longer need them, traditional publishers have dug in even more.  They're putting out more restrictive contracts and payment plans, effectively trying to shackle their writers to them.  However, writers are getting fed up and leaving the traditional world once practices like those at Harlequin are uncovered.  Yes, there are more people currently lined up than leaving, but that'll soon change.  Further, as the good ones leave, publishers are forced to go with those next in line, and the quality benigs to drop off, similar to a football team who has put half its team on injured reserve.

By failing to recognize a changing market, traditional publishers have hurt only themselves.  Barring an EMP that shuts down the digital marketplace, these trends aren't going away.  You might not believe this, but it is with a twinge of sorrow that I write this post.  To me, publishers and writers should be working in concert to create the best story for their audience, but it isn't going that way.  Yes, there are great individuals at some of the publishing houses, but they are running into more and more bureaucracy and either losing sight of the end result or are having it taken from them.

With the loss of Borders, and the continuing decline of brick and mortar bookstores, publishers will have to find a different way to get their products into the hands of readers, and with so much choice out there, the average reader isn't going to tolerate being treated poorly as they have in the past.  Something too expensive or too much trouble will be set aside with the knowledge that they can go elsewhere and find what they're looking for.

I think it's still possibly for traditional publishers to turn things around, but I don't think the mindset exists for them to make it happen.  They simply don't understand how the world has changed, or they refuse to accept that they're no longer in control of it.  It's like a flame that sees an approaching rain storm and shouts at the clouds to respect it.  In the end, all that'll be left is smoke.


  1. I read your post with such interest. I feel you said it all... publishing companies are sticking to the old way... and they may get left behind. Our world is about change... there are many writers 'out there' who write wonderful books, yet... they are rejected.

    'Now'.... one can read what they write at anytime, it doesn't cost an arm/leg.

    I will tell you what I call the 'new age writer'..... I call them the 'American Idols that write'.....

    Example: Look at all the wonderful talents American Idol has uncovered that rival any singer today............ if they hadn't 'been given the chance'........ how could we know about them, appreciate them?

    We know in both cases... that they wouldn't be known about if the singing/writing companies had anything to do with it. They want 'all' to come through them.

    Same way with movie stars.... we have so many talented people in this big, old world... maybe 'now'... we can become aware of them, too.

    It's sort of like getting someone voted out of power so, we can get 'fresh air, change'.... they've held on just 'too long'.....

    Now... this comment comes from a person no other than Granny Gee... who doesn't know the first thing about all of this.

    I'm one who writes a blog, hopes one day I can publish maybe ten books, at least.... to give to my two grandchildren, and several special people in my life.

    Do you know why? So, there will be some record to be 'there, one day'.... for my two grandchildren to know 'who their Granny Gee' was.... 'who, their daddy Tommy'... was. No one else will be telling them who we are.

    My son died.... it was 'the end'. I have no more family.

    I feel this need to write, as so many people feel they have to write. We all desire to 'let someone know something'... mine being my grandchildren.

    I'm not trying to be famous... I just want my grandchildren to know I was a real person, a good person though not perfect at all.

    I want them to know things about their father no one ever bothered to know about him. He wasn't perfect, either.... but, he was a very kind person who'd give anyone the shirt off his back.

    I'm thankful that things are changing in the writing world... it might make possible for people who really want to write about what drives them to write... to have a chance to see it in print.

    It might make possible for me to afford to just have at least ten books printed.

    I know my comment is quite lengthy.. the words seemed to keep coming.

    Your post gave me hope... I feel your post 'gave everyone hope' to .... think after all their hard work writing.... that 'now, in today's time'... it really is possible to be published.

    I'm so happy that I read your post. It's meaningful to me... I'm really hoping now... I 'can see' really is possible. Thank-you. Granny Gee/Gloria

    1. I like the line about the "American Idol writers" - in today's day and age, all it takes is exposure to a large enough swath of people. Talent will find a way to the top.

      I'm sorry about your son, but I know your grandchildren will be appreciative of the effort you've gone to so they'll know who their father was.