I’ve already linked to this, but it warrants a second link. If you want to understand the basic problems facing book publishers in 2014, then read this post. In it, replace the large publishers and niche players that Mike refers to with small general players and consider how the trends and realities he discusses endanger them. It’s both illuminating and unsettling:
But that’s today when the online-offline division may be near 50-50 overall and is 75-25 for certain niches. If those numbers become 75-25 and 90-10 over the next five years, the bookstore market really won’t matter that much to most authors anymore. Whether through self-publishing or through some fledgling publisher that doesn’t have today’s big publisher capabilities but also doesn’t have their cost structure, authors will feel that the big organizations are less necessary than they are now to help them realize their potential.
via The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishing – The Shatzkin Files.
When Mike talks about the challenge publishers will face in retaining authors, I’m struck by how his thoughts reflect those I wrote back in 2006 (Authors Will Drive Change) early in my blogging about this ongoing shift we’re all a part of:
What’s more you can package your content in any variety of ways. Make a podcast or your poetry and push it on iTunes. Act out your play and upload it to YouTube or your preferred location. It is easy to do it all now and to do it well. Maybe the cost of a decent designer or video editor will take a summer to save for or a winter of being cold avoiding buying new jumpers but the costs are so achievable it is exceptional.
The point is that publishing is no longer just about books and even more it is no longer about waiting for a publisher to decide your work is good enough for print.
Options abound and as more and more writers realise that they will take advantage of it. E-books will push this change even more. There is no reason why authors’ royalties should be the same on e-books as they are for paper books and in many ways there is no reason why the authors cannot sell e-books themselves rather than through a publisher. Why should you sell a paper publisher your digital rights when there is no need?
Of course the real growth in power for authors is with two groups; the super successful authors who already command high advances and special treatment, and those who were never going to be published anyway. In both cases options abound for changing the current model.
Where things are less easy to decide is the mid-list. Here, as bookstores fail and ebook sales gravitate towards the winners and the margins, there may be difficult years ahead for those who fall into either the average writer space or the average sales space.
None of that solves the headaches publishers face!