The publishing industry exists solely to connect the work of an author with the eyes of a reader and, for traditional publishing, the supply chain from author to reader is a long one. It looks like this:
Traditionally, at each step along the way, each part of the chain added value to the transaction and took a piece of the action. However, this chain is breaking link by link. The first to go was the independent bookstore which will soon be followed by just about all brick and mortar bookstores. Another link that is eroding is the printer. As more and more people are reading books on their eReaders (Kindle, Nook, Sony), tablet computers (iPad, Blackberry Playbook etc.) and smart phones, fewer and fewer books will actually be printed. Amazon.com is already selling more books in Kindle format than in print! I predict that in five years over 80% of all books sold will be electronic. Where will that leave the printers, shippers, book distributors and bookstores?
In a digital book world, where an author can write a book and publish it on Amazon and Apple’s iBooks and Nook and Kobo and Sony, what value does a publisher add?
“Marketing!!” they all shouted. Well that’s not so true. Publishers only actively market the works of a small handful of their A-list authors… the same authors from whom they are taking a large slice of the ebook pie. As people become more used to eReaders, they will discover that they can buy world class books from previously unknown indie authors for prices in the $0.99 – $4.99 range. Why pay the $14.99 that Macmillan is trying to get Amazon to swallow for the name brand authors, when you can buy a bunch of great indie books for the same amount?
Over the next little while, I think we will be seeing some very well known authors abandoning their publishers and going direct. I would much rather pay $9.99 to read a Michael Connelly or Lee Child or Simon Kernick book on my iGizmo than to pay $25+ for the hardcover or $15 for the paperback… and so would the authors, for two reasons:
- With no publisher in the mix, they would be getting about $6.85 per download in royalties and
- They would get that royalty per reader, not per book. In a paper world a book gets bought by one person and read by maybe ten more as it gets passed around; not so with an ebook.
Those who follow the publishing industry are already observing cracks in the structure and publishing is not alone. Observe the demise of EMI and others in the music business. I also believe that broadcasting is in for a big fall: networks and local stations will disappear as consumers download content direct from the producers, whether that content be news, movies or TV shows.
The new paradigm is Author→Amazon/Apple/Sony etc.→Reader. Now, an author who writes SciFi books about gay, vampire Martians can bypass the tastes of agents and publishers and try and find his own audience. It provides a great opportunity for niche writers who can not get the attention of the publishing establishment.
Publishing may not yet be dead but when you attend the funeral, remember: you read it here first. 🙂
See also the post Books vs. Bytes.
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