Publishing’s dead… long live publishing

Well of course, book publishing is not dead but, without doubt, it is terminally ill with no cure in sight. Taking off my author’s hat, I have been looking at publishing with my business eyes.

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:

Author→Agent→Publisher→Printer→Shipper→Book Distributor→Shipper→Bookstore→Reader.

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:

  1. With no publisher in the mix, they would be getting about $6.85 per download in royalties and
  2. 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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9 Responses to Publishing’s dead… long live publishing

  1. Robert P. French says:

    After posting, I found an interesting article on Macmillan’s feud with Amazon at:
    http://aprillhamilton.blogspot.com/2010_01_01_archive.html

  2. Bruce Campbell says:

    Robert,

    Go for it! I hope you sell a million.

    Bruce

  3. Peter Lighthall says:

    Robert,
    Nicely written blog on the state of publishing. I agree entirely. I bought Lynne a Kobo reader for Christmas and she has taken to it like a duck to water. What I need to do now is also buy a Kindle so that we can swap e-readers. Otherwise it’s like you say, only one reader for each purchase.
    Cheers,
    Peter

  4. Robert P. French says:

    The same story applies to newspaper publishing. I think Murdoch used the phone hacking scandal as an excuse to close down the News of The World and lay off all those people involved in the production and printing of the paper.

  5. I agree, the changes are opening opportunities for niche writers. It’s an exciting time to be a writer.

  6. So true! I’ve been in the midst of this revolution, myself, having just published a mystery novel via CreateSpace. The process has been simple, bloodless, painless, and not terribly expensive. And given the realities of marketing, these days, I don’t know that I’d be getting a whole lot more service from a big publisher…if one had been interested in my book (which they weren’t, because the detective character was too Jewish, or too conflicted, or too married, or something).

  7. Pingback: Books vs. Bytes; Trad vs. Indie | Robert P. French, indie author

  8. Pingback: Two indie authors to watch | Robert P. French, indie author

  9. Pingback: The big lie

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