Without a doubt, book publishing is an industry in a state of flux, but even the nature of the flux is up for grabs. Take a recent example of the traditional tech-journalism take on the situation, an article by Evan Hughes for Wired magazine, titled “Book Publishers Scramble to Rewrite Their Future.” The facts in the story are indisputable, but the interpretation? Not so much.
The news peg is the success of a self-published series of post-apocalyptic science fiction novels, “Wool,” by Hugh Howie. Available as e-books and print books from Amazon, the series became a hit, and Howie recently sold print-only rights to a New York publisher, Simon & Schuster. Print-only because Howie and his agent determined that they were making plenty of money selling the e-books on their own.
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There is surely a sizable untapped market for print editions of “Wool” because e-books remain only 25 percent of the book market.
If print could talk, it would surely be telling the world, Mark Twain-style, that reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. The market for e-books grew exponentially after Amazon introduced the Kindle, and it’s still one of the most fascinating and unpredictable sectors of a once hidebound industry. But the early-adapter boom is showing signs of flagging and the growth of the e-book market appears to be leveling out. E-books are definitely here to stay, but it seems that many, many readers — a threefold majority, in fact — still prefer print.
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New self-publishing enterprises are a godsend for traditional publishers because they can take much of the uncertainty out of signing a new author. By the time a self-published author has made a success of his or her book, all the hard stuff is done, not just writing the manuscript but editing and the all-important marketing. Instead of investing their money in unknown authors, then collaborating to make their books better and find them an audience, publishers can swoop in and pluck the juiciest fruits at the moment of maximum ripeness. As Hughes points out, that’s exactly what happened with erotica blockbuster E.L. James.
Why do self-published authors — including James, Amanda Hocking and now Howie — go along with this? Some, like Hocking, are simply tired of being publishers as well as authors and would prefer to devote themselves to writing. But for many the answer is simple: print.
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“The real danger to publishers,” Hughes writes, “is that big-ticket authors, who relied on the old system to build their careers, will abandon them now that they have established an audience.” Yet it’s hard to see why any of them would, if self-publishing would mean hiring a staff to replace the services provided by a publisher, from marketing and publicity to distribution and editorial. And you can be sure that — whatever publishers’ failings in providing such services to “little ticket” authors — the people who write bestsellers get plenty of that.
Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Larry for the tip.
There are certainly some fair points in this article, but, to examine the bigger picture, PG would pose a hypothetical question: If you were given the opportunity to own either Barnes & Noble or Kindle Direct Publishing, which would you choose?
Which is worth more today? Which will be worth more in two years, five years, ten years?
The same questions could be posed for any big New York publisher vs. Kindle Direct Publishing.