The Great White Whale of an industry

Every day I am seeing posts about “the state of the [publishing] industry”. My mother even has soap box lecture when it comes to how the publishing industry is shooting itself in the foot. Granted there are multiple perspectives here: that of the agent, that of the writer, and that of the reader.

As far as the agents go – it is a scary scene. They go on at length about how self publishing is going to destroy the industry, and E-books are its death knell. For example, albeit more optimistic than most, Nathan Bransford ( today about Mike Shatzkin’s prediction that by 2015 at LEAST 50% of the book market will be through E-book publishing. Bransford goes on to comment about how this will affect “the industry” even beyond the “brick and mortar” bookstore which will of course be a fossil by then (according to the prediction.)

To quote Bransford,”it will have huge implications for the way books are planned, marketed, acquired, published, and discovered. Everything from the seasonal publishing calendar to print runs to marketing campaigns will be in for reevaluation.” He does, as I said before, put an optimistic spin on it. Again from Bransford’s blog: “[P]eople are still buying and reading books. The ease of access afforded by e-books might even mean they’ll buy more when they can download a book at home rather than planning a trip to the bookstore…Authors will still write books, publishers will still be the go-to place to put a book together and market it, there will be self-publishing for those who want to go it alone, and readers will have still more choice and ease of access.” But still, as he says, “there is lots still to be worked out on the author side, including paltry royalties and more reliance on authors for platforms and buzz-making.”

What I wonder is – where do the agents fit in? Certainly I believe they will still exist, but will they lose their position as gate keepers? After all, as of now, they sit high atop their summit of power – authors bending and begging based on their every whim. I read their blogs and many complain about how tired they are of seeing the same thing over and over again. They make examples out of wannabe writers who have (gasp) made an error in their submission format. Of course – I know it is important to read the directions and people should follow them if they want to play the game. But it seems that there is a lot of buzz out there that the game will change and there are a lot of sharp words about how it will be the end for us all. Be warned, they tell us, you writers don’t want this. It will mean no money and more work for you. But that then means less money and maybe less work for them too, right?

But what Bransford says does make sense and if this happens, maybe there will be a recalibration of the industry, evening out some of the …let’s say idiosyncrasies of the game. Or maybe it won’t. I hope it is true that for readers at least, the self publishing through E book ease(although they are not the same thing)will give more choice to readers. But, how will those choices be measured? How will one find the books they are looking for? Genre search? If everything is digitized will that make it easy to locate the Women’s supernatural mystery I have been looking for? Or will there be an overload – too much supply – with not enough quality?

Although that brings me to my personal reader and writer view of “the industry” and this is something the agents hate hearing. Why is there so much crap out there? When I look at the new books shelf I laugh out loud at some of the stuff that is being published. But if it is what sells – then I guess more crap in the on-line market place will be exactly what people want. And it will be cheap. Think I-Tunes for books. $3.99 is my guess for new fiction.

So where does this leave us writers? I secretly hope I will get published under the old ways before this predicted transformation is complete. I have never believed self-publishing was an answer to the writer’s struggle. To get in the door and to get a book “traditionally” published has always been a badge of honor. Now it is even more so. As far as E-books are concerned, I have nothing against them – although I see there is a diminished revenue because the cost is smaller. So how do we value the craft of a writer in these digital times? I don’t know.

But, I am against total; E-publishing. I think to myself – without that book to hold in my hand – why bother? And I don’t just want to hold it – if so I’d go to a vanity press. I want to walk down the book isle at the grocery store (yes the grocery store) and see it right there on the eye level shelf. I want to see it in people’s beach bags. I know…big dreams. But without that as a possible reward – never mind the money – why would anyone publish for people beyond themselves and their close friends and relatives. (I know, I know…according to agents family and friends are a valueless audience.) I will certainly agree to publish an E-book – through my traditional publisher after the hardcover is out. Even if only libraries buy that hard cover – hey it’s there. I want a physical book to my name. So what ever else these changes bring – I hope that does not change – at least in my time.

That’s brings me to the last point. If what they say is true (and not necessarily Bransford here) and the number of books taken on by publishers diminishes to almost nothing, and the market is flooded with self-published junk, and avid readers can no longer find what’s good anymore, well then there is only one thing to do: Go to the library and begin devouring all those classics you didn’t get to. Re-read the ones you’ve already read. Thus we will fill the drought with the rich waters of that which is old, noble, and reminiscent of a better time when the “industry” was strong and proud.

One thought on “The Great White Whale of an industry

  1. I don't think the future is all that they're predicting it to be. Sure there will be e-books and self-pubs but I think the majority of us will still want to be pubbed in the traditional way. The majority of us still want to hold an actual book in our hands and smell the paper and crack the spine. And not just writers either. Readers as well.I also think the majority of us are still too poor to acquire an e-reader. What about the kids who love going to the library? What about the adults? Are all those books going to be signed out on an e-reader? I think not.You've raised some valid points here Ariel but I don't think you need to worry just yet. Besides the world is supposed to end in 2012 so I'm planning on reading DISTILLATION next summer while catching rays on the beach.Don't give up the dream. I'm not.

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