Sunday, May 23, 2010

So This is How the Dinosaurs Died

As writers and readers, we live in an amazing time. It's fascinating to watch the publishing industry changing right before our very eyes, evolving at a speed which, given the glacial nature of change the publishing industry has traditionally demonstrated, is almost unbelievable.

Just a couple of years ago, the hot topic of discussion was whether or not e-readers would ever become a viable force in the industry. The general consensus seemed to be that the new technology was here to stay, but that the majority of readers would never pay the money for a device upon which to read books, newspapers and periodicals, choosing instead to continue reading the way it had been done for hundreds of years - ink splattered down on dead trees by an offset printing press.

Think about that for a second. Publishing has more or less been acomplished in the same manner since Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press around 1439. That's nearly six hundred years ago! Can you think of any element of human life which has not changed in any substantial way in the last six hundred years?

Me neither.

But here we are in early years of the twenty-first century, and the world of publishing is changing in a massive way. And it's got the big publishers running scared. Check out a few quotes from Wharton's "Future of Publishing" Conference held recently in New York:

"Every part of the publishing function has to be reexamined." - Judith Curr, Atria Books.

About the concern that e-books will result in fewer customers visiting traditional brick-and-mortar stores: "If big retail chains feel declines in retail taffic and close more and more stores, that will change the game." - Peter Hildick-Smith, Codex Group Market Research.

"A big problem for book publishing is that nobody buys a book because it's from Random House." - Andy Hunter, Editor-in-chief, Electronic Literature.

That last quote, to me, is the most telling. When Hunter identifies it as a problem for book publishers, what he is saying is that it's a problem for traditional book publishers, the giants who have literally millions of dollars tied up in their relationships with large bookstore chains and the huge paydays given to a few mega-star authors in the old world of publishing.

Independent publishers, small start-ups, regional presses, and even the occasional savvy self-publisher like J.A. Konrath are using the new technologies to begin evening the field in the battle for readers' dollars. "Start-ups aren't burdened by having to protect that legacy revenue [based on the prior author relationships of the large traditional publishers]," said Perseus Books President David Steinberger.

Interesting how he phrased that point. The prior relationships of large, traditional publishers with their bestselling authors are a "burden" when it comes to moving swiftly to take advantage of the new technologies becoming available in the publishing world.

Meanwhile, Indies and startups are not burdened in that way and are able to take advantage, using well-designed covers, outstanding stories and sharp writing from relatively unknown authors, as well as quality editing to release successful books which would never have had a chance to succeed just a few years ago in the hide-bound world of publishing in the days of the Gutenberg Dinosaur . . . uh . . . Press.

I'm not saying I wouldn't love to get a book contract with Random House, or that I wouldn't love to be one of those mega-stars becoming such a "burden" to the biggest publishing houses, but I am proud of my relationship with Medallion Press, proud of FINAL VECTOR, which will be released in e-book form this coming February, and excited for the wonderful writers getting a chance to shine thanks to the quantum shift in the way things are being done in the world of publishing.

There has never been a better time to be a writer.


*If you're interested in reading the entire report upon which this post is based, you can check it out here.

No comments: