"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: The Future of Publishing

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Future of Publishing

It's funny. Last week I was nervous about putting out a blog that was so down on the publishing industry.

Little did I expect so many emails agreeing with me!

And literally three days later, comes an article from the Wall Street Journal (no less) that basically said the same things.

Fact is most insiders agree that the publishing industry is in trouble. Their inability to spot bestsellers - indeed to spot anything that may even become commercial - is now causing them problems.

The heavy reliance on promoting TV and film related books means that ordinary authors suffer. Marketing budgets that might have gone to their 'list' authors is now being funneled into blockbusters - and little else.

The main reason would seem to be that publishers' B list authors simply can't sell enough books to support these corporate giants. Far be it from me to suggest that perhaps publishers 'choose the wrong books' - I think it's more to do with the fundamentally unwieldy nature of the publishing industry.

The average publisher takes 6 months to a year to accept or reject a manuscript. After that, on average, another two years to get the book onto a book shelf.

Clearly, in our modern high tech, second-by-second world, that's simply FAR TOO LONG.

How can any book or author hope to be relevant nowadays with that kind of lead time?

(That's a rhetorical question BTW.)

Before the Internet, of course, this wasn't a problem.

But now, it is.

And with the explosion of e-books and iPod and Kindle, the publishing industry - unless it acts very quickly - will simply fall by the wayside as technology allows authors to write a book and get it up online - and on sale - instantly.

Print on Demand (POD) has given self published authors the ability to print up their own work within a week of finishing their manuscripts. Given this new reality, why would any self respecting author wait 2 to 3 years to have some traditional publisher do exactly the same?

Especially when the acceptance rate for new manuscripts is at an all time low. Less than one in a thousand was the last statistic I heard.

The reality is that if you're a career author, your royalties from book sales will be minimal. (This is a closely guarded secret within the published author community - but you might as well know it.)

And given this low reward - which an author may not see for FOUR to FIVE years AFTER they've written their book - you can perhaps appreciate why enlightened authors are now looking to the Internet to get those royalty earnings NOW instead of at some hypothetical time in the future.

I'm not saying the Internet is the Yellow Brick Road or the key to eternal wealth for authors. It's not that yet. But I think that it may be in the future.

If you only sell a few hundred copies of your book online - as a digital download - you may not get rich tomorrow BUT you will most likely be in EXACTLY the same position as 99% of writers signed to traditional publishers!

I've given this whole issue - and dilemma - a lot of thought over the last eight years, especially as it's what I've been predicting for a long time now.

THAT, despite the ups and downs of the digital book industry, the future for the majority of authors does not necessarily involve traditional publishers. Smart writers everywhere, including bestselling authors, are now investigating the practicalities of selling their work online (and reaping the near instant rewards.)

Distribution to retail outlets is pretty much the only advantage the mainstream publishers have over the Internet. But even then with caveats. Have you noticed there's now an A list of books?

Truth is, unless you're in that top 100 'flavor of the month' list, you still don't get your book in the shops, no matter what deal you've got. But with 25% of all book sales being digital by 2011, who needs book shelves?

Especially when you can publish a digital book for free - with someone like Magellan Books - my company - literally overnight, and earn royalties monthly, right off the bat.

So, if you're interested in being part of the Next Generation of Publishing, go here, and register your interest. I'll then keep you posted about OUR future.

Whatever your situation as a writer, there's now hope.

Keep writing!


Thad McIlroy said...

I do see the validity in the endless (and repetitive) attacks on the traditional publishing model. It has always been flawed, and the flaws have never been more visible. But success for an author, despite the model's flaws = a good (or great) book, well-designed and produced, well-distributed and properly promoted.

Self-publishing does NOT in and of itself solve anything other than turning words into a visible collection of bits and bytes, or an image on paper. All of the other aspects, each far more important than the bits and bytes or visible image, must be handled and HANDLED VERY WELL.

The upside of self publishing is, as you rightly point out, getting to market quickly and inexpensively, without someone from Manhattan blocking your path. The complicating downside is that in the last three years self publishing has more than quintupled the U.S. title publishing output, to an estimated 2 million new titles per year. And so the challenge of finding an audience is greater than ever.

The only answer these days is to promote via the web, but that's the same answer for all, and as I write on my site, quoting the very fine author Milan Kundera, "It's a vicious circle. People are going deaf because music is played louder and louder. But because they are going deaf, it has to be played louder still." It's an apt metaphor for writing and publishing today.

Your company is one of far too many enablers for authors, encouraging them to join the orchestra. You no doubt have a genuine passion for this, as do your countless competitors, but you also presumably hope to grab a little bit of the gold during the rush.

But what has been the consistently most-read article(s) on the New York Times web site this week? "Your Brain on Computers: More Americans Sense a Downside to an Always Plugged-In Existence" and the rest of the ongoing series.

Somewhere, somehow, this noise must be turned down, and authors, bless their hopeful hearts, are part of the noise. (I'm a published author; I know.)

How many books do you want to read every day? You've got over 5,000 new titles each day to choose from.

Rob Parnell said...

Many thanks for your unusually literate response, Thad. You have a awesome website that is as thorough as it is engaging. I'm very pleased to make your e-acquaintance.

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