Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Changing the publishing paradigm

Mainstream publishing is now pretty well controlled by just a few international conglomerates. It’s often joked that one day authors will wake up and there will be just one big company left. With all the changes that Google’s, Amazon’s and Apple’s plans are forcing on us, the joke may actually come true. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re seriously discussing if books will even exist much longer, let alone who’s going to publish them.

To hear some, the printed page will soon be relegated to the same cultural backwaters inhabited by fountain pens and LP records. It’s no wonder the publishing industry is worried. The electronic age has finished with the music industry and is now marching forward to work its changes on the publishing industry — whether we like it or not. Most of the people on our side of the equation are madly sticking their fingers in the dike, not realizing that the water is about to overflow anyway.

What are we to do?

Well, one thing that can be done right now while the ground is still shifting beneath us is to look at the way we do business. Can we work smarter? Are there ways to improve the way business is done from when an ms shows up at the door, right through to the end of the publishing pipeline? Now’s the time to do it when everything is changing anyway, right?

I get the feeling that not many publishers are really considering this. Not the big ones at least. They seem to be doing what they always do: cut people when business hits a downturn. The people who work there are just desperately trying to hold on to their jobs. I believe that’s doomed to fail in the end. They should be looking at how they can reinvent themselves to reflect the fact that publishing is going electronic. It’s inevitable. Period.

One small place where an electronically-driven change has been made is right at the beginning. Most publishers now only want electronic manuscript submissions. That makes sense. First and foremost, why have all that paper around? It’s heavy, it’s awkward and it’s inefficient. I’ve been in editor’s offices that have been awash in the stuff. That’s all changing — for the better.

Next week, I’ll go through the various jobs at a typical mid- to large-size publisher and we’ll try to figure out who’s going to stay and who’s going to be shown the door in the Age of Electronic Publishing.


Esri Rose said...

I like your analogy between the music industry and publishing. The internet spanked the music industry for a while, but when they finally got a clue (oh, this is what our customers want, as opposed to what we want), things got better quick.

Rick Blechta said...

That depends on who you talk to. True, some things are better, but unfortunately many things are worse.

Ever hear of a 360-degree contract? This is what the biz is trying to force on to their musicians. It works like this: we want in on ALL the money you generate, not just sales of your recordings.

In the past, performance revenues, sales of programs, souvenirs, etc. was money the performers could count on since the income from any recordings they sold was so slow in coming. Now the record companies want their cut of that revenue, too. It's sort of like the bad old days of indentured servitude.

As for the book biz, who knows what's going to happen? Stay tuned, though, I have some very interesting information and conjectures coming up in the next few weeks.

Thanks for commenting!