Monday, January 27, 2014

Changes in Publishing

If you’ve been on the internet the last several days you’ve probably heard some of the noise about the HuffPost article: Self Publishing: The Myth and the Reality. Some people responded and more people responded to those people. All this talk about traditional publishing vs every-other-type of publishing really got me thinking. Before I go down this rabbit hole I want to state that I am not published. I haven’t self published or signed a contract with anyone. I don’t have a horse in this game other than I want to make publishing my profession *cracks knuckes*.

After reading this post, and this one, this one, this post, and this post I was reminded of something. The state of publishing today seems an awful lot like 1930’s Hollywood (but with way less glam and money. You know, back when movie companies owned actors, via their contracts, for a period of time or for a number of movies. It was also a time when production companies made genre films. Fox was known for it’s musicals. Universal was known for westerns. Sound familiar?

The state of Hollywood today is different. Today, actors have their own union (aka screen actors guild). And production companies still hire actors by contract, but they don’t own them like they did back in the day. Their contracts allow them to release multiple movies in various formats (from various production companies) in a year. I should note that I’m not privy to the specifics of any publishing or acting contracts. Rather, I’m speculating that actors have more freedom than authors because actors tend to release various titles, from various production companies, throughout a given year without having to adopt a pseudonym.

Some people think traditional publishing contracts are unfair. Others think the contract terms are more than fair. One thing is certain:

The winds of change are whipping around the publishing industry. There’s a flashy business quote we throw around at my Day Job a lot: “If the rate of change outside is greater than the rate of change inside, the end is near.” – Jack Welch.

Think about that, publishers, agents, and writers.
Is the rate of change outside B&N greater than the rate of change inside? Yes…and we see where they are headed.

Is the rate of change outside the big 5 publishing houses greater than the rate of change inside? From my perch, on the outside looking in, I can say: Probably, yes.

The end of big 5 publishing as we know it is near. But the end doesn’t have to be out of business, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it end. This ending is actually a beginning. A call for action, innovation, and rebirth.

Who knows what the future will hold. Maybe it means, as JA Konrath suggests, smaller advances but bigger percentage of royalties. Maybe it’s buying print only rights and erights stay with the author(although, that's unlikely, especially if ebooks are the future). Maybe it means the big 5 slash their SG&A overhead by doing any number of things. It’s fun to speculate, but I don’t have the answers.

What I do know is most of the big 5 will survive this change. I know it because we see it in film (Fox is still around, but they do things differently), music survived (Napster didn’t kill music as we know it. Artists are still making money, albeit differently). Just like the affordable Care Act didn't kill insurance companies (did I mention my day job is in insurance?). The Affordable Care Act changed a lot of elements about the insurance industry but the big insurance companies all survived. How? They changed the way the sell (direct to the consumer – sometimes cutting the middle men out completely *coughs*), they change the way they price their products *nudges publishing with elbow*, and they changed the way they operate to ensure they can continue to offer insurance to their customers. Just some ideas here, guys.

Publishing must change. Must. There’s no getting around it. But publishing leaders are smart, experts in their given field, and in positions to make change happen. Change can be exciting. And change can be good for writers, especially if writers help shape the future of publishing (which I think we are seeing).

Publishing needs to take a long hard look at how they can change to meet the growing customer demand. A demand that is markedly different from the consumer 10 or 15 years ago. The growing population of book consumers that want more, faster, easier, books.

I don’t have all the answers. I actually have none of them. But I do know that if big 5 publishing doesn’t evolve to meet the rate of change in the marketplace the writing is on the wall.

What do you think about the changing landscape of publishing?

Need more on the debate? Check out his post by Chuck Wendig and his Follow Up Post

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