Hear That Sound?

Bricks tumbling to the ground, glass shattering? That’s the sound of the traditional publishing industry crashing. We can hide our heads in the sand but there’s no denying it—because of technological trends in the world, it is getting harder than ever for a writer—even a terrific one—to get published, promoted, and become a best-selling author through the old model of traditional publishing.

Smashwords founder Mark Coker says that technology is colliding with publishing. Things touched by tech are transformed to something faster, smaller, cheaper, accessible. Print books are in jeopardy. Why? He says that they are expensive for most people and are unavailable to the global market (due to archaic rights practices and geography that limits distribution).

 Interesting but Disturbing

In the seminar I took with him recently, I learned a lot of very interesting and disturbing facts about the current state of traditional publishing—many of which I will share with you in upcoming posts. I am worried that many of us in the industry (authors, editors, agents, and publishers alike) are reluctant to face these facts. Just looking at the recent history of the music business, no wonder book publishing professionals are trembling a little in their boots. But denying, turning our backs on, or pooh-poohing the inevitable will just leave you standing holding the equivalent of your 8-track cassette player and wondering what just happened.

I believe it’s vital we face the future of publishing with both eyes open, ears ready to listen, and the courage to shift our worldview and opinions in order to not only survive but thrive as the traditional model crumbles at our feet and a brave new world emerges.

 Hey, Do You Still Have That 8-Track?

 Yes, I am actually excited, thrilled, optimistic, and all for the general demise of traditional publishing. I may sound like a rebel or radical. I don’t want to see print books disappear, but I do think the changes are swaying in favor of the author, and I’m an author so I like that. I’m sure those who predicted listeners would start buying all their music online and stop buying CDs were considered crazy. But, look at where we are now. My kids and their peers (in their 20s) do not own any CDs. They buy all their music online through iTunes. They buy, listen to, share, compile, and play all their music electronically using software on their hardware. As much as writers and others in the book publishing industry want to deny it, all the signs are here that this industry as well is headed down that road.

No doubt, there will always be a group of people who want to hold a real book in their hand or want a beautiful book on their coffee table, and surely there will always be some books in print. But I recall the days when I used to peruse the local record store, spending hours reading and marveling at the big, beautiful covers and lyrics on LP album covers. Do music listeners now really miss that—or even think about that? Surely not our young children. And no doubt, there will come a time when we will be telling our grandchildren about the days when books could only be purchased and read in print, and they will look at us with the same confused, glazed expression.

It’s Not the End of the World

 Michelle Gagnon recently posted on The Kill Zone blog that in September 2011 hardcover sales declined a huge 25%, while eBook sales rose 161%. Ebook sales are now forecast to reach $10 BILLION by 2016 and already mass market paperbacks are being phased out permanently. I don’t need to quote loads of statistics to you of how eBooks, eBook readers, and eBook files are starting to overtake the sales and distribution of traditionally published books. I’m not here to discuss the merits of either—I just want to point out the truth—that we all need to see where we are headed and to give this encouraging word—it is not  the end of the world. In fact, I think what is coming will open up terrific opportunities to authors, more than ever before. And the best part is the result of building true fans, true community, and gaining true satisfaction and a feeling of success as never before.

Throughout the year, through this blog, my ecourses, and newsletter, I will be promoting new ideas, new ways of looking at this publishing business, and the writing life. I am dedicated to helping you learn how to not only survive but thrive.

 Where’s Your Umbrella?

 So subscribe to this blog and to my newsletter, for you will hear about trends, get tips, and receive valuable advice on practical ways you can be successful. I’m challenging you to change your worldview, open your mind and heart, and be ready for some radical thinking and reordering of your priorities, beliefs, views, and concepts of success and self-worth. We’re going to dig in to what success means to you and how you can shift your thinking so you can find real joy, satisfaction, and a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment in your writing.

Put on your hardhat as those bricks start falling. Because they are falling. The sky isn’t—although it may seem like it is. But once the dust clears, you will find yourself on the shores of a brave new world. We are there already. Come along with me and see.

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  1. As much as I hate to see it coming Susanne I know you are right. My son (23)will not read a print book unless he has no other option.
    I like my eReader much more than I expected to. Great for travel and reading in bed. And they keep improving them.
    The positive thing is, we will still have wonderful access to words. Glorious, often life changing words.
    Here’s to 2012! I look forward to it with you.

  2. I, being one of the first of the baby boomers, and an author, have resisted the electronic book tidal wave even though I do two blogs. My family gave me an e-reader for Christmas and so far, I’ve used it only for magazines to reduce clutter. But after reading your blog today, I agree that we writers must go with the times. I’ll be following your blog to keep me on the right path.

  3. Great post Suzanne,

    Changes in publishing are nothing new. Imagine if when papyrus was first used, think folks said, hmm, “I prefer the feel of a rock when I read,” or movable type, did people say, “I prefer reading someone’s very personal and sometimes hard to decipher penmanship,” how about when paperbacks became popular and put books to own into the hands of the masses?

    It seems to me that publishing and writers have always made technological advances, and each time more and more people gained access to the written word. I believe that writing for the web or ebooks for download are a positive advancement. And books on my Kindle do not require shelf space or dusting.

    I embrace the new technologically, and look forward to writing for a long time. Whether paper or electronic, someone has to craft the words.

  4. Been listening to the audio book, Jolt!: Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing by Phil Cooke. It’s a stimulating blast on how fast things are moving around us.

    Thanks, Susanne, for the POV on publishing.

  5. Hi Susanne,
    I’m so happy to have ‘stumbled’ on to this blog. I am a new author of a children’s interactive series and I truly thought that once I found a publisher, I could just keep on writing. I’m am completely overwhelmed with all the marketing there is to do; so much so that I wonder why I didn’t self publish and reap all the benefits? I will follow you and get all the tips I can for this new journey; I know what you say is true.

    1. Great to hear from you. All these new trends are overwhelming indeed. I’ll be giving lots of tips on things authors can do to keep up with the trends and adjust their thinking. I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog and jump into the discussions. Also I have a whole lot of insightful, unique writing advice for getting to the heart of the story, so watch that each week too!

    2. I have this new year packed with all kinds of deep instruction and suggestions on how to survive the writing life and thrive. Thanks for tuning in and sharing your thoughts!

  6. One thing the whole indie publishing thing is NOT is a magic bullet. It’s a great deal of work, work that most writers are constitutionally averse to. A good book and word of mouth (or goodreads) is what sells books. Yes, you need a good title and a snappy cover too.

    I am SO looking forward to 2012.

  7. There’s no mileage to be had out of standing in the way of the tank of history. We all (who are old enough) remember the image of the Chinese youth blocking the tanks in Tiananmen Square, but do you know what happened to him? I thought not.
    All the same, if electronic media really do crush the life out of traditional publishing what will happen to the old and the poor who cannot afford the up-front price of an eReader? Millions of people rely on library books, hand-me-downs and lost-and-found.
    With that in mind I’m doing my bit to keep books alive. There’s a certain selfishness involved – I was quite looking forward to spending my dotage down at the local public library. A ten-second download will be a poor substitute.

  8. I’m certainly curious as to what is around the corner for authors. My ebook sales have been greater than my print sales and I don’t know if that’s because I am with a small (but traditional royalty paying) press, or because of the trends–or both probably! I resisted an ereader until I bought a Kindle out of curiosity and, well, now I see the pull!

    1. To subscribe, click on the orange RSS feed button. I’ll be putting up an email link soon so the blog can feed to your email. And soon there’ll be a short weekly newsletter blast with extras and cool news about the publishing industry trends. Thanks for your interest!

  9. I see the change in the industry as hugely positive for the author whose voice doesn’t follow the current trend. Industries of any kind are fundamentally risk averse. The saying is “stay with what works” because that is where the money is. After reading a large number of agent bio’s and websites recently, I find many have great interest in finding another “edgy” vampire love story. They want it because it is low risk, and hopefully results in easy money. Doesn’t help me, nor does it help the person who writes the edgy angelic love story. Changing technology changes the rules, but more importantly it changes the gate keepers.

  10. I agree with you about the changing nature of publishing, Susanne. Technologies are driving the markets in almost all information and entertainment based enterprises. So I suppose one of the key questions is: how does a writer distinguish one’s work given the increasing volume of opportunities to the reader and listener (i.e., audiobooks)? It appears the big print writers will continue to sell because of their familiarity, however, I believe the #1 ranked Amazon ebook author is self-published offering 99 cent reads. How does one develop a loyal following – obviously marketing, price points, etc. – but something more – something different, short of doing something crazy? I think the answer is still unrealized. – Randy Kay

    1. Randy, I just read a long post all about eBook pricing and everyone’s thoughts on it. There seems to be a lot of disagreement on pricing since some feel a best-selling big author shouldn’t sell their eBooks for .99, that there should be a kind of gauge of how you base your price based on how famous you are. Some feel a 99-cent book means you’re an amateur. But that’s not really a great measure. Time will tell how that all plays out. For now, though, it’s great to know authors can put their books out there and work on marketing and building a fan base on their own, not dependent on a publisher, who might pull the book due to poor sales. EBooks tend to grow in sales over time as word spreads, so the pressure is off the author in that regard.

  11. Terrific post! I couldn’t agree with you more, publishing is changing whether we like it or not. Change is difficult but in order to succeed in this business we’re going to have to change, period. It’s a great time to be a writer!

  12. Change…it is the lei motif of our age, as CS Massengale says in ONCE AN EAGLE (Anton Myrer) Wonder what he would say now, with the Tofflers’ FUTURE SHOCK now 40 years, or so in our rear view mirror? I wonder if I’m the only one still wondering @ what point the phenomenon to which they referred drives us out of our collective minds? 🙂

    I believe that the publishing industry is likely to survive in some form…but if bricks & mortar book stores in any indicator, I would be astonished if any of us can predict how or what it will look like. One of the things that happens with big, mature industries is they become entrenched in yesterday, not unlike our economists, politicians, etc. They adapt when forced, not unlike the auto industry and we mere mortals whose heads spin like a top. Keep the faith, baby. Most of us will muddle thru and SOME of us will actually find a way to knock the cover off the ball. (IMHO)

    Best to all!


  13. My e-book was published for free on-line at linked address in 2008 and languished ever since despite extraordinary efforts to get noticed, including physical art shows and virtual stalking.

    It is ironic that electronic creation tools have enabled more writers and improved text, yet, at the same time, hidden best expressions in a sea of banality, commercialism, spam, and tweets. Someday readers might eventually realize that a BOOK is nothing more than a monologue with someone eager to communicate with them as a dialogue. “I have a meme I want to sell you,” is an outmoded model. Too bad I spent 10 years composing, publishing, sharing 1300 pages, but who can expect anything for their efforts these days? When you’re competing for attention with free content by masters in print, on-line, or over airwaves, you’re lucky if a few hundred readers visit.

  14. Although I too am excited by the changes we are seeing, I am also disturbed by the lack of fidelity in on-line publishing. There is also a problem with authenticity, textualism, etc. over the internet. Wikipedia is an excellent example of how easily history can be rewritten, falsified, and produced as factual, accepted by the masses and even quoted as a valid resource.

  15. Interesting essay on the future of books and writing. I am interested in starting a blog on my web page and get it going. Any suggestions as to where I could start to set it up.

    Jeff Crimmel

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