Thursday 16 December 2010

The Future of Publishing

Okay, so this is going to be a fairly free-form blog post - something I shall try to articulate, but will likely fail. It is a point that occurred to me earlier while writing my post on Recent Press Releases.

We've all been wondering about the future of publishing - how it is going to work out with eReaders, eBooks, self-publishing, small publishers. And then it occurred to me that we were seeing the root of where publishing is going to go...

Those press releases announced a new small publisher that was selling chapbooks from both well-known and up-and-coming authors; two authors who had decided to collaborate, and no doubt discussed their plan via social media of some kind; and a new eBook-only company who would donate profits made to charity. New authors are being given more of a chance through the fresh initiatives of companies such as Morrigan Books, with their eBook-only branch.

This is both so promising, but also scary! For someone like me, who is yet to embrace the eReader - am I being left behind? Are the traditional publishers who are failing to embrace both social media and eBooks already losing a race that seemed as though it had barely started? There are reports that eBook sales are up MASSIVELY on the same period from last year. NetGalley is a whole new principle on receiving ARCs that has been on the rise in a big way.

The new environment allows so much freedom - it seems as though anyone (with the right contacts and editorial experience) can begin a publishing company or a literary agency. A website, some contracts drawn up and off they go... Is it as simple as this? Are we destined to see many endeavours fail because we aren't quite accustomed to the new way of working?

I have already ordered that chapbook with the click of a Paypal button. If the charity eBook comes in a format I can use, I will no doubt buy that too. I am being access to work that would, previously, have either remained unpublished or found its way into one of the few anthologies that made the rounds. Some of the novellas/novels I'll be able to read will be edited by those with little traditional experience.

We open ourselves to the risk of diminishing returns in terms of quality. We will no doubt see god-awful self-published tomes that would never had seen the light of day without the Amazon Kindle store. Some of us traditionalists may be forced to embrace eReading technology before we ever really wished to in order to stay caught up with new goings-on.

And yet.... I feel positive. The future of publishing looks bright, albeit very, very different.

What do you think?


  1. You know, I never thought I'd get an e-reader because I just love the feel of a physical book in my hands so much, but I got one last spring, and while I still read way more real books, the e-reader is very convenient at times, and I like that I can get ARC's to read on it.

  2. Both good and bad for me, as I'm quite excited about moving into the realm of e-books as a publisher and love the fact that I'll be able to read queries and submissions soon on my palm reader...

    Negative is that, like you said, most anyone will be able to publish and while POD has been a good thing for the small publisher, it's also been a reason as to why so many sub-standard books have been released. And by sub-standard I don't mean the content so much, as that is 'mostly' subjective but more the layout, design etc. Using covers that look like they've been designed by a five year old and typesetting that a twelve year old had a go at on word one afternoon when he/she was bored...

    All that then! :)

  3. Thanks for mentioning NetGalley - hadn't heard of it before. Now signed up.

    Following on from what Mark says above, one difference between POD and ebooks is that with POD the small publishers were always at a price disadvantage; with ebooks the shoe is on the other foot.

    If Stephen King were to put his books out via Kindle himself, he could charge less for them, and get higher royalties. That is going to put huge pressure on publishers.

  4. I have yet to get on the eReader band wagon, though I fully intend to get myself a Kindle after Christmas. I'm going into this unknown realm with a degree of trepidation, but I think once I'm over the initial shock of it all I'll love having an eReader.

  5. The race still hasn't really started. "Up massively" isn't the same as "actually makes money for anyone." It just means it's a lot easier to break even than it used to be.

    But it's a huge step forward. In the next few years, ebooks are going to be selling at the same rate as paperbacks, or faster. And by then, any publisher worth its salt has to be in the game.

    What has people panicking is, the books we're bringing out in the next few years are the contracts we're signing now. So we need to be putting the wheels in motion already.

  6. I've been using one for ages, and wouldn't be without it. But it's never one format or the other: there's always room for paper, because of the times you forget to charge the thing up, or availability of titles, or whatever. The revolution will be gradual.

    I'm not concerned that the move to ebooks will lower quality. There are already innumerable low-quality books out there, but they're not competing with all the great writers or somehow preventing them from coming up with the goods. Bad writing might threaten to flood the market, but there are always ways of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

  7. I've been using the various e-readers on my iPhone and I have Nook on my PC. I'm using that as my main version as I reread Deadhouse Gates over at Tor. It's very useful as I can put in bookmarks and annotations. Search is quite handy also.
    The iPhone reader is a tad small, but it's nice to have instead of carrying a book all over.

  8. Luddites of the world unite! Bloody awful and very very expensive.

    I have to buy a reader (80 quid plus?) and then I have to buy the ebooks and guess what they are a similar price to paper books. How do I win? Oh yes I can download books like I can music, never have to spend a penny on a book again. No more full time authors and no more publishing houses.

  9. I don't have an ereader and I don't read ebooks. I also don't loose any sleep over it. I love books, an ereader simply doesn't appeal to me. I also have a library with several hundred books in it that I haven't read. I'm good for quite a while. The only reason I will consider an ereader is the convienience it offers while traveling - I still lug along the weight of many books and I can see where an ereader would be nice. But they are still rather expensive, publishers still have a long way to go for pricing (though I'm not one of those who feels entitled to cheap ebooks that give the publishers no profit), and most of all, DRM and propriatatry software needs to go away.

    As for ARCs - when I got into blogging, bloggers didn't get them. I've never been in it for the free books. If someone does want to send me a review copy, I need an actual book, not an ebook. If that knocks me off the list so be it - right now I have plenty of books to read and several publishers are still happy to send me books (and I'm happy to review them).

  10. I haven't gotten on the eBook bandwagon yet, mainly because I love my paper books too much, but also because of cost and availability (Kindle isn't available in The Netherlands, neither is the Nook). Add to that the discussion of format and I probably won't be going digital for a while.

    To me this discussion is far more interesting in my professional capacity as a librarian. How will eBooks be integrated into the library? Will we have to provide readers or will students have their own devices? What will be the limitations on lending ebooks: can a book be loaned to several students at once, do we have to pay per copy or per number of loans? It's really complicated and we're still trying to get a grip on it. And we've only just gotten used to e-journals!

  11. another luddite e-reader hater here.

    I can't help but compare the e-book/ e-pub / set up your own publishing house/ literary agency revolution to the html revolution of the late 90's. Remember? when everyone who knew three lines of html and their brother had a geocities site covered in animated smilies and flashing glittery things?

    that was an age of a lot of crap! and the good stuff rose to the top, it just took a few years.

    on the topic of e-readers and e-books, all I can say is no thanks.

  12. I love the increased publishing freedom that the rise of digital reading seems to be inciting. Of course, there are downsides to that (a potential overabundance of mediocre works, for instance)...but I think it's great that some authors are now able to publish on their own terms, and still be able to reach an audience. Programs like Amazon and Smashwords are helping to make that happen.