More and more, I hear other writers worrying about the state of the industry. We’re in for a whopping big transition, one that is fraught with new difficulties and opportunities. For example, take the Kindle. As an author, it sounds great—getting people to buy your books electronically. But the new hardware merchandisers are creating schemes that pay themselves and publishers while the author gets kicked out on the street. In short, they’re taking meetings with major publishers and insuring them a decent cut of all sales, in order to alleviate concerns that the Kindle will destroy the publishing industry, but the authors get almost nothing.
For my entire career, I’ve heard old authors and publishers talking about doom and gloom in the industry. Yet every year for the past thirty years, fiction sales have continued to rise. This isn’t a shrinking industry, it’s a growing one. Just as a child experiences certain growing pains, so does publishing. Make no mistake, publishing isn’t going away. As technology eases the workload of more and more people around the world, they’ll find that they need something to occupy their leisure time, and given the amount of enjoyment per dollar spent, literature is still one of the best bargains around.
Changes in the Publishing Industry Are Nothing New
But wait a minute: last month, Apple sold more than a million iPads in less than a month! They sold three times faster than their initial offering of the iPhone, a few years back. At sales rates like that, the end of the publishing world might come sooner than we think.
Every industry goes through shifts periodically. Look at the film industry: with the introduction of television, many forecasters predicted that the film industry would sink altogether. When videogames began eating up more of our teens’ time in the 1980s, once again I heard predictions that both the movie industry and the publishing industry would tank.
Yet book sales continued to rise even as the videogame industry flourished.
With the popularization of electronic publishing, consumers are more likely, I suspect, to buy more books. The reason: it will be cheaper to buy them and it will be easier to carry them around. Thus, consumers will continue to spend roughly the same amount of money, just buy more widely.
In short, electronic publishing may cause sales to flourish in a way that will be good for authors. And though some e-book publishers are taking stances that are harmful to authors, others are not. The lines of solidarity are already breaking. As authors learn to take advantage of a world where books never go out of print, some of us are going to find that we’re earning more money, not less.
Changes in the Publishing Industry Provide Opportunities for Authors to Adapt
As an author, I look at the changes in publishing and say, “How can I turn this into an opportunity?” We see some authors giving away books on the Kindle in order to increase sales, and that tactic was working for a while. As an author of a series, I’d love to give away my first book in order to let readers sample my work at their leisure. But guess what? I was speaking to a small publisher the other day, and he said that Kindle wouldn’t allow him to release any of his books on their platform for free—even though some of his authors are New York Times Bestsellers. In short, the new system is currently being rigged to enrich the same big-name publishers that have always gotten rich in this industry. That’s because the publishing world is actually run by conglomerates that ultimately control the movie companies, television, radio, and the newspapers. Amazon.com, which makes the Kindle, might be the largest book retailer in America right now, but they’re still small-fry compared to the conglomerates. Or perhaps they’re just the new kid on the block.
That old publishing world is gone, it’s true. Yet as the dinosaurs die off, new life forms are emerging. Rowling got richer than the Queen of England in less than ten years, and the queen’s family has been building their empire for more than a thousand years! Of course Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown are also on their way.
Watch the trend-setters and be quick to respond to the marketing strategies that are working. Those same strategies might not work tomorrow, but for today—the future belongs to those who adapt.