Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How Will Publishing Evolve?

Anyone writing today has to be intrigued by discussions about e-book publishing taking place on writers blogs.  Some comments suggest Amazon's platform is going to lead to the death of traditional publishing, that the Big Six are doomed and paper books will become relics of the past.  Others see traditional publishers adapting in order to play a role in both the paper and e-book marketplace.  One thing that seems to be certain is that nothing is really certain at this point.

History has shown that industries change and adapt with changing times and tastes.  People, of course, make up industry, and they are never satisfied.  They want style and convenience at a reasonable price.  They want quality and safety.  And they're never happy with the status quo.  Today that's compounded by the fact that we live in a mobile society, where we demand instantaneous communication from a variety of sources - and we want to take it with us. 

In a sense, traditional publishing and retail book-selling is already a relic.  It can't meet the immediate demand for new and back-listed material the consumer wants today.  This is not to say I believe books, bookstores and libraries will all disappear.  On the contrary, I think there are still millions like myself who like being surrounded by books, poring over old volumes and reference materials, and smelling dusty leather bindings that open magic doors to knowledge and adventure.  Nothing electronic will replace that experience, in my opinion.

I do believe, however, that some, if not most, of the vestiges of book selling is bound to disappear.  Why?  Because it must.  Our world is accelerating and doesn't have time for communications that can't keep pace with business and personal demands.  Think about it. At one time, a computer taking up five thousand square feet of building space was once required to match the processing speed of the typical laptop today.  Now, the laptop is in danger of being replaced by tablets and smart phones.  Digital imagery has made film obsolete.  E-mail bankrupted the U.S. postal service.  Clouds are replacing hard drive storage.  Social networking is revolutionizing contact across the globe.  Nothing is static anymore.  Change will never stop.

So what does it all mean for traditional book publishing?  It means it's already adapting.  We know magazines and newspapers are.  They all have e-platforms in order to survive.  The Big Six publishers will probably do something similar.  They can't compete directly with the likes of Amazon, but they  may ultimately strike some kind of alliance with them and others to launch books directly on-line at the same time they wholesale hard copy versions to retail outlets.  Of course Amazon may have no incentive to strike such a deal.  They're in a pretty good spot already.  What this portends for indie writers like myself is hard to predict.  What I hope we don't see happen is any future tightening of access by Amazon and other e-platforms as they grow more dominant in the industry.  Maintaining the openness of the e-book marketplace to indie's is critical to allowing readers to find us and enjoy our work.   

No matter how publishing evolves, the paperback and hardbound book will never disappear.  How many bookstore outlets survive is unknown.  But there will always be big box store and grocery chain outlets, airport news stands, and tourist locations for traditional publishers to target.  And of course, I believe, and fervantly hope, that libraries will remain a large buyer of new volumes.  Maybe it's my generation speaking, but nothing beats the smell of a nicely bound book.

See my books: 

THE LITTLE ROCK MESSENGER