The publishing industry has undergone a number of big changes over the last century. Publishing went from a country club for intellectuals to a mainstream way of aiding education and information, and then entertainment. Like television it went from a number of major sources that could be counted on one hand to a large lumber, then much like television or the “baby Bells” there was contraction into major powers, and a second wave of specialists to fill in the gaps.

And then came ebooks. When Jim Baen pioneered DRMfree ebooks long before other major publishers even considered it as an option, he said he did so because he wanted to be around in 15 years. Like many things in business, the doom and gloom and quick demises aren’t as cut and dried as the loudest voices would have you believe. This year other publishers large publishers have gotten (slowly) aboard the good ship Non-Crippled Content.

At a recent convention I spoke at, some of the most popular panels were on using the new independent boutique publishers like Open Road Media, Naked Reader Press, Bookview Cafe and others to get books into the hands of readers. The climate seven years ago when I entered the business was that these outlets (or their predecessors really, none of the examples were extant at that point) were non viable.

That is both true and untrue. The boutique publishers don’t have the financial clout to buy endcaps in the top 200 Barnes and Noble stores. They don’t have the brand recognition of Tor, DAW or EOS. They do however have the ability to identify, and quickly act upon an emerging or underserved market. At this point in time, the Mil-SF fans are greatly underserved by the major publishers.  Steampunk is still getting a large portion of it’s push from anthologies and small presses, and not from any of “the big six”.

It’s time for the culture at the big publishers to change too. While they still hold the advantages of brand recognition, reach, organization, distribution, and cash they need to use them. Main stream publishing, certainly in fiction, and likely in general runs the risk of going the way of AM radio. Sure it’s still there but how relevant is it? Where is it actually used? Where and who prefers it to other sources?

While I’m pretty much neutral on Amazon, this article points out that the reason the revolution will not be televised is that it is going to be webcast and streamed to a couple score million handheld devices. How-to-books on getting published and using a distribution system other than that of the big publishers themselves are the hammers bringing down the walls. The walled gardens that “mobile internet” had smashed down years ago are not going to last another decade for publishers.

“The Big Six” and the other larger publishers have a very small list of options, and only two really outcomes. With the advent of the Cult of The MBA the latter is the more important for the bean-counters: Outcome 1: Flourish at the highend survival as a minimum, Outcome 2: Extinction. Neither will be quick, it will almost certainly take two to three years to fully adapt to a reasonable projection of where to line up for the entertainment income of readers will be in five years. But it needs to happen.

Any publisher that is not better serving the consumer by offering a higher percentage of what they want to read in easy to find, easy to consume, and reasonably durable format in two to three years, well anyone under 45 won’t have to worry about retiring from that company.  One of the not so secret ingredients to success in any consumer driven business is pretty simple, and increasingly overlooked; have a product people want to buy. This means having writers who are producing enjoyable entertainment. And not all the same thing. The movie industry has room for Avengers and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The market for readers is and always was fragmented. Universal appeal doesn’t exist, never has, never will. The Harry Potter series was popular because it touched a lot of emotional responses for a lot of people. But there are still millions more people who never read one of the books or saw any of the movies than did either or both, much less those who saw all eight movies and read all seven books. McCormick certainly sells more pepper and basil in America than lemon grass or roasted sesame seeds, but they have all on the shelves because they will sell. The key for publishers is first to have the product and second to make consumers (aka money sources) aware.

Thanks to Janine Bruce for sharing the link.

  • Not bad at all.

  • Personally, I think the large publishers will start spinning off their fiction imprints while they still have value and retain their textbook and reference book units. For a long as those last, against the tide of e-capabilities.

    • Onyxhawke

      That is a possibility, I’m not sure how long it will take before it starts happening large scale, but Hapercollins did sell one SFF division off a couple years ago.