I admit that I have developed an almost unhealthy fascination with the publishing industry’s changes over the last five years. Separate from my own vested interest, I am also interested from an analytical perpective. People argue that “self-publishing” or “ebooks” are the changes that are sweeping their way through the publishing world, but I personally feel that it is more about the disentanglement of a previously integrated and controlled business model.
In the past, you had authors who produced content as a raw product, agents who marketed those raw materials to publisher after publisher, or editor by editor at each publisher, and publishers who took the raw product, massaged it, processed it, turned it into a final product, and took the sellable version to market. And there were huge barriers to entry into the market — agents wouldn’t take just anyone, publishers often wanted only agent-repped products, stores and libraries would mainly take books only from the Big Six publishers or their subsidiaries. Breaking into those areas would give you huge leverage, but they were jealously guarded corridors of power.
However, in recent years, the whole business model has been disrupted end to end…authors can get their books on Amazon and in ebook form without an agent or a publisher. They can get their own ISBN numbers, they can form small publishers to hide their “self” status if they want. They can hire copy editors, substantive editors, cover artists, publicists, anybody that the Big Six used to hire for big names. And, shhh, don’t tell anyone, but a lot of those editors and artists and publicists are the same ones the Big Six use, just selling their wares as freelance.
It’s a fascinating time for disruptions in the industry, so I was excited to see what the Guardian published on “Ten Ways Self-Publishing Has Changed the Books World”:
After a boom year in self-publishing the headlines are getting a little predictable. Most feature a doughty author who quickly builds demand for her work and is rewarded with a large contract from the traditional industry.
1. There is now a wider understanding of what publishing is…
5. The role of the author is changing…
7. New business models and opportunities are springing up,
I don’t agree with most of the conclusions of the author of the article, or at least not the nuances, but I do agree with the general trend. I was surprised though that they didn’t hammer home more on the issue of “time to market”. Overall, that is the largest single change that is disrupting the industry. Within days of the selection of the new Pope, authors were putting up books on Amazon. Some of them quite substantial and high-quality. In traditional publishing, the window would have been 18-24 months normally or super high rush could do it in 6 perhaps. I think too that Indie bookstores who are excited about getting in on Kobo sales should look instead at the POD market — there are printers that you can have in your shop, giant photo copier/printers essentially, that can print and blue-bind a book with a glossy cover in about an hour. Any book, any time, hard copy. That’s disruption.