It’s the End of Publishing As We Know It…And We Feel Fine

by TPC on October 12, 2011

Over the past 24 months or so, the publishing industry has been doing a lot of talking about a singular topic – does the growth of e-books mean the death of traditional publishing? Well last year all the pundits kept saying that ebooks represented less than 7% of the overall publishing market. What they neglected to state as openly was how quickly ebooks were taking over the trade paperback market.

Flash forward to 2011 and headlines from this year like, E-book Sales Jump in June, Print Plunges; E-book Sales Up 167% in June; That Was Fast: Amazon’s Kindle Ebook Sales Surpass Print (It Only Took Four Years); and Ebook Sales Triple year-Over-Year, paper books decline in every category. Now everyone is proselytizing about the end of printed books. What we should be talking about is the end of publishing…as we know it.

This is definitely a WWGD (What Would Guttenberg Do) moment for traditional publishers.

For years, The Big 6 have been exceptional at doing two things: 1) Creating Global Bestsellers and 2) Making Money off of Dead People. Let’s examine the impact of the ebook on each: If the Harry Potter series, Twilight, and Dragon Tattoo books had been self-published, it is unlikely that millions of people around the globe would know these stories. So the global bestseller category is still the realm of the traditional publisher. They better keep their authors locked up tight, however, because once you create a brand like J.K Rowling, what’s to stop her from taking ownership and control of her brand in this day and age of social media and cheap independent publishing and making even more money. See Exhibit A: Pottermore.

What about the dead folks? Well, with the classics being given away by everyone from Amazon to Google, it looks like that well is going to run dry. They can’t even count on bookstores to keep that inventory moving anymore because the bookstores are going the way of the dinosaur. See Exhibits B & C: Borders and Barnes & Noble.

So if they stand to lose their global brands and old faithful, where can the Big 6 turn for revenue, or even inspiration? Well here’s a thought:  Publishing companies used to invest time and money in finding that next big thing – developing authors from unknowns to icons. But they got lazy and started churning out MOTS (more of the same). I mean how many YA vampire novels can the world stand? Anne Rice is rolling in her grave and she isn’t even dead yet!

But can you really blame them with a business model that willingly accepts 100% of returns? They did this to themselves.

Here’s a prediction for you that’s already partially come true. First, ebooks will reach and then exceed trade paperbacks in unit sales. Trade paperbacks are the bread and butter of bookstore chains so they will crumble under the weight of all that stagnating inventory on their shelves. Big Publishing will respond by jacking up the prices of their own ebooks without upping their author’s royalties, causing a mass exodus of authors from their ranks. The best literary agents will broker phenomenal deals for the superstar authors making the bottom line ache even more for the Big Guys. To hide their wounds, The Big 6 will become the Big 2 or 3 as inevitable consolidation becomes all the rage. Meanwhile, indie publishers and authors will become savvier and the complexion of top lists like the New York Times Bestseller list will change permanently when there are as many indie authors represented as traditionally published authors. It is at this moment that Big Publishing will give up the ghost and start a massive round of layoffs. This is the worst thing they could ever do, as some of the world’s best editors, book marketers, and sales people will now be free agents and thus competitors to the very companies that fired them. Consolidation will continue until there are only two Big Guys left who have finally found a niche to make money: hardcovers for the die-hard collectors and textbooks.

Sound like fiction? We’ll see. In the meantime, if you are an indie author out there looking to get in on the ground floor, check out The Pantheon Collective’s TPC Tips and Marketing 101 series for everything you need to know to start making your way in this brave new world. And it’s FREE, our gift to you!

Good luck and good selling!

{ 2 trackbacks }

ARTS2090 Final Essay. Tara Kohan « 3373149publicsandpublishing
June 7, 2012 at 7:25 AM
Readers are the New Literary Agents — The Pantheon Collective (TPC)
August 27, 2012 at 11:45 AM

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. author of eBook Magic October 15, 2011 at 9:48 AM

I enjoyed reading your article.

At this point, I believe even the staunchest public deniers of the ebook heyday can read the writing on the wall. It will be interesting to see how the Big 6 and other smaller publishers adapt to the ebook market, because once the shakeout phase is over, they will adapt.

2 Gwandine October 15, 2011 at 5:45 PM

Great article for an indie author ebook author such as myself! Thank you for sharing.

3 Bruce Batchelor October 16, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Hey James – Thanks for the great summary. You predict that he Big Two will survive on (in part) textbook sales. Well, that market is eroding as fast as trade books. Companies like, for example, are enabling the flow of new indie content (from all those professors who didn’t get picked before to write textbooks) to students at “free” or minimal cost.
Taking a broader view of this, the role of the “book” itself as a primary mechanism for storytelling is likely waning. It is only for the past 200 or 300 years of mankind’s 500,000 year existence that books have been popular — before that mankind had a largely oral (and possibly telepathic) manner of communicating knowledge… think of the shaman, tribal elder or minstrel. When a modern storyteller has all the capabilities of enhanced (or “amplified”) tablet apps, the experience has evolved into a more multi-sensory entity that needn’t follow the linear metaphor of the codex book. The storytellers become producers of entertainment/learning packages.
Yes, it is the end of the publishing world as we knew it. And it will be fine… and possibly a whole lot better for the content creators and the recipients! :)
thanks, cheers, Bruce

4 Jessica James October 17, 2011 at 7:36 AM

Great post! I used to hide the fact that my books were self-published, but I am now proudly out of the closet. Like you said, the business model of the big publishers is outdated and unsustainable. My books have won awards in competition with “traditional publishers,” proving that there is no reason for authors to wait around for a contract. Do it yourself and reap the rewards.

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