Thursday, September 20, 2018

Changing Publishing Models

Staking out new opportunities in a time of rapid change in the publishing industry

I’ve begun to see the “small publisher” (SP) value proposition diminish. In cutting back on editing and marketing support, in losing ground to technology that makes it possible to go direct from author to reader today (i.e. e-books), in having no better alternative to online distribution offered by the likes of Amazon, and in still sticking to an outdated compensation model that pays an author only 10% in royalties despite its diminishing contribution, the small publishing house has to go the way of the dodo. Sure, some arts subsidies may hold SP aloft for awhile, but shrinking government support for the arts makes that lifeline no better than hanging onto a deflating life vest in a giant flood.

On the reverse side, I see another SP gaining traction: Self Publishing is getting its second wind. Yes, savvy self-published authors are now having their work vetted and edited, and even designing fancy covers for their work; they have come a long way from the early days when self-publishing was slammed by adherents to the traditional model for the movement’s obvious lack of “quality.” Self-published authors are settling in for the long term and doing it “for love of the art” and are getting comfortable with the notion that they may only end up selling a few copies of their books even if they work hard at it in this ever widening tsunami of written material out there today. And they hold out in hope that they may yet get “discovered” one day. How long will this idealism last?

I’ve also seen the author-as-publisher model emerge. Given the technology that is available today, and the narrow doors into the brand name publisher portals that makes entry difficult but for a chosen few, these writers (the savvy ones) are starting their own publishing companies, anchored by their own books and supported by others who have struggled to get published in the traditional way. Outsource everything but editorial selection, is their mantra.

When water is plentiful, it will find ways to flow through any crack, and written material is plentiful these days; it will find a way to get out, even if limited to 140 byte driblets. However, it is not supply, but demand that is hard to generate. The successful publisher is the one who can create demand and make the proud claim—either on the back of its own brand or on that of its authors—“Read this book, for it is good!” and have readers comply. I am not sure that any of the three models mentioned above can achieve this level of reader obeisance unless they cultivate niches that they have experience in.

Therefore, could these small publisher, self-published author, and principal-author-anchored publishing company models be setting themselves up for a smart aggregator to muscle in, offer them an exit strategy, snap them up at a bargain, cut out non-selling titles in their back lists, and retain only ones whose authors have built a reader platform for themselves through personal sweat equity? Isn't Amazon and Kobo trying to do just that with their recent announcements about becoming publishers? This aggregator-type reminds me of those leveraged buyout vultures in books like Barbarians at the Gate who dismembered companies to extract only the valuable and re-sellable parts, dumping everything else without any compunction towards the industry they were raiding. What value will aggregators add to authors, and what will they destroy?

In this fluid situation, what does the author, who does not have access to the big brand publishing house with its embedded marketing machine, do? Wait and watch these shifting landscapes, and continue to refine his prose, for at the end of the day, the reader is the judge.

About the Writer

Shane Joseph is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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6 comments on Changing Publishing Models

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By TonyBerkman on November 05, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Hey Shane, this is an interesting article and still highly relevant. Have you gained any more insights into the direction of self-publishing and whether it is a viable route for authors or perhaps even more viable for "good" writeres than having to go through the traditional chain-of-command to be published?

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By Angie Alaniz on November 05, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Self Publishing does have a viable route. I think its because there is many options one can benefit from doing their own publishing.Creating your own e-book for one alone is a huge advantage. Even doing your own press release has its own advantages. Getting the word out there isn't so hard. Like everything else it just takes some time to do it.

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By Shane Joseph on November 06, 2011 at 05:43 am

tony, i have learned a lot more in this arena since. i will be publishing a new article shortly on my futher discoveries in this space. stay tuned!

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By Uttam Gill on November 06, 2011 at 06:05 am

Shane you got a point...coventions are breaking...I am pretty sure self publishing can make a huge difference

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By PATRICK PETION on November 10, 2011 at 11:20 pm

well self published is not attractive to the general public, the reason why is, first you are not able to present your writting to a large public, segond, they, mean society will assume that you self publish because no one want to publish your book therefore it isn't really good. third no real book store will accept to sale your book, so no real exposure. finally, if you aint have a brand name people won't buy your book event if it very inexpensive

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By Shane Joseph on November 11, 2011 at 08:14 am

Patrick - building a brand name is largely up to the author these days, unless you are one of the hallowed ones who made his reputation a decade or more ago. I have self-published and trade-published and the results in both instances are largely driven by how much the author works at promoting himself and his work. Thanks for your comments - Shane

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