It’s hard to know what to think about the state of publishing. Every other day someone is declaring the book to be dead — and in between, there is someone rebutting the doomsday prophecies of the end of books. if you’re a new author trying to get into the book market, it’s downright anxiety inducing.
Over at The Guardian Lloyd Shepherd writes:
According to Nielsen BookScan, the publishing industry standard for book sales data, book sales are pretty healthy, with one significant proviso which I’ll come to. Ten years ago in 2001, 162m books were sold in Britain. Ten years later – a decade in which the internet bloomed, online gaming exploded, television channels proliferated, digital piracy rampaged and, latterly, recession gloomed – 229m books sold. So, a 42% increase in the number of books sold over the last 10 years.
Shepherd goes on to discuss ebooks and their purveyors — namely Barnes & Noble and Amazon:
If you’re an independent bookseller, Amazon must look like a cold, relentless stealth bomber casting its shadow over the pavement outside. But to the publisher and the writer, don’t things in Amazonia look rather different?
The Economist had a different take on it all, though:
Book publishing resembles the newspaper business in the late 1990s, or music in the early 2000s. Although revenues are fairly stable, and the traditional route is still the only way to launch a blockbuster, the climate is changing. Some of the publishers’ functions—packaging books and promoting them to shops—are becoming obsolete. Algorithms and online recommendations threaten to replace them as arbiters of quality. The tide of self-published books threatens to swamp their products. As bookshops close, they lose a crucial showcase. And they face, as the record companies did, a near-monopoly controlling digital distribution: Amazon’s grip over the e-book market is much like Apple’s control of music downloads.
So how are we to make sense of all of this? My advice: embrace change.
Is the book industry dying? No, quite the opposite. Instead there is a huge sea change afoot. Control is shifting, and the days of editors in the ivory towers of Manhattan are not long for this world. Instead, authors and readers are assuming control. Authors who have not found acceptance through traditional means, can turn to the ever-expanding list of available self-publishing tools — letting readers decide for themselves whether something is worth reading. Perhaps more importantly, it allows those same readers to speak up when a book is sub-par. Previously, bad books just ended up half-read on the bookshelves of buyers.
The truth is, acquiring editors in large publishing houses are basically flying blind. There is no real market research or data to back up any of their decisions — from the purchase to the cover art, it’s all just up to their expertise, and their whims. For every blockbuster an editor brings in, there are probably a half-dozen mid-list books and a few flops. They spend more time in meetings than they do editing, and it shows.
Digital publishing and the sale of ebooks through sites like Amazon — which collects lots of data about its shoppers — gives publishers a huge advantage. Sure, learning how to turn a profit from digital publishing entails restructuring clunky, redundant workflows and business models, but like I said, it’s time to embrace change. Rather than the death of books, publishers would be wise to look at this time in their history as the rebirth of books.
It’s pretty clear that many authors are already doing just that.