There’s been a lot of press lately about the future of the book, of bookstores, and of self-publishing. Is the book as we know it dead? Are bookstores doomed and will self-publishing thrive at the expense of the traditional publishing houses? We decided to check around to see what some of the major players in the publishing arena are saying about the impact the explosive changes in publishing are having on the future of the book industry.
What’s actually changed for the indie author in the last five or so years?
- The number of ISBNs associated with self-published books has climbed 437 percent between 2008 and 2013 according to Bowker, the official U.S. ISBN agency. And this figure does not even take into account the large number of e-books published without an ISBN.
- Self-publishers have become sophisticated marketers -- finding and connecting with their readers through social media, Amazon, and by selling directly from their websites in ways never possible before.
- Print-on-Demand (POD) has freed the indie author from having to print hundreds of offset copies of her book and store them in her basement. Now, both print and e-book sales can be handled online.
- Self-publishing is gaining more and more respect, and can become big business, especially for authors of genre fiction.
- Esteemed organizations such as The Authors Guild now welcome self-published authors who have earned at least $5,000 from their writing in the previous 18 months.
Sounds like good news for the indie author, but what about the future of the book itself?
“It is much brighter than people think,” according to an essay published by The Economist in October, 2014. “To see technology purely as a threat to books risks missing the point,” the essay continues. “Books are not just 'tree flakes encased in a dead cow', as a scholar put it. They are a technology in their own right, one developed and used for the refinement and advancement of thought.” The essay goes on to predict that “there will be new experiments in storytelling, new genres born of the electronic age, and new authors who never would have been discovered in a print-only world. But there will also go on being lots of books in print -- many of which may be more pleasant to hold, feel and own than ever before.”
As for bookstores -- everyone seems to agree that they have been hardest hit by the new technologies and distribution channels. The consensus is that bookstores, too, have to morph, to adapt, to figure out ways to satisfy readers by offering them even more services, products, and lively community gatherings.
And what about the big five traditional publishing companies themselves? “Publishers will only be relevant if they can give authors evidence that they can connect their works to more readers than anybody else,” says Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, the largest consumer book publisher.
C.J. Lyons, former pediatric ER doctor and bestselling indie author, says in the Authors Guild Summer 2014 Bulletin, “The power is not just shifting to the author, but to the readers with the author. The publishers have no clue who the readers are... The readers ally with the writers. The readers will follow me. They recognize my name. They don’t remember whose imprint is on the spine of the book.”
Jane Friedman, professor, author, and self-publishing guru, has this to say. “The only thing I know for sure about the future of self-publishing is that it will always be a viable and sometimes better method of launching a career than partnering with a traditional publishing house. Bottom line, self-publishing is now a significant component of the overall publishing industry and will remain so. It’s not going to put all the traditional publishers out of business, although they -- along with agents -- will change their business strategy and services as a result. The funny thing in all this, though, is how much self-publishers and traditional publishers have begun to mimic each other in strategy, approach, and process.
As industry commentator Baldur Bjarnason said during a talk, there's not a meaningful difference between the two models. Neither side may be truly prepared for what the future of reading entails, or how books may evolve. To me, that is the most interesting and challenging question for authors.”
Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.com.