Don’t Cry for the Publishers (though you are free to shake your head)

Not that you are. The Wild Westness trampling over the publishing industry right now is kind of fun to watch. Fun in the sense that anticipation is fun. As a hockey fan, I decry the shootout as an idiotic way to win a game but watching it is the definition of fun. You have fun despite yourself. And so it is with the publishing industry.

Everyday there’s a headline or news item that makes me shake my head. Like Penguin deciding not to sell e-books to the company that sells e-books to libraries. Why? Penguin, channeling forgettable Hollywood movies, says “It’s complicated” and “difficult.” Really? More difficult than people bypassing you altogether and digitizing a book themselves?

The publishing industry had the luxury of sitting back and watching everything that happened to the music industry and they learned almost nothing. They had 10 years to watch record stores vanish, the rise and fall of Napster, the felling of empires (hello, Mr. Bronfman!), downloading, the rise of the indie artist, the uptick in touring, everything, all of it happened to a comparable industry a decade earlier and the publishing industry…dithered. They watched what happened to Hollywood and the video industry and they…dithered. A collective Nero playing the violin.

And now? Let’s see, the bookstores are in trouble if not crisis. E-books are just about equal (in sales) to print titles. Thousands of authors (too many, frankly, but the gates have fallen, the amount of content being pushed is normal) realize they can bypass the system entirely and sell directly to the public. Instead of seeing the change in technology as an opportunity, the establishment publishing industry, like the music industry before it, is seeing a lot of what is happening as a threat.

It’s all happened before.

And so the publishing industry (or, in American parlance, the “Big 6”) has gotten more conservative (if that’s possible – I’ve written about this before), and…. one of the largest publishers in the world decides they are going to plug this dike by ditching the outfit that provides libraries with e-books. It’s kind of funny. And if I weren’t a writer trying to publish a book right now, I might even laugh.


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  1. Posted February 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Don’t worry bro, I’m already laughing. I never even thought of napster or the video industry. I simply forgot about them. But you make a very good point; for them to not have anyone (overpaid enough) to notice something like this is… well kind of silly.

    Good luck on your book. I’ve self published myself, but it is a lot of work, so I submit some of my other material out as well, but these are troubling times.

  2. Erin
    Posted February 12, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think the publishing field is going to be dying any time soon. The fact that e-books are becoming more commonplace isn’t going hurt publishers; it means that publishers will continue to publish books in that way. Plus, there will always be a market for people who don’t want to buy e-books, especially in academic fields, where actual textbooks are more preferred over e-books. And realistically, very few people are able to self-publish their books electronically and be successful. Those people still need publishers to advertise their books.

  3. Punit Dhandhania
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    Though I fully agree with the views in this article, I would like to highlight (and perhaps only in support of the points made in the article) that the book or text publishing industry is very different from the music and video publishing industry:

    Music and video publishing industry makes products that we consume pretty much in a single linear manner. Whereas the text consumption (perhaps less in trade books) is more complex. We search. We research. We refer. We relate or hyperlink. We reflect and in so doing carry out number of analyses.

    We consume music and video products several times (more music than video). Whereas for text we need to keep reading new stuff continually to increase our knowledge or do our research or even to get entertained.

    If the text publishers can build business models around these differences then they need not go down the same route as music publishers.

    Though it is a happy situation that authors (and readers) do not have to depend on the judgement of a few to see their work published and read. Vive indie publishing. But also vive traditional publishing values. Vive la difference. Vive publishing.

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