Thursday, August 25, 2011

Are the End Times Approaching for Traditional Publishing?

Joe Konrath, a champion of the indie publishing movement, posted another great article titled “The End is Nigh,” about the potential demise of the traditional publishing model.  Konrath continues to make compelling arguments about the fate of traditional publishing and what authors should do in the face of it.  I’m a keenly interested observer in this debate, trying to decide whether to go the esteemed (or once-esteemed) traditional publishing route or embark on the bold new journey of indie publishing.  Articles like Konrath’s make me think.  But what are your views?  Is traditional publishing on the verge of an Apocalypse?

Are the Four Horseman charging down the streets of Manhattan?


Richard Campbell said...

I wouldn't count traditional publishing out just yet.

"BookStats, a comprehensive survey conducted by two major trade groups that was released early Tuesday, revealed that in 2010 publishers generated net revenue of $27.9 billion, a 5.6 percent increase over 2008. Publishers sold 2.57 billion books in all formats in 2010, a 4.1 percent increase since 2008."

"The American Booksellers Association, the national trade organization for independently owned bookstores, counted a 7 percent growth last year and has gained 100 new members i n the past six months. The association now counts 1,830 member stores across the country, up by 400 since 2005, according to Meg Smith, the association’s spokeswoman."

BJB said...

As a reader, not a writer, I am in favor of keeping around some big, traditional publishing houses. They serve as a double-layer filter for readers. First, to filter out much of the garbage and bring mostly good stuff to print. I recognize that there is lots of room to debate this statement and argue that plenty of crap gets published. Still, for any crap that makes it to print, I suppose there is umpteen times more crap out there that was caught at the gate, so if there were no filter at all, the crap quotient would be un-navigable to the average consumer of fiction. Second, traditional publishers offer a potentially invaluable service to writers -- editing! Editing often takes good work and makes it better. Again, I recognize room for debtate here too, and I am confident that many manuscripts were not necessarily improved upon in the publisher-editing process. Still, again, I would venture that the odds favor the editing here. Konrath, in his blog, notes my first point above (filtering) but quickly discounts it. He uses the example of Wikipedia to support his argument. In my personal view, I find his analogy unpersuasive. I see too many distinctions between Wikipedia and fiction/genre/litrature to argue that the Wikipedia "method" can work well for the latter. I also do not see the music scene, with its trend toward self-released music, as being comparable either. Songs are less expensive to buy and way quicker to sample and fully experience than books. Also, and partially because of the same characteristics just mentioned, I think music can cross audience lines more easily than books. Ergo, filtering is less critical in the music industry than the book industry. Finally, while it is true that self-publishing authors can get their books to the public digitally, they are also limited to digital promotion of their work. That is, unless they want to be responsible personally for planning, implementing and paying for their non-internet advertising, signing tours, interviews and appearances, etc. So I do think publishing houses play a good role in the system.

Joseph Finley said...

Thanks Richard and BJB for the comments! I think the real question will be what happens if another major bookseller goes under? If the only brick and mortar booksellers are Target, Walmart, etc., then only bestselling authors will have their books sold outside of on-line sellers, like Amazon. And once sites like Amazon become your primary marketplace, e-publishing and offering hard copy books via print-on-demand suddenly becomes one of the most viable ways to get your book published - since, presumably, the publishing houses will be dropping midlist authors and anyone else who can't sell books at Target and Walmart. Readers will have to rely more on Amazon reviews and sites like to filter the wheat from the chaff. We're not there yet, but it certainly appears the industry is changing.