Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Demise of Print Publishing?

Print publishing is dead. But is the written word dead also? Do people not read anymore? That’s a scary thought and kind of ridiculous when one really thinks about it. Actually, the reverse is true, because people, as a whole, read more today than at any time in human history. They are just not reading ink on paper print as much as they once were, say, last year.

There’s big shift in the great publishing paradigm going on, folks. In case you haven’t noticed, there are these devices called computers and these devices are all hooked into something called the World Wide Web, and this is where loads of reading is going on these days. This “new” reading material is called Web content, and it provides both fiction and nonfiction selections in the forms of novels, news, poetry, essays, etc., and well as social networking communication.

To give an example of where this is going, a funny thing happened awhile ago. I was reading, on the Web, of course, a news item which quoted Twitter as a news source. TWITTER! This allegedly frivolous social network that feeds the so-called narcissistic nobody’s ego has become a source for newsfeeds. Unbelievable! But I’m not shocked. CNN has been using Twitter and Facebook for quite some time to get instant feedback from viewers. However, to quote a Tweet is something relatively new. What does this have to do with print publishing and its demise? Quite a bit, actually. First though, let’s take a trip into the past.

New writers don’t understand that publishing, as we now know it today, is a fairly new concept. The publishing houses that we call the Big Five were actually small, privately owned companies just a few decades ago and became the giants we know now not back in ancient times, but in the 1980’s. Of course, to many of the editors who work for corporations like Penguin Putnam and Simon & Schuster, those were the dark ages because it was before most of them were born.

Things change fast these days, so don’t be too surprised if within one more generation, those that we know as major publishers are no longer the ones producing our reading materials. As a matter of fact, are they actually producing it now? Do the Big Five produce what the majority of readers read? No. If what’s been stated above is true, that the majority of people read Web content, then what’s read is produced by you and me, or rather the you’s and me’s who write on the Web as people interacting with other people.

So who gets paid for all this writing? This is a reasonable question, isn’t it? At least it’s reasonable for those who write and expect to get paid for their words. Is there so much free, interesting reading material out there now that no one has to or wants to pay for it? Something for the writer who just finished a 140,000-word tome to consider, and just a thought to leave you with until our next post on the changing world of writing for publication.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I'm also wondering what direction publishing will go with ebooks. I know some people say that there will always be a demand for books in print. My husband feels that once a decent ebook player comes down in price, the sale of ebooks will soar. I can't help but remember those in the 80s who said no one would be able to afford a computer. Now it seems most people have one in their homes. I totally agree with the whole paradigm shift too. It'll be interesting to see what will happen in the coming decade.

Sir John said...

I think it was Sir Francis Bacon who said knowledge existed in two forms. One, knowing the actual information and two, knowing how to find it. With the explosion of information and writing I think the second will become the most important.

Johnny Ray

Elisa said...

"So who gets paid for all this writing?"

All this "free" writing seems to be the platform on which authors build their audience now. Be it through blogs, Twitter, ebooks, etc. Free stuff attracts people.

I sold the same number of books on Kindle in one month (and the price is listed under 2 dollars) than I did in six months in print version. I love the tactile book (don't even own a Kindle), but if selling Kindle copies at such a low price attracts more readers, then I accept that, and hope that following will go to the bookstore for the next book.

It just seems to be the trend right now.

Scott Jensen said...
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Scott Jensen said...
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Anonymous said...

I love ebooks but there are several problems with the current small presses. The editing is horrible. 99% of the current editors are paid by copy sold. They earn royalties along with the author. It makes for sloppy work when they rush to get to the next book. The editors are also not well trained. I've personally seen books harmed by editors trying to impress.

There is another problem. Many small publishers are turning to erotica to make their sales. EC authors are the best paid. As long as they write about leather-clad, 3-way, weres, who all have soul mates and magically fall in love after the first bang they will get readers.

It used to be that I turned to small presses for books that had a wider subject area. Few can do this as the market tightened. To put it simply sex sells. The little guy tapped into the housewives wanting spicier reading. The market is huge.

One positive is the Kindle. I think it helped the larger presses to put more in electronic form. For those of us who have been reading PDFs, and LITs for ten years, electronic books aren't new. I'm surprised it's taken mainstream this long to catch on.

There are still too many resisting the change though. RWA recently came under fire for acting as if ebook authors weren't authors at all.

In the end, ebooks are great. When the big boys open up and start pushing this trend maybe we will get a wider variety of books. Until then, the million dollar epubs will be the ones doing erotica, and steamy romance.

Jim MacKrell said...

Who do you think will be the most adversely affected by this change? Authors, Agents or Publishers? If each will be equally affected can you which group will be affected the most and why.

Kathryn Lang said...

Writers will have to change - they will have to change the normal way of doing things, they will have to change how they write (print and internet are relatively different formats) and they will have to change how they expect to earn a living as a writer. Change is life - the sooner we embrace it then the better off we will be.

Dan Holloway said...

I was delighted to be put onto this by @pitchparlour

You say
"New writers don’t understand that publishing, as we now know it today, is a fairly new concept" - yes, and I find the problem is even more endemic than that. Almost no one I have come across recognises that books as the primary medium for stories are, in the history of storytelling, a new phenomenon. When I argue in favour of author-reader interaction and get the response that this interferes with an author's voice, I sometimes wonder if there are writers who actually think "Homer" wrote The Odyssey down on a piece of papyrus. Stories arose, for most of their lives, in communities, and evolved with their communities. The idea that they could be "captured" in print and fossilised is a very modern thing.

Dan Holloway said...

@Jim - I've blogged on this a lot. I think the people most affected of all will be publishers. I think the industry of the future will consist of niche specialists - editors, printers, designers, marketers, and authors/their representatives will be able to choose which they want without being constrained to whoever is "in house". I don't think there is a role for publishers unless they think hard about what they can add to the individual tasks.

Agents will have a different role - helping the author coordinate all of the above. Authors I think will be affected very little. The increased opportunities offered by the internet and POD will mean more authors get access to readers. The concommitant is that some of those who are currently as good as tenured may lose their status if they can't compete with exciting new voices from outside the mainstream. But there will still be a good market for good storytelling.

So, definitely publishers will be the losers - I honestly don't think they realise it. When they talk of the problems with the book market, they mean problems for them - not for readers and writers. I really think they have to get out of the mindset that authors need them, and start realising they need to convince the best authors they still have something to offer. Otherwise they'll just die, scratching their heads, as the industruy moves on.

Lisa Horstman said...

Perhaps something to keep in mind is a book's simple beauty and ease of use. You don't need to rely on a power source to read it. It can be taken most anywhere. Once you buy it, it's yours unless you give it away, trade it, or sell it. A freshly printed book smells wonderful.

There is room in this world for both traditional print and electronic media.