Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Future of Publishing

The phrase above is the title of John Scalzi's contribution to the "SF in the Digital Age" section of the January 2011 LOCUS. (He's president of SFWA.) He was asked how book publishing will look five years from now. His four predictions, quoted verbatim:

1. Publishing will still exist in five years.

2. E-books will be a bigger chunk of sales, but print books will still be about.

3. More authors will be successful self-publishing, but possibly fewer than you might expect.

4. Writers will still engage in magical thinking when it comes to the online world and social media.

I can identify with, and wince at, the last. I often catch myself wondering why my website, e-mail newsletter, blog posts, and excellent online reviews of my books haven't automatically increased my sales.

My favorite sentence from Scalzi's essay, commenting on the rise of e-books as a significant factor in the book world:

"Publishing is nearly always undergoing wrenching change, distribution and marketing is always getting the rug yanked out from under it, and 'the good old days' are always at some point in the past where older authors can convince younger authors that giants walked the earth and money fell from the sky."

And he goes on to say that the publishing industry "is likely to survive today's wrenching change, so it can freak out about the next wrenching change five years down the line."

(This article doesn't seem to be on the LOCUS website, so I can't supply a link. If you can track down a copy of the issue, read all the essays in the topic section.)

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. Margaret,

    I think that the "royalty" model may not survive.

    Already the idea that an author is paid a percentage of the sale price of a book is being undermined.

    There's the concept of "lending" which involves the creation of an extra "copy" of an e-book, also of "shared" accounts on Amazon, and some librarians call for the right to lend the same one e-book in perpetuity for the cost of the original copy.

    In effect, the library expects to purchase not only the one e-copy, but the copyright.

    If "first sale" rights are granted to e-book purchasers, the situation will become much messier than it is now.

  2. PS.

    I saw a post somewhere suggesting that Amazon is the new slush pile.

    I don't think the tone was altogether complimentary.

    Is the "slush" supposed to be the self-published free reads?

  3. I don't know about the "royalty" model being in jeopardy. All my publishers still pay that way. The "advance" model, however, is no longer universal; e-publishers don't use it, since their typically short lead time to publication and frequency of payments make up (to some extent) for not getting the money up front.

    What I would love to see is the end of the "return" component of bookstore distribution. What other industry gives merchants credit for "returning" products that have been destroyed? But we've been screaming about this issue for decades.