By Gail Z. Martin
You’ve seen the headlines. “Print is dead!” “Books are History!” “It’s the End of Reading As We Know It!”
Rumors of the death of publishing, to borrow from Mark Twain, have been exaggerated. It’s certainly shifting and changing, breaking new ground and taking new forms, but it’s not dead yet.
I would argue that publishing is where camera makers and record producers were several years ago. You remember records, right? Round, spinney things that played songs? They gave way to CDs, which were rendered useless by … Napster. Record companies never saw downloadable music coming, and because their entire business model was built on charging for entire albums rather than song by song, they felt very threatened. It took a while for legal downloads to win their trust, and even so, many major artists were hold-outs for many years.
Then there were cameras—the film kind. You know, where you take photos that are saved on film and you have to pay for the film to be developed, and wait a while, and then get to see your pictures? Kodak owned that market, but it didn’t see the threat digital cameras posed to their kingdom until it was too late. Good luck trying to get your film developed at your neighborhood drug store these days. Everything’s gone digital. Kodak’s gone bankrupt.
Or how about watching movies at home? Not too long ago, people went to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and rented movies. Then Netflix created a way for you to get your movies without leaving home, and Redbox gave you top hits for just a buck. Bye-bye Blockbuster.
Have people stopped listening to music? Taking pictures? Watching movies at home? No. They just changed how they consume them.
That’s a lesson publisher are slowly learning. Their profit models are built around how things used to be, and the new reality is uncertain and scary. They’re tippy-toeing into the brave new world of ebooks, wary of technology that might cut out the traditional publishing middle-men.
Meanwhile, authors and small presses are experimenting. You’ll see long-published authors bringing out their out-of-print titles on ebook as self-published ebooks. You might see small presses offering the first book of a series for free to hook new readers into paying for future installments. Authors and small presses are doing Kickstarter projects to underwrite the cost of putting out a new book, and readers are proving that they’ll pay for content they really like.
We’re seeing the return of serialized novels, something that hasn’t been popular since Charles Dickens. Podcasts offer audio novels created by the authors themselves, while social media allows authors to interact with readers in real-time, all the time.
The world of publishing has changed, and it’s changed fast. Tomorrow’s successful authors will be marketing pros as well as good writers, because staying in touch with readers through Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and other sites is part of doing business. Readers expect to have an ongoing conversation with authors, and writers ignore that at their peril. Publishing houses still haven’t grasped that their real value lies in their ability to promote, because many of them still view marketing as a secondary function. In reality, they’re sitting on a gold mine and haven’t quite realized it yet.
So is the publishing apocalypse upon us? I don’t think so. We do live in “interesting times” as the Chinese curse says, but it’s not cause for despair. Publishing, and books, will be with us for a long time to come.
Gail Z. Martin is the author of Ice Forged in her new The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen ) and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn and The Dread). She is also the author of two series on ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Series. Find her online at www.AscendantKingdoms.com.