Monday, July 19, 2010

Another Look at Changes in Publishing


I was reading a couple of author blogs this week, ones that really "spoke" to the questions running around my brain on the topic of the changing publishing industry. Thanks to Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Mary W. Walters, Holly Lisle and the agent blogs - I am starting to see the publishing industry as not one system but two.

Publishing 1.0 is hard hit by the economy, subject to sweeping changes in personnel, but very much bound by tradition business practices. The Big Six are media conglomerates; a "Twilight" type of book is what they live for, and live on. Spin off merchandise, music sound tracks, items that saturate the market. The feeding frenzy has to be proportionate to the size of the conglomerate. It needs to have the whole hog, not just a bite of it.

Because of this, Publishing 1.0 has dropped the midlist book (with the notable exception of Harlequin.) Therefore, the agents that procure the manuscripts that feed the beast have dropped it as well. The push is for more of the same – more "Twilight," more "Vampire Slayer," more "Killer Thriller" books fed into the maw of the media.

You know, I'm going to put Harlequin in the category of Publishing 1.2. They are more advanced than Publishing 1.0 in so many ways. Harlequin publishes books in paper format – but they have a very large following of reader and writers that are online and active. They e-publish many books – on their website and on http://www.fictionwise.com/.

Publishing 2.0, anchored by Amazon.com, surrounded by multiple iterations. Small publishing companies – often genre specific – notably romance, romantica (sexy stories for women) and erotica.

The quick-minded in Publishing 2.0 have gleefully swept up the midlist. Some of them are making serious money. Ellora's Cave, Black Lyon Publishing, Wild Rose Press and Liquid Silver are all major players in e-romance.

Then there is Amazon, the Kindle e-reader and Amazon Encore Publishing, which looks like Publishing 2.3 to me. Amazon has gone from a bookstore to something bigger and more amazing, into e-books, a venue for self-publishing and now a book publisher.

Each version of publishing has its own rules.

Publishing 1.0 has 'gatekeepers' to keep out the unworthy: Agents troll the sea of manuscripts – looking for the next 'big one' to deliver to one of the Big Six. Lately, the word on the blogosphere is that agents aren't making money like they used to. (Who is?) Either the days of the big advance are over or there are too many agents in the small pond.

Publishing 1.2 has strict guidelines on story structure – but supports their writers and the community of prospective writers. No agents are required for entrance, but some writer's have them. The downside here is that once they buy a book, they own it. Still there are hundreds of writers who work for Harlequin and they write lots of books.

Publishing 2.0 has a bit of an image problem with the Pub 1.0 crowd. They don't pay advances, or too small an advance for agents to shop them, but they have writers and readers galore. There is a lot of money in e-publishing, Ellora's Cave took in 5 million in one year.

I suspect the Pub 2.0 crowd cries about their 'image' all the way to the bank.

Amazon, Pub 2.3, is the Big Player – they have plenty of cash to experiment and lots of bright young men to come up with new ideas for expansion. While they didn't invent the e-reader, they've taken the idea and run with it. Along with Sony and Apple, they are pushing the e-book/e-reader market as far as they can. With several million smart phones that read Kindle – the market is lucrative to say the least.

The Kindle market has thrown open the doors of e-publishing to everyone. An avalanche of writers has come to test themselves. E-publishing has gone from a small pond with six big fish to one of the Great Lakes. The water is deep, and very cold.

The Pub 1.0 predicts that the 'slush pile' (an ocean of manuscripts 99% of it being poorly written) will take Amazon and Kindle down – and e-book sales with it. They insist that only their vigilance has kept this unruly tide from swamping the market with sewage.

If the 'average' Pub 1.0 book only sells 16 copies – while the average self-published book sells 150 copies – what does that tell you? Pub 1.0 is full of bullshit.

E-books are selling at a phenomenal rate on Android App phones and e-readers. Indie authors are surfacing as major players, while midlist writers are scrambling to post their backlists. The Project Gutenberg is posting out of copy write books free. Google has scanned every book they can get their grasping paws on. Market share is soaring by percentage points every quarter.

One (wo)man's bullshit is another (wo)man's compost.

We live in interesting times – get used to it.

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