New Year’s Revolution

By Brett Battles

In the car the other day, my youngest daughter said that she’s going to take better care of the earth. She said it was her New Year’s Revolution.

I corrected her, of course. “Honey, it’s resolution.”

“Right. Resolution.” Then she turned her attention back to her iPod. Kids.

But as we drove on, I got to thinking about that phrase: New Year’s Revolution.

See I’m not a big person on starting the year with resolutions, but with a revolution? I’m not sure I, or any of you, have a choice. Because, like it or not, the publishing industry is going through a revolution.

I’m not even close to being the first person to make this pronouncement. Others have done it here at Murderati and elsewhere in the blogoshere. But I do raise my voice to join theirs. Things are changing, and if we don’t help steer the change we run the chance of being left behind.

There’s a perfect example out there of what can happen. That is the music industry. For years record companies made millions and millions because they controlled all the aspects of producing music for the public: recording, pr, pressing the records/dubbing the tapes/burning the discs. Then suddenly home recording equipment became better, cheaper and easy to use. Making a record in your basement or garage or even living room became a reality. You could even make your own video. At the same time, the ability to self mass produce CDs also became an economic reality. Suddenly you could be a band that could make enough dough touring small clubs and selling your CDs at the end of the show to at least keep your head close to the waterline.

And then even that changed…

Consumers could download music directly from the internet to their computer and transfer them to new little devices that could play these mp3 (and similar) files. For a while, Napster and a few other sites allowed users to share music for a time without any money passing hands. Then when those went away, places like iTunes took their place. And the beauty of iTunes? You didn’t have to have a big record label to make your music available to potential fans all over the world. And those guerilla videos your cousin shot of you and your band? Posted on youtube and facebook and myspace for all to see.

And where was the record industry through all this? Left so far in the dust, they’ve been scrambling ever since to catch up. And that’s not even to mention the retail music business. Music stores are gone for the most part. Sure you can still get CDs at Wallmart or Best Buy, but the sections are growing smaller and smaller every year…perhaps every month.

On the surface you might say, hey, what’s wrong with that? Musicians now can have more control of their careers. And that’s right. For musicians.

But unlike music, where often a raw sound will capture the appreciation of millions, crappy writing will seldom engender a positive response.

Yet big publishing just sits around, the same thing that happened to the record industry will happen to it, and all books could be self-published. I worry about that future.

I think there’s a good chance that in the not too distant future, a majority of books will be purchased or download through places like Amazon or download in audio book form through sites like audible.com. The question is whether big publishing will be part of it or not. My concern is that if they are not, or if there is no suitable replacement, there will be no way for consumers to gauge the quality of the work they might purchase.

To a large extent the publishing industry protects consumers from that. Maybe not all the time, but in large part. They provide experienced editorial help. They put together professional, quality packaging. They able to pull together more pr than an average author can do on his or her own – some author’s might argue this point, but think just about advanced copies alone, and the reviewers and booksellers publishers send copies to…that ain’t cheap. And publishing houses also provide something else: a brand that readers come to trust. I know not every reader looks at who the publisher is, but many do. And if the quality of books goes down, even more will take notice.

The good thing is, the publishing industry for the most part seems to not be sitting around like the music industry did. Are they moving fast enough? Or in the right directions? Perhaps they could do more, and perhaps be more proactive, but that is something that time will tell.

One thing that’s clear is that new technologies are going to be the way of the future. Downloadable audiobooks and eBooks that people can load onto their iPods and Kindles and Sony Readers and whatever device comes around next. Most publishers are heavily involved in audiobooks and have at least dipped their toes into electronic versions. I know the eBooks of my novels are selling well, a trend that caught the attention of my agent and one she says is happening with several of her clients. And my audio sales have been good, too. Some people still buy the CD version, but most are going for the downloads.

I think these are two areas publishing is going to move more and more aggressively into. It has to. It’s future. It’s the mp3 downloads of the music industry.

But beyond that, to survive publishing will probably get leaner and more streamlined. If it doesn’t, it’ll disappear, and we will all be self-publishing. Of course this leads to a bigger question that might be better discussed later: will publishing be releasing less books? I don’t know. My gut says yes, but I don’t want to be the one to volunteer to stop, do you?

What we can do as authors is continue to move in the direction we have been over the last several years. PR by author is a reality now, it’s a way we can help not only ourselves, but our publishers. We need to continue to take an active role in our careers, but by finding ways to work with our publishers and not against them.

But beside that, we need to be aware of what’s going on. We need to be ready to move in whatever direction the industry goes (industry in general, not industry as in publishing houses.) We need to be willing to adapt to new ways whether they come from publishing houses or a some new, yet to be determined structure.

There are many visions of what the future could bring us. All of which will be a revolution in one way or another. No matter which way it goes, though, it is up to us not to be left out.

This isn’t something to be afraid of, more aware of. And no matter what, a big part of what needs to be done on our side is going to be helping each other, and working together. The strength of our community is our power.

So what do you think is going to happen? What’s your scenario for the future?

TODAY'S VIDEO…what else? Revolution by The Beatles

9 thoughts on “New Year’s Revolution

  1. Dana King

    I don’t know what’s going to happen; I’m not sure I care all that much. Your comment about authors remaining flexible is the key here. Publishing will be around in one form or another; how it evolves is beyond our ability to predict.

    Maybe everyone will self-publish. If that’s the case, some other vetting procedure will evolve as soon as enough people get tired of buying a pig in a poke every time they order something up. Could be something like the existing web review sites, with people eventually becoming more comfortable with reviewers they know, much the way they are with movie reviewers now. Could be something altogether different.

    The key is to be ready. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Books are going to be around for a long time; it’s how they will get around that’s in question.

    Reply
  2. Rob Gregory Browne

    I can relate to the music analogy. I’m also a musician and the new tools that are available have made it possible to cut out the middle man altogether. In the future I see more and more musicians selling their work online.

    As for authors, there have already been a few online success stories. I know of a few aspiring writers who couldn’t get a traditional publishing deal and decided to create their own audiobooks. Those audiobooks took off, got very popular, and now those authors have been approached by the publishing industry to publish paper-based books.

    I think the future will see us working on different levels. Big blockbuster books will continue to be released in hardback. More will be released in paperback, and even more will be released direct to Kindle or Sony or iTunes by the authors themselves.

    There will always be gatekeepers, but they’ll become less and less important. I see similar trends happening with video entertainment as well. YouTube has changed everything.

    Reply
  3. Louise Ure

    Heady issues and big questions today, Brett. On a day when I’m feeling very much like being that author who volunteers to quit so that the space will be available for someone else.

    Reply
  4. Allison Brennan

    I agree with Louise, Brett–heady. I don’t think changing the format is a huge deal. Stories were told before we had paper. Stories will always be told. Creativity is what keeps society functioning (well, and procreation, but I’ve done my part there, thank you very much.) Without stories (verbal, written, visual) and art, we become drones working to exist and not to live and enjoy life.

    I have no problem with ebooks–all my books are produced electronically. I have a HUGE problem with piracy (obviously) and the attitude of people that it doesn’t “cost anything” for them to illegally share or download copyrighted material. My only opposition to ebooks is the ease at which they are illegally shared. The kindle, now, has protections built in, but just wait until some unemployed hacker breaks the code . . . I know they have to be trying. I love the idea of Apple coming up with an electronic reader and if they do, that may be the turning point for me to move to ebooks. However, I will always love and buy print books–and I think there are a lot of people who will continue to buy and read print books. E-books will increase as a share of the marketplace, but right now I don’t see them replacing or equally print books in the next five years. (Five years ago someone said print books would be obsolete by 2010. Hmm, I don’t think so.)

    My e-book sales are miniscule compared to my print book sales. I’m watching the numbers and if they start to go up, then great, I’m still making money on those sales. I don’t care how the book sells . . .

    I also think that quality, in the end, will win out. There will be people trying to sell their stories independent of a publisher (small or large) but the buying public isn’t stupid, they’re not going to buy inferior products. They’ll seek out those which, through word of mouth, are high quality and then . . . those self-published authors will be offered a NY contract.

    And ultimately, while there are online success stories, those authors are marketing and pushing and selling their books and that’s not something I want to do. AND they all are seeking that NY contract. If anyone knows a self-published success story who turned down a NY contract because they felt they could do better on the outside, let me know, because usually you hear them working their ass off to sell their books so they can get the NY contract.

    Anyway, the format may change, but stories will be around forever.

    Reply
  5. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Brett

    “So what do you think is going to happen? What’s your scenario for the future?”

    Erm, besides the fact we’re all doomed? Doooooomed, I tell ye … ;-]

    A damned good agent, that’s my solution. I’m a writer first and foremost. I trust my agent, who’s one of the best in the business, to spot the trends and advise me accordingly.

    Very interesting (if slightly depressing) post, though!

    Reply
  6. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Brett

    You’re a star! Actually, I’ve no idea how you’d pronounce ‘Zöe’ – ‘Zoo’, I expect.

    Which some people might think was quite appropriate … ;-]

    Reply
  7. pari

    Brett,You know one thing I think all of us writers can do is to support literacy — really.

    We need to find ways to encourage reading for those who don’t know how (a big issue in New Mexico) to those who don’t know why it would be enjoyable.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.