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The Brave New World of Book Publishing?

Brave New World of Book PublishingIt’s interesting to see how much the publishing of books or in fact any creative activity has changed since we all became digital beings.

This revolution started in the music industry with artists able to plug in directly to their potential audience through a whole host of sites, initially Myspace and after YouTube and then through more money driven sites such as Amazon and iTunes.

These offered the promise to anyone with a modicum of talent the chance to bypass all those negative structures – agents, managers, music company executives – that didn’t recognise talent or who refused to take a risk and thereby ended another burgeoning career.

The future would be different, talent would be allowed to connect directly with a waiting audience and success would be assured.  Finally, it would all be based on ability and not on random stuff such as the whim of someone in the industry who wouldn’t know butter from margarine.

And so the publishing industry followed the new democratic model created by the music industry.  However, it’s becoming clear that we’re not really getting the future we were promised.  True, it is incredibly easy to be a published writer, all you need is a blog, a computer and an internet connection and away you go.  The world is online for you and anyone with an internet connection can see, read and comment on your genius.  You can release short stories, plays, chapters of a new novel into the unfettered wilds of the world wide web and wait for the response.  And for the vast majority of writers that wait will go on and on with hope sustained by the long-shot successes of books such as 50 Shades of Grey.  Even if a readership is found, and this maybe enough for many writers, can that audience then be encouraged to support you in a financial way?

Clearly, it’s too late to go back to the old days of physical publishing and the whole structure created to support it including the selection of a few writers paid to feed and maintain that structure.  However, the alternative universe we now find ourselves in is equally as unsatisfying; free access to your potential audience but with very little chance of being found by that audience.  And on top of that this free access is based on the philosophy that everything is free no matter the cost to you in creating it.  This open culture of free will ultimately not sustain creativity, one of the pioneer’s of this free model, Jaron Lanier, now has some interesting things to say about what has been the result of the open culture orthodoxy.

What is needed is a hybrid of these two models, an approach that is more democratic in terms of access but also helps reward individuals for their creativity, without this it is difficult to see why creativity will continue to be attractive.

The Word… has something to say about helping you to stand out in the online crowd and over the coming months will be offering pointers and suggestions that we hope will help you find your audience.

Tell us in the comments below what you think about the direction that publishing has taken over the last 5 years and what support you would like to see from us to help your publishing endeavours.

About Mark At The Word...

Once upon a time, when Mark was 8, he was asked to read a story he'd written about robots destroying the world to the whole school. He read that story, everyone laughed in the right places and a writer was born.

When not writing Mark reads to escape the many frustrations that life has created for him.

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  • Rod Griffiths October 24, 2013, 11:45 am

    I think the hybrid that you speak of is emerging. Although there are a lot of free e-books, and free is a good way to seek volume and make a name for yourself, I think most writers who are proud of their work end up charging something. For a self published author I think the price equations are fairly simple. If you publish through the traditional process then you will probably make somewhere between 50 pence and 100 pence per book sold, so why not self publish and sell your ebooks for 100 pence. You make the same amount of money and at that price you are more likely to sell books.

    The problem comes in selling enough to be able to support yourself and your writing. If you want to have your work edited then there are costs, if you want to eat while you write, then there are costs.
    Publishing has now become easy for an individual author to achieve, and if you work with friends and pool experience, then it is even easier. Publishing is not the problem, marketing and selling is the problem.

    In the old model the total number of books available was limited by the amount of risk the publishers were prepared to take. As the apparent competition from self publishing increased, so the traditionalists seem to have become more risk averse. They look for sure fire hits, so they tend to opt for celebrities and others with a pre-existing platform, and they take less risks with new authors and existing mid list authors, which pushed more writers towards self publishing. There is a risk of a downward spiral in this approach.

    In parallel there appears to have been a growth of businesses that see writers as their main source of income. In the past this was called vanity publishing. Why the traditional houses and their associated agents and authors sought to insult this model with a name like ‘vanity’, I have never understood. It is not as though they were in competition, one made money from readers and the other from writers.

    So what can be distilled from all this? I am reminded of a quote from Howard Hodgkin, the artist, who said, “Of course ambition is so much more important than talent.”

    Wanting to write and write well is not what you need for success. What is needed is the ambition to sell.

    • Mark at the Word October 25, 2013, 11:22 am

      Rod, thanks for your feedback. I agree the hybrid does seem to be developing, although there’s a long way to go. It is definitely interesting times with a lot of opportunity for new approaches and there is money out there somewhere to pay for creativity – it’s just finding where it is.

      I suppose it’s being imaginative, identifying something, to use that terrible phrase, that brings added value and your audience will be prepared to pay for. You’re right though, even in this e-world, ambition, drive and self-belief will take you a long way.