Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stealing a headline: Can Publishing Really Be Replaced by a Button?

This headline came from Book Business in a “blurb” to promote a virtual publishing business conference. It is the topic Rory O’Connor will speak on at his keynote address.

I suppose I am a broken record on this (yes, the anachronism of “record” is intentional). The answer is “yes” if you feel publishing is simply making your writing available to random people.  Of course that was true when the first web page was put up, 21 years ago. Yeah, e-readers have changed things, but the concept isn’t all that much different, just the scale of adoption.

The question isn’t really “can it” but “should it” and “will it.”

I have been pretty blunt on the “should it” in past postings. It shouldn’t: for quality reasons, for author bandwidth reasons, for filtering reasons, and for editorial reasons. Market forces may ignore all those reasons. The market doesn’t give a damn about critics. It really doesn’t give a damn about whether authors (or publishers) make money or not. In the end, it may not even care whether Amazon exists or not.

Hell, Google (or Bing) could simply put out a standard that anyone with a webpage can post a compliant ePub and links to a payment system and Google (Bing) would have a special search (say “<genre>” or “<author>”) and all books show up in the search, with their cover and price and a way to buy it. No Amazon. No B&N. No publisher.

Note to patent trolls. This idea is now “public.”

Think of this as the Amazon model in extreme. Amazon already deals with spam books (same book published over and over with different names, a few paragraphs changed etc.) There is already no quality control on CONTENT (forget the formatting, that is easy).

What will happen, if we go this route (and it is certainly possible), is that publishing will actually become a marketing agency for the very successful authors.

This is an extension of the “minor league” theory thrown out in yesterday’s blog. The new “marketing publisher” will simply troll the eco-system and see what is selling above a certain level. No real regard to quality. No need to publish “risky” books at all. No wasted advances. Focus only on what is already selling and promote the hell out of it. University presses may still put out a few as budget permits, ensuring some quality for specialized niches.

What’s the difference between that model and the current model, you may say. The current model allows publishers to subsidize many new authors and take a chance on them. The current model also allows small publishers to focus on their passions and grow their niche. The new model encourages authors to self publish and this eliminates the need and the opportunity for a publisher. The consumer may not really care, if current trends hold true. The average author may not care either. Writing is usually a passion, not a method of making a lot of money. Under this model a lot of authors will make a little money, more authors will make almost a living, and mega authors will continue to exist, but will be a more volatile group (i.e. the members of the group will change more frequently than currently). I can’t say this is bad per se, but I feel that the quality by yesterday’s standards will decrease as a statistical average (certainly produced, but also consumed).

So, yes, it can be replaced by a button. I hope it doesn’t, but if I have learned anything in 22 years in technology, hope has little to do with things. Neither does the best “technology.” The market will move in its own direction. Along the way, I hope we can publish (as a publisher!) a few good books and maybe as time permits I can write a few too! If you are an author: Enjoy The Ride, I expect turbulence ahead.

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