The Future of Publishing is the Past is the Present

I used to hate the gatekeepers of the publishing industry, because they turn all writing into a product. A book, I reasoned, should be pure art and creative self-expression, not a product edited and designed for mass public consumption.

It turns out my views have changed.

But this article isn’t about me, it’s about the “revolution” of the publishing industry.

I’d like to point out another point I have made before: the digital revolution hasn’t changed human nature. In the past couple decades, many expressed views that technology was the solution to all of our problems and humans were “waking up” into a new age of enlightenment. We would all fly in driverless hovercars, no one would starve, and robots would do all the work.

Sure, we’ll soon be wearing computers on our wrists or in our glasses, but this doesn’t mean we’re suddenly going to become a harmonious society or that human nature will change.

Despite what social media pundits claimed, social networks didn’t mark the beginning of an enlightened Age of Conversation with Brands. Bob Hoffman hammers this point home, time and time again. And as Evgeny Morozov likes to reiterate, “technological solutionism” could be just more of the same human old crap in new clothes. Yes, it’s true, we’ll be able to talk to people all over the world, have dinner with people we’ve never met, and turn to AI butlers for our every need.

But do you really think this will change the structure of human society?

Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a wilful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the very majority whom the system oppresses.   -Richard K. Morgan

Okay, Morgan’s view may be a bit darker than what I’m going for here, but he’s right that the structure of society hasn’t changed for a long time. And it won’t change just because of a social network or e-reader.

The “Revolution” of Self-Publishing

Pollen

Pollen

Sorry, but it’s not a revolution. Marketing hasn’t gone away, and neither have the gatekeepers. They’ve just redistributed themselves.

With the advent of the Kindle, self-publishers rejoiced at their ability to spam out paranormal romances quadrilogies and scifi horror fantasy googleplexologies, and scoffed at the crumbling publishing companies. Now, Amazon holds the keys to the kingdom, and offers us everything we could want, right down to drone-to-door delivery.

“Publish your magnum opus today! And have it delivered to your door by a UAV in thirty minutes or less.”

But the hype will fail to live up to the reality.

Once new school publishing companies figure out the e-reader market, I’m betting they’ll take over the bestseller lists on Amazon. The reason old school publishers are failing is simply because they don’t understand affiliate marketing and online marketing tactics.

Already, the online noise is becoming deafening, and the only way for an author to be heard is to be louder. Consequently, everyone’s becoming louder. But unfortunately, creatives aren’t so great at loud marketing.

The good books and the bad are both filling up Amazon’s virtual bookshelves. We have no way to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, though, without diving into the depths of the blogosphere and Amazon’s oceans of customer reviews.

But who has time for that?

I, for one, have some marketing to do…I can’t sift through a million WordPress blogs to find the quiet genius who doesn’t know how to use marketing automation to reach ten thousand readers a week.

Somebody better get an agent…

I know, I know, the big publishers rip off writers — even more, now that these publishers charge twice as much for zero-overhead ebooks — but at least I know that the books I do read will be better than some unedited zombie epic written by a bored housewife waiting for WWE to come back on.

What Self-Publishers Should Really Focus On

If you want to fight the big publishers, then create your own publishing company that doesn’t rip off  writers.

Seriously, why hasn’t this been done yet? The overhead has dropped to nothing for ebooks, and the only cost to worry about is marketing, editing, and administrative costs. Amazon will handle the fulfillment and distribution.

I think there is plenty of market space for non-shady publishers to grow and promote decent writers without ripping them off.

If you are a believer in self-publishing, then work with other self-publishers to form publishing companies that don’t get into gay spats over book costs, like Hachette and Amazon.

Here’s a couple ideas:

  • Build a publishing company that splits profits 50-50 with authors. Any publishing company worth its salt will know how to sell a few thousand books: a $4.99 book will net a few dollars in sales, times a few thousand, and you’ve paid a couple people’s monthly salaries right there.
  • Build a co-op. Good writers who have followings can band together, merge their audiences, qualify additional writers, and actually start to compete with the old school publishers. In fact, I hope that the old school publishers may be on the way out. With new schoolers like Velocity House — who know how to churn out ten thousand sales in their first week — it is only a matter of time before we see some new kids on the block.

 

When I look into the future, all I see is more online noise and competition. It will only get more difficult for self-published writers. Now, though, there are still holes in the market. If anyone’s going to take advantage of those market imbalances, it should be people who are looking out for the interests of the writers…like other writers.