Unlike folks like Joe Konrath, I don’t have any background in the publishing industry other than my fistful of rejection notices and what I’ve learned on my own little self-publishing journey. But a number of folks have asked me what I think, and I suppose I can speculate like everybody else.
This is no big surprise, but I think we’re going to see an implosion of the traditional publishing industry. You don’t have to be an industry insider or super genius to figure that out. Just look at how many of the big booksellers are closing their doors, and how many of the top 100 of any given category in Amazon’s Kindle store are from independent authors or small press publishers. And why do I pick out the Kindle store rather than look at Amazon’s book sales as a whole? Because Kindle sales make up the majority of the books sold now on Amazon, and Amazon’s the biggest single bookseller.
Maybe one or two of the Big 6 publishers might mutate their way out of the Great Extinction by offering innovative and attractive options to authors and reasonable prices on digital books to readers. They’re going to have to star promoting what value they can really add into the process, and offer authors contracts that aren’t outrageous.
But in the end, I suspect most of the Big 6 are going to go the way of the dinosaurs.
In the meantime, more and more traditionally published authors are going to buy up their rights and publish on their own, offering good to great quality books at great prices. The publishers will (and are, from what I’ve read) trying to combat this by having even more restricting rights arrangements on contracts, but they’re only shooting themselves in the foot in the long run. If they’re persistent enough, good authors are going to find an audience, and self-publishing isn’t just a fad or a fluke. Anybody heard of J.K. Rowling? Hey, if self-publishing ebooks is good enough for her, it’s good enough for me, too.
Brick and mortar bookstores? Barnes and Noble might survive because of the Nook, and because there will continue to be a market for print books at and least one large retailer to provide them. Independent bookstores that can integrate digital books into their business process will also survive. Independent, niche, and second-hand stores will also survive, but that’s going to depend as much on their ability to provide superior customer service as anything else.
I’ll also interject a little note here: I’m not happy about any of this. I love books and bookstores. But there’s no avoiding the reality of the changes that are underway. It’s literally a revolution, and those businesses that can’t adapt to the digital era and find a profitable niche aren’t going to survive.
As for print in general, it’ll still be around for the foreseeable future, but will represent an increasingly small percentage of the reading medium. Looking at my own sales figures, while I’m making thousands of ebook sales per month, I might sell sixty or so print copies.
But the real kicker is that I make more per unit from ebooks than I do from print. For the IN HER NAME omnibus, for example, the retail price for the print version is $16.95, and the Kindle book is $5.99 (and it’s that much because it’s three $2.99 novels wrapped into one, so it’s actually a steal at that price). I make $1.00 from each print copy, and $3.99 for every Kindle book. Even for my other books that are priced at $2.99, I make around $2.00 for the Kindle books, while I only make $1.00 for the print books that are priced at $9.95.
At this point, I’m wondering if I should even bother making print versions of my future books.
Then we get to the big question: what’s the future of the “indie publishing movement.” Will it survive, can people make real money, yada, yada. I’ve read a lot of opinions on the whole thing, but this is what I think it boils down to: authors who write good quality books, who learn how to effectively connect with readers, and who have set goals and are willing to work their butts off to achieve them will eventually succeed. That success may take time – years, in some cases – but I believe that victory goes to the skilled and persistent. And that isn’t anything unique to publishing. If you look at any type of endeavor, the people who succeed tend to have similar traits.
In the end, the readers are the ones who really benefit. While a lot of folks natter about how readers won’t be able to find good books from among the garbage, they still do. And they find a lot of gems that they never would have read otherwise, because those books never would have been published by the Big 6.
But the best part of the digital reading revolution, both for the reader and the author, is that readers can get great books at bargain basement prices, while at the same time the authors make a MUCH better royalty than they would have under the Dinosaur Publishing System. Sure, some self-published books, maybe even a lot of them, are crap. But there are a lot of good ones out there, and some amazingly talented authors.
The Big 6 dinosaurs have been laughing at self-published authors, considering them little more than a bunch of furry little mammals that get squished between a proper dino’s toes. But when the dust and ash from the Kindle asteroid finally clears and the sun comes out again, the mammals are going to be the ones left standing.