As an author of many books, I’m thankful for the hard work of my publishers, but I also I’m fascinated by changes in the publishing industry.
An author self-publishing his or her book — also known as the “vanity press” — has traditionally been viewed with a bit of disdain. It usually meant that the author was unable to find a publisher willing to risk the time and money required to bring a book to market, either because the topic wasn’t interesting and/or the writing quality was poor. Publishers want to be confident a book will sell well enough to cover the expense of printing and warehousing the book and promoting the author.
But the stigma of self-publishing may soon disappear. The book industry is ripe for reform. It’s incredibly inefficient, with approximately 30 percent of books returned to the publisher because they didn’t sell. Publishers cite this wastage as one reason they demand high fees, particularly from first-time authors.
But the arrival of devices such as Amazon’s Kindle in 2007 and now Apple’s wildly popular iPad, the cost of printing, storage, shipping and wastage obviously disappears. And with the Internet and social media, an author can acquire or maintain a high profile at relatively little cost. So are publishers irrelevant? Amazon thinks so. It announced earlier this year that it would pay authors 70 percent of an e-book’s selling price if the author bypassed publishers and dealt directly with Amazon. Since authors typically receive only 15-20 percent royalty, Amazon’s offer will doubtless prove tempting. At the annual convention for the book industry that was just held in New York, one publisher suggested that within five years ebooks will account for half the market.
Prior to the Kindle, Amazon promoted the notion of self-publishing through its CreateSpace, a service that prints books one at a time in response to an individual order. Authors upload their text and cover artwork, and Amazon does the rest. CreateSpace also produces CDs and DVDs on demand. The service offers access to more than two million titles, although not all books from the service are self-published. Publishers are also using the service to make available old titles that have gone out of print. Barnes and Noble unveiled its own version of CreateSpace two weeks ago, called Publt.
Back in my 1995 book the Digital Economy I talked about “disintermediation” arguing that the web threatened business activities in between producers and consumers. I also introduced a term “re-intermediation” saying that the opportunities to create value in the new middle exceed the displacement of the old middle. But I also noted that the leaders of the old middle are unlikely to be the ones to create find their place in the new. Will there be any publishers who step up to this opportunity?
Excellent article! You're totally right- I think that soon there will be no middle man when it comes to media (I hope!). I see something else on the horizon, too; the death and rebirth of cinema. I don't think that the mainstream media is trying to stop piracy on account of lost revenue. Rather, they want it stopped because people are using it to sort through what they do and do not want. What also scares them is that people will start doing things on their own, and nothing scares Hollywood more than independent film.
I don't advocate film piracy (at all!) but I don't think it's really stoppable at this point. Once it becomes large enough, it'll help kill Hollywood for a while until they find alternate methods of making money from films.
Mr. Tapscott, I've been a fan of yours since I was… 11, when I got my hands on Growing Up Digital. I truly appreciate your blog and all you've done. You're not like the other 'analysts'. Rather, you're a true researcher. You get in there, and take a look at the future.
Awesome work, keep at it!
I teach evening classes in accounting at a community college. I just found a free online textbook that will save my students $170.00. The free book is authored by a professor at a major state university and it is as good or better than any introductory textbook on accounting in the market. I plan on using it. A typical full time college student spends $1200-1500 each year on overpriced textbooks. The publisher of the book I am replacing is Prentice Hall. Don't invest in that company! The old-fashioned book publishing and book retail businesses are about to go down just like the newspaper publishers. Millions of trees will be saved!
I am the author of a book published by a traditional educational publisher, and currently I am an independent publisher of two other books. As an independent publisher, I have control over the content of my books, the cover design, and of course, marketing. The “stigma” of self-publishing is not a problem when small independent publishers produce need-for quality books for their intended audience. At this time, my math workbooks probably would not be published as ebooks, but I agree with your comments regarding the future of ebooks.
I've written a work of 'literary fiction.' A couple of Canadian publishers are interested. They've both offered advances in the $2000 range.
Using amazon's formula and a cover price of say $10 (unthinkable at a 'real' publisher), and a royalty of $7 per book, I could make that advance selling 286 books. Considering amazon gets something like 70 million hits a day worldwide, that doesn't seem impossible. Throw in the viral marketing I would have to do on my own anyway since neither publisher has a clue and you've got to wonder what the advantage in signing with them is. That they will improve the quality of the writing? Neither publisher intends on changing very much in the mss, aside from the usual grammatical touch-ups, which any competent editor could handle. So what is the advantage? To see the first few copies done in hard cover? Please. All I care about is whether people read the thing. Besides, as you point out, e-books will soon make paper books obsolete. I don't think the publishing industry is dying. It's already pretty much dead. All that's left is the autopsy.