January is a great time to read the blogs. All the Chicken Littles scampering around telling us which part of the sky will be falling on our heads this year. The laws of natural selection being what they are, most of these disasters will turn out to be minor, something unheralded will throw it all off kilter, and we will all go on existing as we have for the last several millennia. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t take an interest in evolution.
The publishing business at the moment is in a state that Charles Darwin would have found interesting, and his principles are going to dictate what happens next. It might be a good idea to settle down, take a sip of relaxing herbal tea (or something stronger if it suits) and look at this year’s Big Three predictions in the broader perspective:
1. eBooks Will Take Over from Paper
Everyone assumes that it’s got to be one or the other. That sounds like two kids in a berry bush, fighting over who gets to pick the most. Looked at from the adult point of view, there’s a great big patch of berries out there waiting for the smart picker.
Ask an educator. There is a whole lot of space for expansion: non-readers in our own societies, non-English readers in the rest of the world, and everyone who might be persuaded to read just a little more. Many of the walls that kept them from reading are now crumbling: lack of education, availability, price, prejudice, and a lack of material suited to their tastes.
Look for a great increase in the total number of people reading English in the next decade. Don’t expect it to be just novels. The market is always changing, but nothing changes in marketing; give them what they want and they will buy it.
2. Self-Publishing Will Replace Traditional Publishing.
(Please re-read #1 above, if you skimmed it the first time. It applies here as well.)
Everybody knows there’s going to be a shakeout. The market will ensure that. Traditional publishing houses cannot compete in their present form, and they will have to change. (Watch the artificially high prices of the ebook version of best sellers on Amazon. The buying public votes with their dollars.) But there are smart people in that business, and they have a great fund of knowledge and the ability to figure out what the market really wants. Sure, maybe the dinosaurs died off and the mammals took over. It still doesn’t mean you want to mess with a crocodile.
3. The Proliferation of Self-Publishers Will Leave Us Awash in Low Quality Material.
What we have seen in the last few years is the huge rush where everybody and his dog discovered that he, she, or it can publish a book for peanuts.
It won’t last. Just like every bandwagon that everyone jumps on, it seems easy at first, but after a while most of the tyros will discover what the publishers already know. The book business is a tough one, and there’s a lot of competition. I have several clients who wanted to publish a book; now they have. Mission accomplished, on to greener pastures. (Metaphors are so much fun to mash together, aren’t they?) Darwin could have told us; the strong few will survive, the weak will perish. The species might look a little different afterwards, but it will be better for all the upheaval.
I see people looking inward, trying to delve into “what is a book?” to find the essence of what makes people want to read. I see people searching outward, looking around them and trying to figure out “what does the reader want?” These are essentially the same search in the long run, and the answers will drive the consumption of the written word, as they always have. Writers are by definition creative people. We’ll survive.
At least, I plan to. What about you?
Gordon A. Long is a semi-retired teacher, eking out his pension with writing, playwriting, directing, helping beginners publish their books, and giving drama lessons to children and seniors. He races on “Planet Claire,” the hottest 32-foot Division 2 sloop in the Seattle/Vancouver/Victoria area. He spends a lot of time attempting to get his Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Josh, to promote his books. Unfortunately, Josh is more interested in promoting himself to the next food source, so success is limited. Check out Gordon’s website for more information about him and his writing.