The Big Picture is Worth a Thousand Blogs – Darwin and the Evolution of Publishing

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.

Author: Gordon Long

Gordon A. Long is a writer, editor, publisher, playwright, director and teacher. 
Learn more about Gordon and his writing from his blog and his Author Central page.

17 thoughts on “The Big Picture is Worth a Thousand Blogs – Darwin and the Evolution of Publishing”

  1. Right on. And I’ll add a bit of my own that just occurred to me. It may not happen this year but I do think it will in the not too distant future. Those that thought they would be successful self-publishing because of how ‘easy’ they heard it is. Word will filter down that you still need to write a good book, pay an editor, and spend half your life promoting and marketing. That it’s work and drop off like flies so the rest of us who knew all that and do all that can have a chance.

  2. Thanks, Gordon. It feels like we go through this with your first two points every few months — any time one of the trad publishers releases some news about either sales or consolidation or both.

  3. Great article. And I agree completely with you, Yvonne. I add my own personal take on the situation. Those of us who are writers … write. That is, we have more than one story to tell and more than one book inside us. Those people that you mentioned that think writing and publishing are “easy” now because of the digital revolution (for lack of a better term) will generally find themselves running short of material to publish…just for the sake of publishing and seeing their names in “print”.

    As you pointed out, the author’s life is anything but easy, but the true author just can’t stop doing what they do. The dilettantes will fade away. (Just my personal oppinion.)

  4. Predictions are difficult … especially about the future … but I essentially agree, the one thing we can be sure about is that publishing will change, but writing is still writing.

  5. I’m definitely planning on surviving 😀
    I really love reading people’s predictions. I have no idea who’s right and wrong. I’m just going to keep writing and see where it takes me. As long as I still love it, I figure I may as well 😀
    Thanks for a great post.

  6. I love the idea that creativity means being creative with the industry as well as the words. Seen that way, the reduction in power of the conventional way is a huge opportunity for anyone who doesn’t mind hard work. We are all creative, you only have to read the posts people have written here about their marketing ideas and the research into what works and what doesn’t. Very thought provoking post, thank you, and I do agree with Yvonne’s additional point too. Exciting times.

  7. The eventual ascendancy of ebooks is pretty well assured. Though some argue ferociously against it.
    Which also means the end of the bookstore. Some find that less happy a prospect.

    Hard to say if publishing corporations will be “replaced”. Probably not. One of their saving hopes would be the “multi-media” electronic book. Another might be exclusive “all you can eat” channels–Netflix for ebooks. Another might be reorganizing and not doing stupid things.

    The whole “awash” thing is not the problem some seem to think it is. And readers figure that out (or never cared about it in the first place). If you just buy best-sellers, it doesn’t matter if there are 10.000 non-sellers or ten million. A tiny proportion of self-publishing is done with the idea of getting rich. If somebody wants to publisher their wonderful life work and can do it, they will. It;s not a problem for anybody.

    Here’s another prediction for you: amazon will become the only publisher in the world. Or at least the first world.

    And another. The switch to ebooks will disenfranchise the poor of the world. Causing a drop in literacy. The connection between money and reading will come back into force. Non-english speakers will be reduced world-wide: increasing literacy to mean “English literacy”.

    1. I don’t think so, Linton. If there is a market, someone will sell to it. So the rich will still buy $200 coffee-table books or their e-equivalent, and if the poor want to read, then someone will find a cheap way to get words to them

  8. Good post, Gordon, stimulating interesting discussion; I wouldn’t expect anything else at IU. I pretty much agree with all, to a point, in that writers write, no matter what, and the cream will ultimately rise to the top.

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