Indie News Beat: Is there a publishing industry or isn’t there?

We’ve lots of places to visit in this edition of Indie News Beat, beginning with a neat article headlined There Is No Publishing Industry, in which John Cavnar-Johnson suggests that what we generally understand as the publishing industry can now be broken down into four distinct “information delivery” industries, which are each advancing towards digitalisation at their own speeds.

According to the article, the first of the four to begin to disappear from print was the “database packaging” industry, otherwise known as encyclopaedias and dictionaries. The mass market for these types of printed books has almost entirely migrated to the web, but because they were always peripheral to the publishing industry as a whole, “many folks in publishing didn’t fully comprehend the implications of this change.”

The next industry to begin to migrate – as we all know here – was the narrative industry, which includes fiction and non-fiction books mainly consisting of text. Lagging behind are the two other industries: the learning industry and the illustration industry. According to the article, the first has specific requirements which benefit most from a subscription model, while the second has been held back by the lack of an adequate device. To conclude, Cavnar-Johnson admits that his four-industry model may not be accurate, but it does raise questions and encourages us at least to consider the issue as more than a simple “e-book vs. print” debate.

Further afield, it’s good to see that the increasing credibility of Indie Authors can reach places you might not expect. This article on allafrica.com reports on the explosion of self publishing in Nigeria, and summarises the recent furore in the west over Sue Grafton’s comments late last year. The author of this piece laments the dearth of traditional publishers in Nigeria, and uses US figures to show that the stigma of self-publishing is lessening in the rest of the world, concluding that self-publishing “is here to stay”. Indeed.

Elsewhere, the recent decision by Apple to introduce a new feature in its i-bookstore, called “Breakout Books”, has been widely reported. According to the press release, Apple intends this feature to give special attention to self-published “emerging talents”, while industry insiders suggest that Apple is trying to make a dent in Amazon’s e-book dominance. Nevertheless, the new feature has been well received, with Smashwords’ Mark Coker saying: “Apple is helping to shape a brighter, more democratized future for book publishing.” However, it’s interesting to note that in the New York Times and on techcrunch.com, the announcement took the form a bare press release. Apple is not known for reticence in public relations. Possibly it didn’t have much to add to the press release regarding the new feature, or possibly Apple didn’t want to make too much of a song and dance about it, so the mainstream publishers won’t notice.

Finally for this column, I’ll leave you with a link to one of those feel-good, slightly wishy-washy features, called Ten Things I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing. Each of us may have differing opinions on these ten points, but number 8 on the list is, I think, especially relevant to all of us: “You have to take yourself seriously. You need to call yourself a writer and be proud of it. Some people will focus on the self-published aspect, but does it really matter? Really?”

Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

14 thoughts on “Indie News Beat: Is there a publishing industry or isn’t there?”

  1. Chris, did you read the comments on the Book Designer post? Lin begs to differ with you on #8. 😉

    I liked the guy’s #5, “Platform is not all marketing” (altho somebody in the comments begged to differ). I see the platform as a way for readers to get acquainted with the author. It’s more than marketing a book — it’s building a fan base, which should (theoretically…) result in sales, although more slowly. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. 😀

  2. Thanks for this, Chris.

    Cavnar-Johnson’s a smart guy who I’ve seen around the ‘net, primarily commenting on The Passive Voice blog. I think he’s got a good handle on a lot of things and has a start up company that for their first product are planning a product to ease the pain of formatting books that I expect to become popular.

    1. Thanks, Al. I liked his way of looking at the industry and the way he writes. It’ll be interesting to what he can do with that very special pain 🙂

  3. Great post Chris. I was particularly interested in this :
    “Mr. Coker said that many of the 70 featured titles were Smashwords titles. He said the books were nominated to Apple’s editorial team, which has final say on the selections, based on criteria including sales performance and reader reviews.”

    I don’t particularly like Apple and Apple products, so ‘Breakout Books’ makes me a little uneasy. If Apple editors /choose/ indie books to promote then they have to potential of becoming the new, default gatekeepers. This is a worry because ‘sales performance and reader reviews’ are only part of their selection criteria. What else will influence their choices? And how much will those choices influence potential readers?

    Amazon may have issues but at least it is relatively transparent and inclusive. Apple has always been exclusive in its attitude. -shrug-

    1. Thank you, acflory. Yes, it smelt a bit to me, as well. It’s not like Apple to be reticent at all, and it will be interesting to see how much traction this “Breakout Books” feature will get. Doubtless they’ve seen what Kindle Daily Deals, etc do, and probably like the idea of driving Indies wild with the prosect of being featured *sigh*

  4. Excellent post, Chris; thoughts and attitudes may differ but they are all, without exception, changing. Our industry is in a state of flux and only time will tell the true story, we just have to hang with it and be sure to be around to experience it.

    1. Thanks, TD. Amazing but true – the years are rolling by and it seems every week brings more new innovations and start-ups. But no one’s getting anywhere near Amazon’s dominance yet.

  5. Great post Chris,
    I see Apple’s “quiteness” on their press release to be a factor of them not wanting to fail. Apple is so intertwined with their following/disciples that they expect the population to make their product or service popular. So by doing the softer Press Release and it fails to gain traction, they can just let it go away without any fanfare.

    Don’t know if I’m right, but its a thought.

  6. The learning industry also lags because of inconsistency among devices and formats, at least in the secondary education. I’ve been involved in interviews with students, and hands-down, they would prefer digital textbooks and have many ideas for how to use them more creatively than print books, but the cost of supporting and upgrading devices is prohibitive, not only for the obvious reasons, but also because with formats and navigation differing slightly with each device, there is the potential for precious classroom time to be eaten up by logistics. That is more cost-prohibitive than money. Interesting article, and thanks for the links! .

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