There has been much talk about the decline, and some say inevitable death, of the publishing industry as we know it today. Central to this argument are the rise of e-book sales and the increasing options available to authors to self-publish. While I think that publishing is changing and must do so in order to stay alive, I don’t think that the industry will die – at least, not any time soon. I see the impact of e-books on the publishing industry as similar to the impact on the music industry when sites like Napster came along and music became available as mp3 files. The recording industry survived the iPod and I believe the book publishing industry will survive the Kindle.
You can read one journalist’s take on the publishing industry’s survival in this recent article on USAToday.com:
The Rise of Indie Authors
The scope of the USA Today article does not include the impact on the industry of publishers’ focus on big-name front list titles, which has been pushing new authors and midlist titles out. The amount of self-publishing options available today means that many of those midlist and first-time authors are pursuing the “indie” option out of necessity or frustration.
Parallels can be drawn to the movie industry, where moviemakers’ frustrations with big studio focus on blockbuster, cookie-cutter films led to a surge in indie films. Already, similar to indie films, the stigma of self-publishing is lessening.
So what will happen to book publishing over the next five to 10 years? It’s anybody’s guess, but my prediction is that publishers will need to do more than just adapt. Those that adjust their business model to embrace technology and the changes that it brings will thrive.
Regardless, I think that most authors will continue to assume responsibility for marketing and promoting their books, self-publishing will flourish and self-published books will enjoy wider acceptance, and e-readers will enjoy wider adoption, requiring publishers to step up and uniquely serve the digital format. I hope traditional publishers figure out a way to sign more fresh voices and non-celebrity authors or they will run the risk of homogenizing the book trade into a one-size-fits-all approach to product offerings.
Ultimately, readers will decide and if their needs aren’t being met by the big publishing houses, they will pursue other options. If the industry as a whole isn’t meeting needs, it will lose market share to other entertainment options that are able to appeal to wider, more discerning audiences and niche groups.