The publishing bubble has burst…

burstingbubbleBeing a musician, when I got into the writing business it didn’t take me long to realize the music and writing industries have common threads. It seems that the writing industry is mimicking the music industry in the way it is developing, only that the writing industry is about five to ten years behind. If one wants to “predict” whats next in the writing industry, they have merely to take a close examination of the music industry and discern how those changes might be applied to writing.

About ten years or so ago, music made a wholesale switch from being a CD standard industry to a digital MP3 standard industry. People were ripping CDs and sharing songs, pirating music on an epic scale. The industry had growing pains, struggling to decide what file format should be universal. Digital music players typically only played one format. Eventually, standardization occurred. Lawsuits settled the piracy issue mostly, by allowing songs to be purchased a la carte for a universal price of about $.99.

We’re seeing this very thing unfold now and over the past five years with writing. Books are going digital. EReaders struggle to settle on a standardized format. Even now lawsuits are being reviewed concerning the pricing of eBooks. And like the music industry, standardization is coming…indeed, it is almost here.

With such obvious parallels to the music industry, I guess I should have seen this coming. Before I talk about the publishing bubble, let’s look at what the music industry went through about ten years ago.

As the digital age came into its own, digital hard disk recording became an affordable option for music studios. Many major recording studios began to make the transition from tape…but it’s not the major labels that we need to look at.

Enter the independent studios.

Since equipment became affordable, many entrepreneuring music industry hopefuls began to see the opportunity of building their own small studios. In fact, I even made a small attempt at this. These small studios were able to offer affordable recording to small musical acts. Some even signed artists and participated in distribution, but the artists were always responsible for their own marketing and for booking their own gigs.

Eventually talented artists began to wise up. Equipment became even more affordable and these artists took matters into their own hands. They began to do their own recording. The ease with which they could do it themselves did not justify the expense of having someone else do it.

Enter the age of the Indie Musician. Sure Indies have been around for a long time…but now they didn’t need anyone sharing in any of their profit, not when they could do it all themselves or by subcontracting each step.

Once again, the writing industry is mimicking the music industry.

When books began to go digital, so did the publishing process. Publishers now have the option of Print on Demand, meaning books were not printed until they were ordered. This streamlining of the process made the business affordable to publishing industry hopefuls. Small press publishers began to rise about five years ago. Everyone screamed this was the next big thing, that small press was going to revolutionize the industry. Suddenly forlorn authors had another option than to chase after agents and wait for years upon years for a “big break.” I enjoyed the small press scene myself, releasing my first two novels.

But I should have seen it coming. So many people rushed into small press, so many books flooded the market…and now the publishing bubble has burst. This publishing process has become so streamlined, so easy, so affordable, that any author with any sense of how the industry is run can easily be their own publisher. Authors can now enjoy the exact same process with which small presses use to publish books, and small presses are offering little incentive to do otherwise.

So what is the future? Look at the music industry. How many small independent studios do you see anymore? None. Either it’s a big or mid label, or the artist does it themselves. Indies artists have earned respect in the industry, with a completely indie artist receiving a Grammy this year.

The publication industry is about to do the same. Either there will be big or mid-list labels, or the author will do it for themselves. Self-publication no longer carries the stigma it once did…great authors going indie are earning respect. Either small press finds a way to “sweeten the pot” or the small press scene will implode. In fact…it is already imploding. Probably half of small presses that published a book five years ago are still in business. Without a good reason for authors to go small press, there’s no reason for small press to exist anymore. Authors are leaving to do it all themselves. And no longer will they be called “self-published” authors…

Make way for the age of the Indie Author.

-k

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7 thoughts on “The publishing bubble has burst…”

  1. Keven, you say it like it is, and I know a lot of folks who run small presses aren’t going to like what you’re saying because it’s frightening to face the chance that it’s true. Publishing is a labor intensive, time devouring endeavor, and folks can only do it for so long if it’s not turning a profit–hence the disappearance of many of the publishers that jumped into the fray as POD became accessible. You’re smart to look at history in a similar industry–I see little indication books will follow a different path than music.

    For the sake of the great people I know running small presses, I hope we’re both wrong. Only time will tell.

  2. Becky, I couldn’t help but smile as I read your response because I know you’re thinking of us and folks like us and I appreciate that.

    The problem comes in allowing yourself to fear change. Honestly, this is something we’ve been working on and talking about for awhile with our company. We’re aware of the trend and have been talking about the future. A publishing company cannot afford to be blind to what’s happening, or to allow themselves to panic. I’ve seen both from so many in the industry lately.

    We named our company Written World COMMUNICATIONS at the start, and got quite a lot of criticism for it, because we weren’t using the word “publisher” or something even involving the word “books” in our corporate name. That’s because from the start I had the suspicion that things were moving this way, and that as a company we would have to change to survive. We intend to still be here, though part of my time in the last months has been to work out the new directions we’re moving in, because we believe so strongly in the power of the printed word (printed even being the wrong word here…pixelated perhaps?)

    I appreciate Keven talking so openly about this, and for saying what it seems so many are scared to even acknowledge. I’m glad he’s pulling it out for us to discuss, because I think our strength in surviving this change in way that benefits all of us, is in working together at the solutions.

    I’m actually looking at the future with a great deal of eagerness and delight. Can you imagine the opportunities opening up to us right now in this world of change?

    1. I think it is a smart move to diversify where you can, since the writing business does dovetail with several industries. I sincerely believe that in a few years, the companies that have given themselves buoyancy due to multiple income streams (whether that’s a good stable of successful books or a combination of related income sources) will be the ones that remain, while the majority will break up and drift away on the winds of change.

  3. Timely words for writers these days.

    I am 8 months into the process of working with Athol Dickson as he has moved away from traditional publishers for his novels to owning his own imprint, Author Author, Inc. No one should be fooled into imagining this is an easy or cheap process if done right. Small presses serve a purpose to some authors in that they can offer advice, editing, and minimal distribution. But you are right that they had better look for some way to further distinguish themselves or more of their days may be numbered.

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