The book publishing industry is undergoing a makeover in the 21st Century. These changes are creating both turmoil and excitement. The path of this change is winding down many roads that will alter the landscape for writers, publishing houses and retailers. The three main impacts are technological, financial and cultural in nature.
The writer of today has many technological tools at their disposal. Long gone are the days when most writers used a typewriter for their manuscript. Some of these new tools include online word documents, internet search and email, collaboration options, and e-book services for self publishing and retail. These tools put power of the product more firmly in the hand of the writer. The tools to do multiple edits with ease and automatic saving of a document are priceless. These tools save time, money and stress. Something as simple as writing at any hour the creativity stirs was more difficult in the age of typewriters. These tools provide opportunities for the writer to market themselves, to build a reader base, and to choose from the many online self-publishing companies. The writer can even become their own publisher or form a cooperative venture with other authors. In the past writers relied on the idea that “Good publishers find and cultivate writers…” (Auletta). The future writer may also have other writers and readers to assist in editing and support through collaboration aids, blog subscribers and social media.
Many writers may have their own blog for marketing purposes as well as editing, collaboration and support. Unless publishing companies step up an online presence the author may have a better repertoire with the reader and where the reader shops for books. In the words of Sam Harris “personal blogs get more traffic than the entire ‘Vanity Fair’ website. This is a possible foretelling that readers in twenty years will have established online relationships with authors they enjoy reading. The result of this will be that the writer can control what venues or retailers to go through if any. The struggles of the large print publishing houses and the growth of many small online publishing houses will give the writer more bargaining power to be published than ever before. It is very possible that some writers will set up paypal and / or other type accounts on their websites for readers to easily buy and download a book. Writers may become more adept at marketing and publishing of their own material. The upside is that the publishing houses will no longer have to subsidize writers who are not commercially profitable. The downside for a majority of writers will be the loss of the payout or bonus. Financially it looks like many more writers will make more, but a saturated market will mean no big paydays for most. A steady stream of income for writers from loyal readers without much overhead is a positive outcome to the upheaval of today.
The cultural benefits of the digital age in regards to writing cannot be quantified. However, if it could the large number of writers in the internet realm would be a great calculation. Gene Budig believes that the present time period is ushering in a ‘writing revolution’ on an even greater scale than the ‘reading revolution’ 600 years ago. He has four main events that are happening in relation to writing. First, more people are writing more in multiple formats. Second, words have been given more possibility in communication through the addition of pics, music, video, etc. Third, the rules for writing are in flux. The future is wide open for global cultures to determine the paths the written word will take to reach the reader. Finally, the addition of so many writers will create an influx of ideas. This will in turn “create different cognitive processes” (Budig). The picture that is being painted for writers is a potentially collaborative picture between writers and readers to determine the path of ‘the book publishing industry’.
The technology that have led to digital bookstores is also ushering in an age when the role of the publishing houses are being outsourced to online venues. The retailers Amazon, Google and Apple have created the means for readers to bypass print books. Google digitized 12 million books by 2010 that was made available to readers initially. Amazon started out selling print books and took it to the next level by making authors available instantly in digital form. Amazon has even collaborated with authors directly to publish their work through Amazon (Aulette). Meanwhile publishing companies have been striving to catch up. They did not themselves when they practiced “windowing” which was a way to delay an author’s e-book until the print hard copies were marketed and sold. Apparently some publishing companies would do this with paperbacks as well in the past. The result of ‘windowing’ in the online environment was a marketing failure. Readers would simply select a different book rather than run to Barnes and Noble (Auletta). Online publishing houses and the small self-publishing businesses are already ahead of the game because most are designed in the internet ecosystem for the digital publishing world. However, a few large publishing houses are attempting to make the leap. They are attempting to to do both a print and a digital business (Auletta).
Large publishing houses in New York have seen upwards of 25% of their print books be destroyed as a result of less expensive ebook and other multimedia industries customers purchase. Several small publishing companies are surviving by thinning the herd of writers and dispensing with any large advances (Kachka). A resurgence in small bookstores who are surviving on fumes may provide publishing houses an opportunity to forge new alliances that could keep the print industry alive for the next twenty years and beyond. This would mean a financial step back from doing business as it was done with the large bookstore chains. Large publishing houses may have to accept that the big paydays are over. The options seem to be either pick print or the ebook ecosystem. They are almost two different worlds and to straddle the line may be inefficient. In twenty years there should be two ecosystems one for print and one for digital. There could be a collaborative effort between print and digital publishing houses. The exception to this rule is the famous ‘backlist’ that Epstein mentioned multiple times. Any publishing company could focus on print while having an online presence for their ‘backlist’.
Culturally the publishing houses are in three factions at the present time. The first is the trade publishing houses. The second group is the small online publishing groups. Third is the retailers such as Amazon and Apple. Technology has not prepared the large publishing companies for an online presence. The ecosystem, as it has existed for over a hundred years, is that publishing houses act as an intermediary between the author and retail in the form of bookstores. The bookstores in turn smooth the relationship between the publisher and the reader or customer. The bookstore small and chain understood the idea of marketing to customers. They have interacted with readers for years, and this is reflected in their marketing strategies. The Publishing houses have not had the opportunity to build a repertoire with readers of their authors. The result is that a large segment of the book publishing ecosystem is being crushed by online retailers turned publishers. The demise of chain bookstores have also contributed to the suffering of publishing houses who are forced to downsize and restructure (Esposito). Amazon has forced out the chain bookstores which has led to a resurgence of the small bookstore. The Publishing houses that choose to remain in print should forge alliances with their long time ally the independent bookstore. In twenty years there could be many small bookstores that the publishing houses interact through. This is especially true if Esposito is right about Amazon maneuvering many readers with “…the switch from print to digital is an emergent property of the changing ecosystem, not a matter of consumer preference.”
This month a designer by the name of Tom Burtonwood constructed a orihon, accordion type book, of architecture images on a 3D printer (Biggs). This gives a very real possibility that printing books at home, the library, Starbucks, local bookstore, etc., may not be very far off in the future. This in itself will change the face of the retail aspect of the book industry.
Initially, there were many small bookstores around the nation until the 1990’s when chain bookstores forced many of these stores out of business. It is interesting to note that Amazon has done the same to chains such as Borders. The result of this has been a small resurgence in local bookstores that could lead to many more over the coming years. The unique possibility is that the print and digital aspects of publishing may be able to coexist in two distinct ecosystems. This in turn means the success of two sets of retailers. The largest of the online retailers are Amazon, Apple and Google. Most recently Amazon acquired Goodreads and continues a dominance of the online market (Esposito). Amazon has such a stronghold because the creator, Bezos, realized the possibilities of an online retailer in 1994. This company has had the time to survive and thrive in the online retail world. The success is due to initially selecting multimedia such as music and books to market to customers. In 2007 Amazon’s ebook reader, Kindle, was brought to life. This enabled readers to easily access digital books in a compact and easy to use device. Apple followed suit with the release of the iPad in 2010. Google has also been involved with online retail and publishing through Google reader and ‘RSS dominance’. Other retailers are just beginning to make way with learning and using some technology these industry giants have created and understood for years (Brandom). In twenty more years there should be thousands of retailers with large experience in online retail and reservoirs of digital books.
Amazon has used an intelligent business design and a focused marketing plan to dominate the ebook industry. The most important financial decision involved convincing millions of readers that digital is the wave of the future. Amazon has been guiding their customers down this path for almost two decades. They have used one of the most important tactics in retail. They convinced their customers that they are getting a deal. They did this first with print books and ebook sales followed after. The Kindle added another aspect to their model for success. This has turned Amazon into a billion dollar business. Amazon’s gain has been a loss to other online retailers like Apple as well as Trade Publishing and Chain bookstores. Amazon also had backlist access before the other online retailers (not including the Trade Publishing that have made it online). Amazon strategically used cheaper prices to also corner the market (Auletta). This domination is not positive for anyone involved in the Book Publishing Industry especially readers. It is fantastic that Amazon has been able to create this new ecosystem. However, more independent retailers give all parties more access and choices in a free market system. Amazon may have to lose a chunk of change but the internet customer deserves options. One of the last things Steve Jobs was able to give back to the reader was by bringing the iPad into existence in 2010. In twenty years there may be many independent retailers with multiple employees filling some of the positions like editing and cover design. There also will be advancements in online shopping and tools such as the iPad and Kindle which will be in their twelfth generation model.
The retail culture is two fold. There is the online retailers of digital media which consist of large corporations such as Amazon, Apple and Google. These corporations have the means and inclination to pursue advancements in technology and marketing (Auletta). In twenty years they will have moved on to other innovations because that is part of their goals. They will probably leave the ebook market to younger and smaller online publishing companies for greener pastures and newer technologies. The chain bookstores were born out of the local bookstores who had built a loyal following of readers. The local bookstores are returning to localities around America. There is little interest in large chains when readers can purchase trendy and backlist books online at less of a price. However, many readers long to explore the ambience of traditional bookstores and the unknown reads they may discover. In twenty years these smaller retail havens may be the centers of print media outside of libraries. These quaint stores will have bookshelves, couches, and maybe a coffee and sandwich area. They will also have a line of internet devices for readers to upload and download digital media. There may even be a 3D (Generation 5) printer for creating a copy of a book. In twenty years the print and digital publishing ecosystems will have evolved in different directions only to find themselves reunited for the writer’s amusement and the reader’s enjoyment once again.
The book publishing industry in twenty years will contain some familiar elements between writing, publishing and reader. However, technology is also adding new elements into the mix particularly in regards to retail. The global impact of writers, internet publishers, and the online retail market will also play into the future ecosystem. The historical reality has always shown oversized activities become small again. The what-when-where-why and how for a reader’s habits of the future is to some degree anyone’s guess. The possibilities that the book publishing ecosystems have borne witness to is far from over.
Auletta, Ken. “Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?”
The New Yorker: Annals of Communications, April 26, 2010. Web. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/26/100426fa_fact_auletta
Biggs, John. “Celebrate The Death Of Print With This 3D Printed Texture Book.” Techcrunch, 12
Brandom, Russell. “A month after Google killed its beloved Reader, the market for paid RSS tools is booming. Without the search giant strangling the market, will RSS actually evolve?” The Verge, 2 August 2013. Web.
Budig, Gene and Alan Heaps. “Are we in the middle of a writing revolution? Column.” USA
Today: Opinion, 7 August 2013. Web. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/08/07/writing-revolution-digital-technology-column/2621353/
Epstein, Jason. Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. Print.
Esposito, Joseph. “An Industry Pining for Bookstores.” The Scholarly Kitchen, 12 August 2013.
Harris, Sam. “The Future of the Book.” The Daily Beast, Sep 27, 2011. Web.
Kachka, Boris. “The End.” New York: New York News and Features, September 14, 2008. http://nymag.com/news/media/50279/