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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The future of publishing - The end of royalties

First things first, the Little Editor Who Was Lost has been found and returned to her authors. We're back on track, so that's your good news for the morning.

Let's move on to some wild speculation about the publishing industry.

In fact, let's look at the word SELF in self-publishing. As in "I did it myself" or "I did it alone." Self-publishing is always a hot topic around the publishing world so no one was surprised when it came up again on Twitter the other day (replace the word Twitter with Water Cooler if that makes you feel better - those of us who work from home need a virtual place to slack off).

And I shouldn't have been surprised when someone said, "Seventy percent royalties from Amazon? You mean the profit you earned after they take a thirty percent cut for letting you use their website?" ... It was one of those Stop And Think moments for me. Why is anyone waiting for royalties on a self-published work?

What is Amazon getting paid for here? Or Smashwords? Or Createspace? Or any other group that's helping you publish?

There's the ISBN number, and the platform. Other than that, self-publishing powerhouses aren't editing for you, they aren't advertising for you, they aren't providing your cover, but they want the same cut that you would give to a publisher/agent combination who do all those things. And an ISBN can be purchased through multiple vendors, which means you're paying Amazon 30% or more for platform.

Granted, Amazon is the 800 pound gorilla on the market at the moment, everyone shops on Amazon eventually. But... will it stay that way? Will Amazon and Smashwords continue to be the go-to source for self-publishing.

I'm going to sneak out on a ledge here and say: No.

What I see for the future of self-publishing is something similar to what has happened to photography over the past hundred years or so. Photography started out as a quiet, kind of nerdy, thing to do. A few strange people built cameras, tinkered with liquids, and made pictures happen in a slow and complicated process.

Photography caught on, photographs were everywhere, they became the standard format for art work - but not the only one - and ever so slowly the Artists and Professionals were separated from the people like me who snap pictures with a rinky-dink camera and play with photoshop for a few minutes. The rareified world of professional photography has nuances I can't begin to understand, but I still take pictures, edit pictures, and print pictures all by myself!

I could see a future where publishing splits in the same fashion and writing your own book for fun becomes a process you really can do independently. It's already happening in some places. A few authors sell their work straight from their websites, others have played around with PayPal donation buttons.

In the future I could see this becoming more common. Some bright programmer will put together a basic publishing program that will allow authors to copy and paste their manuscript from Word, select a few basic stock images to easily combine into a cover, then you hit the Format button and the program spits out your manuscript and cover as a .mobi or .epub file suitable for uploading to your website for readers to download.

Like the photo editing programs we have now (Photoshop, Corel Paintshop Pro, ect) it won't be cheap, but there will be tutorials and expansion packs online.

Want a print copy? The bookstore will have an Espresso Print Machine where you can upload your files and print as many copies as you need.

Everything is quick, easy, and under the full control of the authors. For those whose interest is pecuniary, there are no such things as royalties. You pay out of pocket for the editing, the software, and the printing, but every penny earned in sales goes back to the author.

Where does Big Publishing fit in all of this? Big Publishing will turn into the art world of today, they'll explore new formats, specialize by house, and continue to follow trends. It won't be much different from what it looks like now, but expect to see back lists coming out in e-book instead of staying on the shelves. We may even see the death of the paperback in a decade or two.

I think the hardcovers will stick around as very pricey collector's items, and that paperbacks will be phased out as older phones without internet capabilities are phased out. Once people have the convenience the book formats are likely to change. If you want a paperback you'll need to break out the Espresso machine.

But that's just my guess. What do you see for the future of publishing?


  1. Such a program already exists. It's called Scrivener and only costs $45. O:)

    I agree with most of your conjecture, but I wonder about the Book Expresso Machines. From what I've heard, they're expensive, break down a lot, and aren't all that great. Also, this is assuming bookstores still function the same way they do now. I can see more people buying their print books online, because it's a lot cheaper and more convenient.

    Amazon does, arguably, have one thing going for it: discoverability. They track what people buy and can give personalized recommendations based on those purchases. I think selling books is going to rely a lot more on book bloggers and word of mouth as the future comes. :)

  2. I use Scrivener. While it will turn my writing into manuscript format, it doesn't replace the work I put in to make a readable manuscript. It does make my writing process a lot easier by letting me keep notes, move scenes and track things, but it's not going to revolutionize publishing itself.

  3. I've heard of Scrivner, but I'm not sure it does everything I picture. It's along the right lines though.

  4. Books are going the same way as music.

    At one time there were records then came 8-track tapes and everyone said records would disappear. Then came the cassette tape and 8-track tapes did disappear. Then came CDs and cassettes were phased out. Then came the Internet, mp3s, and everyone said that CDs would disappear. But...there are still CDs out there. There are even still records out there (mostly produced for collectors and as curios). People still buy CDs because some people like having the physical copy in their hands (or don't have mp3 players).

    I think as long as there is a demand there will be paperback books. Hardcovers will always be around for the collectors. Personally, I like holding a paperback in my hand. Yes, I know there are e-readers that can give me that book-like feel but there is so much more to the experience that digital can not copy.

    Book stores obviously will change. Publishing companies are already changing. Some will stop printing (like Encyclopedia Brittainica which just announced they will no longer be printing book sets) and move completely into the digital formats. Most will provide a small supply of paperbacks and hardcovers as long as there is a demand that makes them a profit.

    Like music, there will be various markets and someone willing to supply the demand.

    As for publishing, the Big Houses will survive. One big advantage they will always have over self-publishing is the fact that they have the legal departments in place for any issues that crop up.

  5. The latest upgrade allows you to compile your document (you can add pictures, although hand coding probably allows you more control of the picture placement) into both .ePub and .mobi documents. It takes about 2-5 minutes to make sure you have everything formatted the way you want. :)

  6. Danyelle - That is handy! I'll have to check it out at some point. :o)

    Ilnara- Exactly, multiple formats exist for other means of communication, TV didn't kill radio or phones, but people are convinced publishing will die at any moment. I doubt it, I saw three people randomly reading today. One ereader and two paperbacks. I am encouraged. (I also resisted to the urge to knock on their car windows and tell them about my book)

  7. calibre is another product that can turn your manuscript into the various ebook formats. The tools you are thinking about are beginning to appear.

  8. Now they just need an auto-cover art maker attached. :o)