It’s the End of Publishing As We Know It … And We Feel Fine

Written by Omar Luqmaan-Harris. Published on my company website The Pantheon Collective. 10/12/2011

Over the past 24 months or so, the publishing industry has been doing a lot of talking about a singular topic – does the growth of e-books mean the death of traditional publishing? Well last year all the pundits kept saying that ebooks represented less than 7% of the overall publishing market. What they neglected to state as openly was how quickly ebooks were taking over the trade paperback market.

Flash forward to 2011 and headlines from this year like, E-book Sales Jump in June, Print Plunges; E-book Sales Up 167% in June; That Was Fast: Amazon’s Kindle Ebook Sales Surpass Print (It Only Took Four Years); and Ebook Sales Triple year-Over-Year, paper books decline in every category. Now everyone is proselytizing about the end of printed books. What we should be talking about is the end of publishing…as we know it.

This is definitely a WWGD (What Would Guttenberg Do) moment for traditional publishers.

For years, The Big 6 have been exceptional at doing two things: 1) Creating Global Bestsellers and 2) Making Money off of Dead People. Let’s examine the impact of the ebook on each: If the Harry Potter series, Twilight, and Dragon Tattoo books had been self-published, it is unlikely that millions of people around the globe would know these stories. So the global bestseller category is still the realm of the traditional publisher. They better keep their authors locked up tight, however, because once you create a brand like J.K Rowling, what’s to stop her from taking ownership and control of her brand in this day and age of social media and cheap independent publishing and making even more money. See Exhibit A: Pottermore.

What about the dead folks? Well, with the classics being given away by everyone from Amazon to Google, it looks like that well is going to run dry. They can’t even count on bookstores to keep that inventory moving anymore because the bookstores are going the way of the dinosaur. See Exhibits B & C: Borders and Barnes & Noble.

So if they stand to lose their global brands and old faithful, where can the Big 6 turn for revenue, or even inspiration? Well here’s a thought: Publishing companies used to invest time and money in finding that next big thing – developing authors from unknowns to icons. But they got lazy and started churning out MOTS (more of the same). I mean how many YA vampire novels can the world stand? Anne Rice is rolling in her grave and she isn’t even dead yet!

But can you really blame them with a business model that willingly accepts 100% of returns? They did this to themselves.

Here’s a prediction for you that’s already partially come true. First, ebooks will reach and then exceed trade paperbacks in unit sales. Trade paperbacks are the bread and butter of bookstore chains so they will crumble under the weight of all that stagnating inventory on their shelves. Big Publishing will respond by jacking up the prices of their own ebooks without upping their author’s royalties, causing a mass exodus of authors from their ranks. The best literary agents will broker phenomenal deals for the superstar authors making the bottom line ache even more for the Big Guys. To hide their wounds, The Big 6 will become the Big 2 or 3 as inevitable consolidation becomes all the rage. Meanwhile, indie publishers and authors will become savvier and the complexion of top lists like the New York Times Bestseller list will change permanently when there are as many indie authors represented as traditionally published authors. It is at this moment that Big Publishing will give up the ghost and start a massive round of layoffs. This is the worst thing they could ever do, as some of the world’s best editors, book marketers, and sales people will now be free agents and thus competitors to the very companies that fired them. Consolidation will continue until there are only two Big Guys left who have finally found a niche to make money: hardcovers for the die-hard collectors and textbooks.

Sound like fiction? We’ll see. In the meantime, if you are an indie author out there looking to get in on the ground floor, check out The Pantheon Collective’s TPC Tips and Marketing 101 series for everything you need to know to start making your way in this brave new world. And it’s FREE, our gift to you!

Good luck and good selling!

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