The World Has Moved On (from the TPC blog)

Written by Omar Luqmaan-Harris of The Pantheon Collective – 8/30/2012

Do you like stories? Well here you go…

Once upon a time, in a land much like our own, there was an entire industry devoted to publishing, manufacturing, distributing, selling, reviewing, and critiquing books.

The publishing was done by a handful of large elite companies who determined what and who could be published. They employed the services of literary agents to help their editors determine the best books to publish. Both the agents and editors were very successful at identifying and harnessing the talent of the writers, most of whom never made enough money off their books to quit their day jobs. There were many more writers left out in the cold, their dreams of seeing their work in print dashed to pieces.

The publishers also manufactured the books, employing the services of copy editors, cover designers, typesetters, and printers. Due to this large infrastructure, they justified paying their writers next to nothing to keep “the machine” running. The writers were told to keep writing and to learn how to market themselves by building a platform; it wasn’t the publisher’s job to market them. Before the books were printed, advanced copies would be sent out to newspaper reviewers, literary critics, other established authors, and even bookstore representatives to build buzz for the book; thus, creating a secondary market for these services. In many instances, the large publishers were also spending millions on advertising with the newspapers and literary journals and in return usually received glowing reviews.

Distributors interacted with the publisher’s large sales forces to move the books from the publisher’s warehouses to their own and then on to the bookstores, libraries, and other outlets dependent on the revenues from selling books to stay in business. Because of constant sales pressure, the shelf life of books dwindled dramatically over time, adding even more burden to an already tense system. Bookstores started demanding more sure things from publishers who began demanding more guaranteed successes from their editors who then gave the literary agents their marching orders. The result was less creativity, choice, and more writers left on the outside looking in than ever before.

Then, seemingly overnight, everything changed. A company called Amazon, with a brash, bold leader and even more audacious vision, launched a device called the Kindle that would enable readers to download electronic books in seconds. The traditional publishing establishment laughed it off. “Readers would never prefer digital books over paper books,” they said. Unfortunately, they hadn’t learned the lesson of the music industry, still reeling from the introduction of digital content vs. the traditional format. Amazon, like iTunes before them, had an ace in the hole. They knew that in order to make their Kindles valuable they needed content. They didn’t really care where it came from or how good it was, so they introduced a method for authors to directly publish with them. All of a sudden the traditional publishing  hierarchy was usurped.

Writers could hire their own editors, cover designers, and typesetters. They could upload the books to Amazon in minutes. They could use their own websites, social media and reader communities to find their readers and direct them to Amazon to buy their books. And most surprisingly, some of them could actually write good books! Kindles started selling like hot cakes and these indie books were selling right along with them. Some of these authorpreneurs even began outselling their traditionally published counterparts and showing up on bestseller lists. One of them even sold over 2 million e-books!

Needless to say, the large publishers weren’t going to take this lying down, and began meeting in secret with Apple to establish a pricing model that would allow them to stay in business. They needed to do this because their large  bookstore partners were closing by the thousands and Amazon was not allowing them control over their own prices. When the government found out, a Department of Justice  investigation was initiated and many of the big publishers and Apple were named as defendants, having to justify their actions to force consumers to pay more for products that cost significantly less to produce.

Meanwhile, the indie author community was growing by leaps and bounds as authors, left out in the cold for years, capitalized on the opportunity to establish a follower-ship of readers. Unfortunately, many of the books were rush jobs with shoddy covers, poor-to-no editing, and plain sloppy writing. And there were other companies called vanity publishers preying on the ignorance of authors, by taking their money and offering little to no service in return. Still, readers were far more forgiving to these authors than the literary agents and editors had ever been. Maybe they connected with the entrepreneurial spirit of these intrepid authors. Besides, if they didn’t like the book, a full refund was a click away, a privilege never afforded them by bookstores.

The large publishers realized that e-books were not going away and in fact were outselling their print counterparts, so they began a smear campaign to lambaste indie authors and their primary steward, Amazon. They found a man who had been quite successful for a time selling 5 star reviews for a price. When they discovered that the #1 Indie author had actually used this service to obtain 300 such reviews, they went on an all out initiative. Book critics, traditionally published authors, literary agents, and newspaper journalists fired away on the credibility of Amazon and Indie authors in article after article.

The traditional establishment rejoiced as indie authors began to turn on each other. Until the leaders of the community stood up, pointed out these underhanded tactics, and calmed everyone back down. In the end, the Indie authors kept writing, kept supporting each other, kept churning out successively better products, and kept building strong connections with readers. Traditionally published authors, increasingly neglected by their publishers, jumped ship and bolstered the ranks of indies until most authors found on Amazon were indies with the traditional authors few and far between. A surprising winner in this whole tale were indie booksellers who were thriving in the new world. Paper wasn’t dead; authors just wanted their due remuneration for their years of hard work. And there were readers who would always love paper.

As for the publishers and all their cronies? Realizing that their last-ditch effort failed, they initiated massive rounds of layoffs of skilled editors, publicists, cover designers, and sales people, many of whom immediately found work servicing the indie author community. Literary agents started representing indies in negotiations with Hollywood. And the large publishers consolidated until there were only two or three left in business.

What came next? Only they can say for sure. But in the words of Stephen King, the world moved on. Some moved on with it. Most others were simply left behind. Out in the cold.

Sound familiar?

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