Some views on the future (present!) of publishing

Book/ebook reader

Photo by Steve Paine

Stumbled across a couple of blog posts recently that survey the current state of publishing, or at least the digital aspect of publishing. At the blog (What BookBaby is), Chris Robley sums up where he thinks the publishing world is headed in the next five years. The title of his piece also includes “or sooner.” Of course all the things he writes about are already happening somewhere, somehow. I like his first point about digital remixes and the idea of sampling different chapters/sections from different books to create your own unique book. There’s a site called ebookpie that is currently doing just that. It’s in beta (what isn’t these days?), but I’ll be curious to see what comes of that idea.

His point two comes from Todd Sattersten who predicts that in the future physical books will be what audiobooks are now. That is, because of the high cost of producing an audiobook, publishers only make them for some authors. In the future, the physical book will be seen as the “expensive” version that only elite authors will get. I’m not quite so sure about this, because the cost of a paper book is nowhere near the cost of producing an audiobook—think audio engineers, producers, studio time, etc.

On a related front (I think) there’s a post from Julien Smith (co-author with Chris Brogan of Trust Agents) called The 6 Shifts of a Kindle Dominated Marketplace, in which he posits that “This is the time we all become authors.” Why? Because there are no gatekeepers, you are your own publisher (are you going to throw your own work into the slush pile?), you can sell stuff for cheap, you can buy stuff for cheap (though I recently had the experience of buying a Kindle single from someone who is an acquaintance and, you know, it was awful; it wasn’t even worth the $2.99 I paid for it), and so almost everyone who ever wanted to write something will be writing something. Which is exciting and good and a lot of good writing that might not otherwise have made it to the world will, though there will also be tons—tons!—of crap to wade through. (In the future everyone will need their own content curator.) To say nothing of the millions of Chinese fiction authors who are soon to launch their own writing careers.

Then, on the other hand, I was talking with a guy who helps business thought leaders write their books. He thinks books still work because it collects an author’s best thinking in one place. Rather than tracking down this ebook or that .pdf or this series of blog posts, you just put all your best thoughts in an organized fashion in a book. That’s what books are good for. Whether it’s paper or digital, that doesn’t matter. Just get all the thinking organized in one place. Something to be said for that.

If you look at the people who are ringing the death knell for paper-based books, you’ll see that most of them got to be a spokesperson because they authored a big paper-based book. Big books are still the primary way to claim authority, at least in the business book world. Is this all shifting rapidly? Yes. But at this point in time and at least for a few more years, if you want to get your ideas out there and make a business of selling those ideas, you’ll still want to write a big (or fairly big) book.

Having said that, I’m still a firm believer in experimentation. I always encourage any authors I’m working with to put their ideas out there in multiple formats and ways. Anyone who is working on a book should be creating ebooks or .pdfs and giving them away at their websites and perhaps trying to sell some of them at Amazon online. Try different things. And if you’re selling things, try different prices. It’s wild west time out there. Just try stuff. Of course that then brings us back to what Julien was saying in his blog post referenced above.

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