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Monday, 22 June 2015

Disruptive Behaviour

Discussion ranges widely about changes in the landscape of publishing over the last decade, and the Passive Voice ran a couple of posts recently about how publishing as we know it wasn't going anywhere.

The biggest shift has been the meteoric growth of self-publishing;not through it's long standing derided Vanities but via the more direct self-publishing across the Internet.

A comment that the Big Publishing House (BPH) would survive, albeit by merging into larger conglomerate has some merit, Penguin Random House have already acquired their entrée into self-publishing via Author Solutions and the links between other publishers and the vanities have been extensively chronicled here and on other blog sites.

The threat to the stranglehold of the commercial publishers was initiated by the arrival of the eReader, Amazon's Kindle was the ringleader, add on the availability of the tablets and the smartphones and accessibility to reading matter hit a level unheard of twenty years ago. An insatiable demand was on the edge of being slaked, but more importantly for thousands of authors loitering outside the kept gates of publishing and desperate for their chance to reach a public audience another gate opened.

The narrow trickle down the traditional road and the expensive diversions into vanity publishing were joined by the ebook and the Internet, and desktop publishing became a reality. You really could publish to the world from your desk top.

The Disruption started, barely perceptible at first, but since 2008 the flood has gathered force. Commercial publishers have commented on the recent flattening of ebook sales, but is their perception accurate, Gareth Cuddy at Vearsa disagrees, speculating that the disruption has barely begun. Looking at the internal company sales figures may show a flattening of the titles in the catalogue, but what about the title that never reached a commercial catalogue, either as a digital/print combo or a digital only edition?

E Book distribution via Kindle Direct, Kindle Unlimited, Smashwords, Vearsa, Nook, iTunes, (the list goes on) stacks up titles by the hundreds, even thousands, then plug in direct sales from author websites and the figures keep climbing. Figures that go way beyond telephone number length and soar into a literary stratosphere. There is far more to come.

The old way, some call it traditional or commercial. Shall we strip away the huggy trad title and go for the cold commercial reality?

Publishing is as brutal as any other business,  The books landing on the shelves this morning will have to take off as quickly. The shelf space is required for the next title, and the last one is off to the remainders, or the pulp mill for recycling.

The gatekeepers will fight on, pushing their way as the true way, but how can that be if they only seem to throw obstacles in the way of the author, who now has a way out, and for some passing go pockets a lot more than two hundred pounds (even if you count it daily).

Self-publishing (true self-pub) is as much a business venture as any commercial publisher. The overheads may be lower, but the workload falls on a smaller crew.

Unlike the frantic sale to return to remainder of the bookstore the digital world of ebools and POD has a slower time frame, giving the ebook time to take hold and build. This leaves the door open, the out-of-print line is less likely to appear for an independent author, where as the growing book list of a commercial published author will see it creep to the foot of the back-list and start to climb.

Now the author has to think outside the envelope, and the growth of the Hyrbid author and Anne R Allen's Post "Why All Author's May Have a Hybrid Future" explores this idea. The dual role has its advantages, the marketing of  current saleable titles through the  bookstore and on-line is bolstered by the availability as an eBook or POD of the O-O-P back-list. The downside, earlier editions may be out of print, but the publishing rights may still lie with the publisher and not be available to author for direct marketing and sales.

The article misses one vital factor, for the vast majority of authors; some of whom are outselling the commercials by thousands of copies. Hybrid is not a choice, We are independent, there is no security of a commercial contract. Whether that route was ever  desired and we lost it, saw it buried under a mountain of rejection letters or thought the hell with it and went Indie anyway

Are we to consider the Hybrid as an end in itself or another stage in the disruption?

Will it end this way? The commercials will trawl the sales charts and electronic bookshelves looking for the next big thing, and the strong self-published author with a platform, dedicated readers,consistently reliable sales will negotiate from a position of strength.

The contract will be signed because it's what the writer wants, not a limited option, a pass to go beyond the gatekeepers into the supposedly hallowed halls beyond.

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