Piracy and changing distribution schema will not kill the publishing industry. Shortsighted infrastructure-protection on the part of publishing houses will.
So speaks Susan Piver in an article in which she implores publishers not to make all the same mistakes as the music biz.
What offed the music business—and what the publishing industry is facing—is a corporate structure built to churn out hits […]. Rather than developing artists, exploiting regional marketplaces, and building financial models that can support a mid-range list, both industries sold […] out to entertainment at the expense of art and expression. Both are in the business of selling many copies of a few items, not a few copies of many items—the kind of product that can be shot out of a cannon, dominate the retail market, and then basically disappear—because anything else is simply too complicated for a similarly bulked up corporate retail environment to track. The appearance of downloads and file sharing could almost be seen as a desperate measure on the part of consumers to listen and read in an un-mandated manner.
Figuring out how to change the way bookselling works — to adapt it to the way that consumers clearly want it to work — that is the thing that publishers need to work on. Not the best way to embed DRM in ebooks and audiobooks (hint: there is no best way – the very best DRM is stuff you’re borrowing from the music industry – stuff that was already hacked two days before it was ever released). Not teacup-sized storms over Kindle2 text-to-speech capability. Those are the sorts of things that the recording industry has gotten their privates in a twist over for the last decade, and look where it’s gotten them. More to the point; look where it hasn’t.
My guess is that in 2-5 years we’ll see a publishing industry that looks like the music business does today: Super-downsized major companies selling a product line aimed at an older demographic and a jillion new companies creating the next generation of publishers, retailers, and readers. Just like in the music business, some in publishing will be mourning the death of the business while others will be wildly excited because all they see is opportunity.
Personally, I don’t think it’s going to take that long; I think it’s happening right now. There are lots of ’boutique’ (read: “small, specialized”) literary agencies out there — the technology exists today that will allow the proliferation of boutique publishers (I emphasize ‘proliferation’, because they already exist in small numbers).
You know what has recently excited me as a reader and a creator?
- I’m excited by The Brink, a website where JC Hutchins invites his readers to ‘get commited’ the Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital — to “inject yourself into the Personal Effects universe and become a patient”, to contribute artwork, video, and to appear on the official website for the book. JC gets it.
- I’m excited by the Nerdfighters Ning, where John and Hank Green have assembled a group of like-minded people that publishers only understand via the label ‘fans’, who are so much more; who do and contribute so much more.
- I’m excited when an author friend of mine says “I want to change my website into something where the readers can communicate with me and with each other more easily… where they can create. The website right now, and Facebook… everything we’re using right now, it’s getting in the way of that.”
- I get excited when I can interface directly with the authors I read — both as a writer (which I am) and a reader (which I am) and a fanboy (which I totally am) and a person (which helps me remember that we both are). I send RPG recommendations to Wil, and a cool t-shirt recommendation to Mur, and condolences to Neil, and software suggestions to Alethea, and I steal and eat Maureen’s bacon sandwich, and exchange random bits of geeky nerdtrivia to Rob or Fred.
- I get excited when I realize that I can’t always tell the creators from the fans, because they switch places.
And if one stops by to thank me for a link, and another sends me a private message with a link to Susan Piver’s article so that I can rant about the publishing industry when maybe it’s not very easy for them to do so, and a third wants to interview me about the flash-fiction I’m writing on Twitter, and a fourth sends me a “You can do eeet!” when I bitch about another round of revisions on Hidden Things…
That’s a community; the place where writing started, and where it’s coming back to – despite the ‘industry’s’ best/worst efforts.
I’m not prognosticating, guys. Look around; you can watch it happening.