Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Awful Week for Industrial Publishing

What an awful week for industrial publishing.

We may be witnessing an inflection point. The oft predicted drop in ebook prices is progressing. The final major US bookseller is on the ropes, mergers and closures are occuring monthly, and with their collusion having failed, the larger actors appear to be engaged in vicious battles over a shrinking pie. All the while, Amazon's Kindle continues to grow, and Kobo continues to innovate. These trends do not appear to be reversible. The entire media landscape is shifitng to digital content.

What does this mean?

It means a lot of good people are going to lose a lot of good jobs.

This concerns me because I need and love editors. This concerns me because I need and love designers. But it isn't time to start a martini fund. It is time to start taking fishing lessons. The trade winds' direction is obvious to anyone not hiding under a desk, but, fortunately, there is still plenty of time for folks within the industry to take action.

It would be nice if editors had their own Konrath. Someone to point out that where they are isn't where they have to be. But right now there's not anyone like that, so here is about the only advice I can give you: Don't assume your job is protected. Events are moving far too rapidly. It's time to polish up your resume, take a class on business or two, and prepare to hang up your own shingle.

There are already examples that you can follow. Red Adept is a shining beacon of what a small publishing house can be. They don't have expensive New York offices, they offer both a la carte and comprehensive services, and they have a waiting list a mile long. There are going to be plenty of opportunities out there, but folks are going to have to be nimble.

These are incredible times. Prepare to be faced with incredible decisions.


ETA (4/25): And the news just got worse. Mike Shatzkin reports on the findings of a friend who "owns a pretty substantial bookstore":

"To further underscore how slowly book inventory moves, another report they do shows that more than 80% of the titles in the store do not sell a single copy in any particular month. So it is no surprise that an analysis of books from a major publisher that promotes heavily showed that more than half the new titles they receive from that publisher don’t sell a single copy within a month of their arrival in the store, which would include the promotion around publication date!" [emphasis mine]

You read that correctly. An industry insider just said that despite their "curation," "expert touch," and "marketing savvy," half the books a certain large publisher is placing on store's shelves are never getting into the hands of readers. What on earth are these authors handing over lifetime rights for, then?

I'm stunned by this last one. I'm struggling to understand how it could be sustainable.