Publishing is Changing: It’s Getting Scary Out There

For some of you professional writers out there, it may be time to check your shorts. The industry is going through a lot of growing pains and it’s likely affecting your bottom line. Sure, change is scary and no one likes to have their assets hanging out in the wind. But I don’t think it’ll become as big of a mess as some may anticipate.

All butt metaphors aside, I was inspired to write this post after I began to comment on another blog and realized what I had to say needed a post of its own. The blog post that fired up my mostly dormant synapses belongs to fellow scribe Jenna Glatzer who shared The Great Freakout of 2010: her concern with where the publishing industry is headed, its affect on her income, and her fears about the death of print books and bookstores.

Now, Jenna is certainly more accomplished than I and has had a very successful career in traditional publishing with both ghosting and writing her own books, but Jenna, girlfriend, don’t worry; as you’re discovering in 2011, you’ll be just fine.

There doesn’t have to be a Great Freakout of 2011 if writers embrace technology and new possibilities—and encourage others in the publishing industry to do the same. Change isn’t coming; it’s already here.

I have a couple ideas for publishers and bookstores that I think will help get the ball of change rolling a little faster.

If traditional publishing houses stop clinging to an outdated business model and completely embrace POD and digital technology, they have a better chance of surviving. Some houses use POD for their out-of-print titles, but not for new releases or backlist/consistently-selling titles. Most publishing losses and risks are the result of massive offset print runs that sit in the bookstores and wholesaler/distributor warehouses until they are returned, remaindered, or pulped because they didn’t sell. All the money wasted on indiscriminate printing could be used to publish more authors. Win-win-win for authors, readers, and publishers.

But some would argue that going to strictly POD and eBooks would put the final nail in the bookstore coffin. Bookstores have been struggling for a while and the recent bankruptcy of Borders foreshadows the future of the others.

Bookstores can survive if they, too, changed their business model. They need to build a community around a shared interest—reading. Bookstores should become a book-lovers social venue with couches, bean bags, and overstuffed chairs (instead of those god awful wooden spine killers) and host a solid calendar of events like author readings, book clubs, discussion groups, storytime for children, literacy tutoring, and maybe even some writing classes. Bookstores should have electronic display terminals where you can “flip through” books like Amazon’s search inside feature and either download the book immediately to your eReader, or if buyers want a print version, they can choose to step over to the bank of Espresso Book Machines or to a POD ordering center for to have the print book delivered to their homes or that store location. The bookstore can also continue to sell coffee table and gift-type books and book chotskies and reading accessories. Win-win-win-win for the bookstores, readers, authors, and publishers.

It may all sound a bit sci-fi-ish, but it *is* coming. And the longer it takes the industry to embrace it, the more struggling and suffering there will be for us all.

What ideas do you have for new directions in the publishing industry? Any predictions? I’d love to hear them.

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