Welcome to the garage band era of publishing. Traditionally, writers have had one job—write something worthy of being published. If they took the time to consider what audiences would buy and they crafted their words in ways that were clear and compelling, it was presumed that they would find someone who would put their work into print.
But the world of publishing has been undergoing rapid change. Last July, Amazon declared that they were selling more electronic books than hardbacks. In April of this year, they announced that their sales of electronic books exceeded hardbacks and paperbacks combined. Anecdotally, other writers have told me that in the past few months there royalties for electronic books have become over half their receipts. (I’ve found this is also true for my own book, Innovation Passport.) We have also seen the phenomenon of people who never were able to pass through the gatekeepers at publishing houses finding their readers directly–sometimes to the tune of millions.
In the old days when publishing meant producing real ink-on-paper books, someone would help edit the manuscript, both for mechanics like grammar and spelling and for loftier elements such as sense, completeness, clarity and even attractiveness. And that’s not all. Publishers ensured distribution, marketing, and presentation (with great attention paid to typeface, covers, etc.)
Today, editors do more work selling their choices to their bosses and less work fixing up manuscripts. Except for the very top writers, publishers expect the burden of marketing—especially through social media – to be borne by the authors. About the only thing they are certain to take out of the writers hands is creation of the cover, since people do judge books – even electronic books – by the image that represents it.
With publishers doing less, and writers doing more, it isn’t surprising that the relationship is changing. Established authors are reclaiming the rights to earlier books and making them available directly to their readers. (Not surprisingly, with the ease of buying provided by devices like the Kindle or Nook, sales of books that were previously out-of-print or otherwise difficult to obtain have surged.)
It seems as if publishing is beginning to more closely resemble the world that was traditional for music. There has always been room for bands that survived by playing at small venues like bars and schools. While there were some musicians and singers who got contracts, most found their own audiences, handled their own publicity, and made their own business arrangements.
Such small-scale artistic endeavors haven’t been easy for writers. People don’t come together to read they way they come together to hear live music. Now the Web allows writers who can master the garage band disciplines to reach their audiences. There even is the opportunity for them to “break out” the way garage bands occasionally did, as small communities of enthusiasts linkup with their fellows, writing can go viral.
I am seeing that now with the work of a friend of mine. After presenting a short seminar on marketing for writers, she was encouraged by a blogger to write up her main points. She did so, making her short book available (with a nice cover) through Amazon’s electronic publishing program. She promoted the book through the electronic forum of her local writers group. She solicited the comments of people who knew her and bought the book, and that gave her a positive rating on the Amazon site. The blogger who suggested that she write the book went on to promote her to another community, and soon her book was being mentioned and she was being interviewed across the blogosphere. Needless to say, this has led to her breaking into some top 10 lists for Kindle.
I think that other endeavors will see the same changes. We will not see an end to traditional publishing, producing and other forms of credentialing and certification—especially at the high end. The division of labor, along with the access to those people who don’t have time to ferret out the best products and services, will persist.
However, I suspect we are on the verge of having not just garage band musicians and writers, but also garage band film producers and perhaps people who are depended upon for expertise—lawyers, doctors, counselors, teachers, preachers, and technical services. This will create a brand-new dynamic that will both lead to some bizarre community choices and some unexpected and fresh perspectives.
(Addendum: Check out “How Pottermore Will Revolutionize Publishing.”)