Monday, June 3, 2013

Is "traditional" book publishing going the way of buggy-whip makers?

By Don Keith N4KC

I came across an interesting blog post talking about whether traditional book publishers were doomed or not..

Well, it is the age-old question, isn't it? Yes, traditional publishing--as is ALL media--is changing rapidly, mostly based on evolving technology.  However, the needs and wants of readers (read: book buyers) are evolving as well.  Those who regularly follow this blog know that I don't limit the rapid technological change and its effect to only a few media or industries.  It is everywhere!  And it ain't gonna stop!  Those who cannot accept rapid change are almost certainly miserable right about now.

Evolution is inevitable.  Sometimes it is not pretty (See; platypus.)  But is always interesting and, to some of us, damned exciting!

Consumers today want media delivered on a variety of platforms.  And they want it when they want it...e-book, audio, and, yes, old-fashioned sheets of paper bound at the spine.  Can you visually read a book--whether it be paper or e-book--while driving in rush hour traffic?  Ever tried to read a book on an iPad or other tablet screen on the beach?  Can you really store a few thousand paper books on a shelf the size of a smart phone, or locate the book on that shelf you want in a few seconds searching by keyword?  Can you hold an e-book or audio book in your hands before purchasing it, thumb through it, read any segment you want, feel the heft of it or get that visceral reaction to the full package?

The traditional publishers that truly understand what their customers want and need will thrive.  That implies that the publisher learns to employ creativity in all aspects of marketing: formats, pricing, distribution, and more.

That also includes offering the creators of all that content that traditional publishers hope to sell...authors...a compensation package that makes sense.  Make it more attractive for creators of content, like me, to allow publishers to purchase rights from us than it would be for us to go do-it-yourself.  That, too, is part of good marketing: the purchase of raw materials that makes growers, miners, or, in our case, the creators a successful part of the whole operation.  Too many traditional publishers try to skimp on or still don't understand this part of marketing, based on all the centuries when they controlled the channels of distribution exclusively. For the first time in history, creators of content may finally be gaining the upper hand because we do have options for selling our raw material, so long as it is not too "raw."

Other media are going through the same paroxysms.  The music industry was slow to evolve and look what happened to them.  (How many record stores do you see in your local mall?)  Daily newspapers hardly have a pulse.  Big magazines are barely avoiding flat-lining.  (See Newsweek, Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post.)  Network TV and over-the-air radio are facing the same fate if they don't react more quickly and intelligently. (A prime-time number one network show recently reached fewer than a million homes, and that was the first time this has happened since the '50s.) Pick up any movie trade pub and look at all the angst that medium is experiencing.

It is an exciting time.  It is a frightening time.  But as with any rapid societal change, smart, innovative people will prosper.  Those with their heads in the sand, opting for denial and stone-walling, will fall to the wayside.  Evolution is an inevitable and brutal thing.

The answer to the question in the headline will only come when--and if--traditional publishing is no longer referred to as "traditional."  Or when "traditional" is universally accepted as referring to those publishers that produce content for users across all platforms, including those that have not even been thought of yet.

1 comment:

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