Monday, January 31, 2011

Looking for a Publishing Metaphor

Over at Joe Konrath's blog, the discussion about e-self-publishing goes on and on. Joe is a big proponent of it, and lately he's had a series of guest blogs (with plenty of his thoughts added) from writers who have successfully ESP-ed. Some of them have a prior print publishing background; some don't. Monday's post by Blake Crouch is a good example. As always, the discussion that follows these guest posts is both informative and entertaining. Here are some examples.

by Blake: To be paid monthly to write exactly what you want to write and have absolute control over the presentation is an amazing thing. me, the best thing about the ebook revolution isn't the money. It's the unlimited creative potential. No more asking permission to write the book you're dying to write. No more constraints on form.

by Joe: Self-publishing is a guarantee it will find some readers, while pursuing a traditional publishing contract is still a long shot.

by Michael: I can't emphasize too strongly that this is an age of STAGGERING opportunity for writers. ...To be free to write any length you want, in any genre, without some [expletive deleted] editor telling you how to do it, is pleasure enough in itself. But to be able to publish so easily, so quickly, and stand at least some change of making money—hard to believe.

I've been trying to think of a metaphor that describes what is happening to the publishing industry as the e-reader/e-book revolution comes storming on. I've heard that before an avalanche there is a "cracking" sound, then the snow comes down. Maybe that's a good analogy. The publishing snow is cracking, the avalanche of e-book sales is about to start, and the traditional publishers are not listening. I read in several books about prisoners of war who escaped from prisoner-of-war camps via tunneling that the sand also does this cracking sound right before a cave in. Perhaps either metaphor applies.

Yet, in those cases there is no falling sand or sliding snow before the deluge. In the publishing industry, e-book sales are 11 percent of total book sales, although this data may be several months old. So there's something visible and measurable going on. It's not just a cracking sound. Maybe it's more like either a flash flood or a gradually rising flood. The water is there, making enough sound that the person not paying attention to what is coming from upstream doesn't realize a flood is coming. This seems an apt metaphor to the situation.

When Gutenberg invented movable type, the copyist industry fairly quickly went out of business. Now digital devices are slowly driving print out of business. Oh, print books will never disappear completely. e-books won't even command a majority of market share for some time, maybe a decade. But it's going to go up from 11 percent. The flood is coming.


Gary said...

Rupert Murdock just introduce an iPad newspaper called "Daily." For 99 cents a week you can get all your new digitally on a conveniently portable device. It's no longer a crackling sound ... it's a hurricane's roar.

David A. Todd said...

Gary: I saw that announcement. The digital "newspaper" sounds intriquing. Some day I might even own a device I could read it on.

If the hurricane's roar is upon us, why aren't the big six publishers adjusting to meet it? Maybe it is upon us, and they are all going to go under.


Gary said...

Like GM, the biggies are burdened by too much overhead, regulation, history, etc. to turn nimbly. This was Bill Gates fear with Microsoft and he was constantly looking for the next wave to catch. He succeeded only in part as can be seen by Google having a better search engine and Firefox having a better browser than MS products.