September 28, 2008

Publishing Industry--Do or Die?

Publishing Industry--Do or Die?

By Dorinda Ohnstad


This blogging business is new to me. I have never written one, nor before my attempts to write this one had I even read one. My three teenage children wouldn’t be surprised; they know all too well that I barely know how to text message never-the-less know something about current communication venues such as MySpace and FaceBook. I certainly don’t know any of the texting acronyms that everyone else seems to take for granted. Any interpretation help in that regard would certainly be appreciated. My kids laughed at me when I thought that LOL meant lots of luck. Hey it fit and worked for me. I can tell you that they “laughed out loud” at that one. Nix on asking my kids for any further text abbreviations or acronyms for fear of looking like a complete Neanderthal.

By the way, what’s up with the LOL bit anyway? Why do I have to laugh out loud? Can’t I simply chuckle quietly to myself? Or what if what the sender has to say doesn’t make me want to laugh at all? Can anyone out there explain this to me in a way that someone older (notice I didn’t say old as I refuse to lump myself in that category, not yet anyway) like me will actually get it?

On top of the fact that blogging is a new adventure for me, this group blog is a new direction for our writers’ group. We’re late in the blogging game (these days it doesn’t take long to be late in the game) and we’re attempting to compete with the thousands of other blogs out there for your attention. Chances are I will fret over every word of this blog for days and have it fall on deaf ears. (Hmm, I wonder if that is even possible given these words are written not spoken.) But we authors have to write for the sheer pleasure of writing, and not for the published attention it might bring us, or we might never write at all.

Still, I hope that this elicits some response in someone other than my fellow K C Writers’ Group members who already have to put up with reading my writing on a regular basis. Besides, they know me personally and will have to look me in the eyes at our next meeting (translation: means they have to be nice to me), whereas all of you readers out there can throw your comments my way and have little concern that you will have to meet me in person. And if you do (hopefully at a book signing some day), you certainly don’t have to admit to it unless you want to.

The other day one of the members of our writers’ group, Sunny Frazier (author of “Fools Rush In”), passed on an interesting and timely New York Times Magazine article titled “The End” written by Boris Kachka and published September 14, 2008. In short, this article discusses the current publishing industry crisis and speculates at its potential demise. As an unpublished novelist wannabe, I found that to be a rather disconcerting prediction. If the publishing empire is going to fall, I would rather it wait until I’ve had my opportunity to grab the brass ring first. My own publishing desires aside, writers and avid readers alike should be very concerned about the doomsday message this article carried. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. (To view the article and posted comments online go to http://nymag.com/news/media/50279/.)

According to the article the problems plaguing the industry are:

· Blockbuster strategies that have led to bidding wars and the payment of astronomical advances for manuscripts with potential for huge commercial success; many of which fail to live up to their expectations.

· The industry is struggling to figure out how to reach readers in light of the fact that traditional marketing (media, book reviews, and blurbs) is no longer effective.

· An archaic consignment system that results in publishers having to buy back books that aren’t sold by book outlets and having to shred them leading to waste and lost profits.

· The market for fiction is shrinking.

· The imminent loss of Oprah’s book club which has fueled book sales.

· Borders’ crisis could lead to the elimination of competition with Barnes & Nobles, which would lead to less leverage for publishers for placement in Barnes & Nobles.

· Big box outlets & Amazon account for almost 80% of the book sales market, and publishers fear that Amazon is moving toward controlling every facet of the industry and intends to edge out the publishers in the process.

· Some industry experts believe that the future of books sales is e-books, print on demand, online subscriptions and other alternatives to print books.

The burning question I had after reading this article was: What’s the best resolution for readers and authors alike? Like it or not, we all have to recognize that the world has changed drastically since the Gutenberg bible was first printed. Technology rules the world. Our youth are more comfortable with its use than we are and have more entertainment options than ever before as a result. For those of us middle-aged and up, growing up we didn’t have the entertainment options available today and books were the primary venue to wile our time away. In addition, youth today have more demands on their time (e.g. sports, school or other extra-curricular activities) and less free time to read even if they had the inclination. Fewer youth than ever are gaining a love for reading, and those that do are more likely to prefer an on-the-go friendly e-book reader to a paperback, and the rest will simply wait until it’s made into a movie and see it at the local theater.

Those of us who grew up loving the printed word have discovered that technology has provided us greater and easier access to a wider array of books through the convenience of shopping from home. Like it or not, Amazon has tapped into something big. I will admit to turning to Amazon to purchase books because I’m an extremely busy person and I can avoid a trip to the local mall, dealing with traffic, parking, etc. and get books I want delivered to my home. On top of that, I don’t have to worry about whether or not the book store will have the book I’m looking for. I’m not the only one who feels this way. I have a friend who is as ardent a reader as they come (she reads at least four books a week on average), who on a recent visit to San Francisco took her book wish list of 25 authors to both Borders and Barnes & Noble and came home with only 4 crossed off her list. She had hoped by going to bigger book stores in the big city she would have access to more books than she would find in the local Hanford book store, but that wasn’t the case. Of course, both stores said they would be happy to special order the books for her, but she pointed out to them that she could do the same herself online through Amazon, where she could not only find the books she was looking for, but find a used much-less-expensive alternative to buying a new one at the book store.

A key part of the publishing industry equation that wasn’t mentioned in the article is the access to the used book market in a way that has never happened before. In the past, you could buy used books only at a used bookseller’s store or the local library book sale, where it was hit and miss as to which books you could find. Now you can find what you’re looking for through Amazon with a click of the button and don’t have to dig through dusty books for hours hunting for that one book. In my early days, the only real organized used book market was the used text book market in and around any major University, but now even that is an online market too.

Bottom line is that today there are more options than ever for readers, while at the same time there appears to be fewer readers to market to. Technology has forever changed the market for books and will continue to have a tremendous impact on the evolution of the publishing industry. So what does that mean? I think that for the reader it will mean more options than ever before, which should be a good thing so long as it doesn’t diminish access to literature. I think that one way to ensure that access to literature isn’t unduly impacted by the ensuing change is to make sure that publishing houses survive to ensure competition within the industry. My suggestion is that publishers take a page from Amazon’s playbook. With more buyers turning to online purchases there is no reason that publishing houses can’t sell their books directly to the end buyer, and provide it through multiple formats, including e-versions and print-on-demand. In the end, I think that could be a good thing all around for authors. As the market shifted to looking to a few big commercial blockbusters it provided fewer opportunities for authors who didn’t fit the bill. Yet, we know that there is a market for more than just the Dan Brown’s of the world. Those avid readers out there, like my friend Victoria, crave more. If the publishing industry moves in a different more flexible direction it would provide more options than the expensive traditional print book options, which should be a good thing for reader, author and publisher alike.

So what do you think?

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2 Comments:

At October 1, 2008 at 9:25 AM , Blogger June Rodriguez said...

Dori, I sympathize with you about trying to understand the latest lingo, the newest abbreviations. But there is hope in the form of the very system we have so much trouble with. Check out www.netlingo.com or www.webopedia.com for the latest texting mystery word or the latest tech lingo. I still stumble on something on a blog but now I know where to go to find the info.
As for the publishing industry I have also learned you have to be flexible when it comes to such a fluid system. There will alway be readers for writers. If the readers want something strong enough then the process will change. Like everything else it just may take a while.

 
At October 2, 2008 at 6:39 AM , Blogger Karyne said...

I understand the hesitation that has kept alot of writers out of the blogging biz. Those of us in the older generation grew up with the icons of writing hardwired to our brains. Agent, publisher, bestseller, fame and fortune. The only thing we can count on in life is change, and if anything changes with the times, it the publishing/writing world. If you think about it, its the nature of the beast, otherwise, it'd be one boring place to be.
But a writers strongest asset is the ability to adapt. I am a relative beginner to this world of writing, but I learned this and I learned it fast. Keep an open mind, try anything you can, even if it scares you, never sacrifice success to your fears and keep on trying. Dori, I started my own blog just a few months ago and I thought I'd have nothing to say, but it turns out, I have lots to say. Getting people to read and comment will come in time. I hate to be corny but as the movie said, Build and he will come, so in this case, tell it well and the readers will come.

 

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