From time to time, I receive publishing questions from emerging authors, students, and other interested parties. I do my best to answer and hope I’ve been some help! Sometimes the questions are so insightful I’m inspired to hope my answer is as thought-provoking as the question itself! Recently, Amy Mackin contacted me with some questions as part of a project she’s been working on. Her questions were fantastic. Amy has kindly agreed to both the questions and answers being shared on my blog, and it’s my hope that they may be helpful to others!
Do you still see a solid future for traditional publishing, or do you believe we’re headed toward a time where most works of commercial and literary fiction/nonfiction will be purchased and read in digital format?
Great question! According to recent surveys, as with the majority of their elders, millennials prefer reading in print, which bodes well for the life expectancy of print formats. Sales trends appear to bear this out, with BookScan reporting a 2.4% increase in sales of print books in 2014.
Traditional publishing offers writers many advantages. A publishing house takes care of administrative details, for instance, giving authors more time to focus on writing. More important to an author’s bottom line, traditional houses with dedicated sales and marketing teams and broad distribution channels own the print book market.
In the past, the majority of bookstores refused to stock indie-published books. Today, with indie authors routinely cracking the NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists, store owners/managers recognize the need to carry indie books to satisfy demand. While a few wildly successful indies have forged contracts with major distributors, most lack the resources—or the time—to handle large-scale distribution.
This is why bestselling indies often sign publishing deals with traditional houses. Some sign away all rights; others contract for their print books only, allowing the author to retain rights to their electronic formats. Until indies find a good means of mass distribution—they are making strides—traditional publishers will have the upper hand in this area.
But this is only part of the picture. To compete with indie authors and satisfy consumer demand for inexpensive books, some traditional publishers have lowered the price of their e-books, and a few have begun to give away books on their backlists. Publishers have also stepped up their social media presence, another area where indies had an advantage, giving traditional publishers and their authors an opportunity to reach readers on a more personal level.
The industry is constantly evolving. A few years ago, traditional publishing was in flux, and publishers were losing ground. As traditional houses rebound, the needle is shifting back in their direction. But indie publishers are equally innovative and smart, and their flexibility allows them to pivot quickly, adjusting pricing and marketing strategy on the fly. Indie authors are also banding together to solve problems—strategizing, pooling resources—and their larger numbers are increasing their clout. This tension in publishing has already forced changes—e.g., improved the quality of indie books and lowered book prices across the board—that benefit readers. The industry will continue to evolve. While one group or the other may temporarily—or permanently—pull ahead, I don’t see either going away.
Amy’s second question – Do you believe the dawn of e-books has positively impacted or negatively affected a writer’s ability to make a living? – and my answer will be posted next week.