Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Speculation: authors and the internet

One of the issues I'm interested in involves the growing use of that media to aid publishing, and how publishers are responding and adapting to new technology. Online media could lead to complications for trade publishers in the near future, but only if publishers choose not to keep up with the online world.

Some authors are embracing online networking tools (and feel free to post links to the ones you know of in the comments), and they have begun building platforms for publicity and promotion. Some have been on top of these changes for years, and their web presence is firmly established while the other authors play catch-up. Foresight and independence should be applauded, and I’m sure publishers everywhere would love to have authors share some of the promotional burden of their work. However, the online world is new and in its pioneering stage when it comes to publishing. Smaller companies with fewer staff members and limited resources could be slow to incorporate online aspects to their normal workload. Some companies might have no idea about blogs, Twitter, Facebook, or book trailers on YouTube—-and even if they know about these resources, they might have no idea how to make use of them. Some or all of these applications could fail to reach the expectations of their users, or they could become obsolete within months, but the belief is growing that an author who wishes to succeed has to be willing to take care of an online platform and roll with the changes. Whether publishers want to adapt, or whether they can adapt, remains to be seen.

Delayed reaction (or at least reluctance) to make changes within the industry could push authors and even booksellers away. Smaller companies would be forced to shut down or sell off. The increase of authors without representation could mean better pickings for larger, more financially secure companies, but it is also possible that several authors would turn to self-publishing. The success of self-published books—The Shack and Eragon, among others—is boosting the popularity of ‘vanity’ publishing. Furthermore, profit margins can be greater for a self-published author than they would be for an author on a conventional publishing contract. As self-publishing becomes more common, and as authors handle their own publicity, publishing companies could be pushed into the background. The big companies would still handle blockbuster authors, but everyone else could be left jockeying for positions on Amazon.

I think that there are some people who fail to see the importance of publishers. I disagree with them. I think that when you marginalize or eliminate the publishers, then the quality of the output suffers. If that happens, then you start going down a slippery slope that begins with sloppy work hitting the bookshelves (or virtual shelves), and ends with an unsatisfied and eventually disinterested public.

Of course this doom and gloom is all hypothetical. This chain of events can be avoided if some of the links are altered. The only link publishers can control is the one they belong to. In order to exist, they must adapt.

This is a little stream-of-consciousness, and I'm sure there are holes in the theory, so feel free to poke at the holes in the comments. Nothing like promoting healthy discussion.

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