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Statements for the Future

One of the things the Prime debate has reignited in me is the belief that eventually there will be a change in publishing, similar to that which is currently happening in music, and which will result in well known authors forming their own imprints to control their own work.

It will not be a collective, in that the authors will band together and form their own print, but rather a series of authors who, having grown tired and dissatisfied for whatever reason with publishers--lack of communication, lost money, buried books, or even simply a desire to be in control--will step away from these firms. The technology is reaching the point that the actual physical creation of a book is not hidden from an author, nor out of reach, and given the rise in self employed and contract work in all professions, the professionals that they can employ, much like a publishing house does, is not out of their reach either. Eventually, I believe, writers will be drawn to controlling their own work because they can employ editors who passionate about the same work, who understand their intent, and to cover artists they connect with, and so on and so forth--just as those professions will work with authors they connect with. What will happen will be similar fashion to what bands such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have done, to pick the obvious examples.

Understand, I don't think it will happen now, or even soon. As Deb Layne (deborahlive) points out in the comments of my last post, "Writers can form their own "publishing houses" and publish under that imprint, but they still carry the scent of Vanity Publishing. And for now at least, Vanity Publishing has a whole different meaning in books from what it's equivalent has in music, you know?" She's right, of course, and it's strange that in literature, self publishing is seen not, as it is in music or even in comics, as putting your money where your mouth is, or controlling your work, but rather as a vanity, as the last ditch attempt of a desperate author who cannot be published by legitimate publishers. To an extent, the reputation is earned because there are hundreds of bad self published novels out there, each one of them as wretched as the next (the same, however, is true for the music and comic industries)... but yet, despite this, I do believe there will be a change, eventually.

This does not mean, of course, that publishers will disappear, nor that they should. There are good publishers out there, and there will always be authors who prefer to not take the huge responsibility or getting their book ready for publication, distribution, and so forth, and honestly, I don't think publishers should disappear.

Rather, I believe there will be a change in how things happen. Maybe in the next ten years, maybe more, maybe less.

Will it work?

Well, that, I suppose, only time will prove.

Comments

mkhobson
Aug. 8th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
Interesting topic. The challenges/drawbacks of self-publishing are insubstantial if you're talking about a really successful author (e.g., Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, etc.) They have the resources, they're "bankable." So I think your real question (or at least the more interesting question) is "what needs to change to help authors in the middle (Not first-timers, not superstars, but those who can be called, for want of a better term, "midlisters") gain more control over the means of production?" I think you're right, I think many of the issues might be addressed in light of the music model ...

1) Quality. "Self-published books suck!" Well, in music, you have star producers who work with star artists. We need more independent book editors who play an analagous role, who get a cut of the royalties, just like a record producer does. Of course, the quality of the producer you would get depends on the amount they can reasonably expect to gain by virtue of working on a project with you. And these editors would have to really be "producers," not just copy-editors for hire.

2) Distribution. "It's impossible to get books out if you don't have a publisher!" Yes, this is a problem with old-fashioned brick and mortar distribution. And if musicians still had to put out vinyl to Mom & Pop platter shops all over the country, they'd be in the same boat we're in. However, they are light-years ahead of us in terms of the technological "helper tools" that allow people to access their work (specifically, mp3 players.) There needs to be an analagous helper tool for the reader. A killer piece of reader hardware (that is completely content neutral--it reads any .PDF file, for instance) that allows people to download books just like they download music.

I think this is the biggest hurdle, really. And this is only a problem right now because you have so many older readers (or just techphobes) who don't like reading books on-screen. Eventually, that may become a non-issue as the next generation of consumers who have fewer biases in that direction come onto the field.

2) Marketing. "Without a publisher, who will market the books!" Again, in an analogue to the music biz, there need to be PR/marketing agents for writers just as there are PR/marketing agents for big musicians. Superstar authors already have these; there needs to be a structure that offers a lower-cost alternative for the midlisters. I don't know anything analagous in the music biz, unless you count MySpace or just plain old live shows.

Anyway, I think you're right, I think the model is shifting. It's going to shift way faster for the Neil Gaimans and Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings of the world, though.
benpeek
Aug. 9th, 2008 04:57 am (UTC)
to be quite honest, i don't think downloading books will be the answer, just as i don't think downloading music has really removed the need for musicians to have hard copies (look at radiohead and nine inch nails: both released hard copy versions of their albums). nor do i think it's a younger, older version divide on the tech--i hit the younger part, and i just dislike reading novels on screen. i like books. i think a lot of people do.

but, to be honest, i don't think the midlisters matter, not now, and not in my theory. some of them could leave with their own audience, and cool, but the real interesting things will happen when the big names do leave, at least imo (and assuming they do).