Crystal balls or no balls at all…The future of publishing.

The London Book Fair is one of the most highly anticipated events in the calendar year for publishers, authors and anyone connected with language and the ability to write captivating prose. As the event draws near the industry faces many new challenges, one thing that can be certain is that the Internet and digital technology is going to claim a bigger share of our thoughts and occupation. Sales of cut-price fiction in supermarkets, Amazon’s dominance of the book selling world on the net, digital technology, emerging markets, POD, e-Books, The Kindle and Internet piracy are all going to claim a stake for your attention. How the industry begins to tackle issues such as these often depends on the reaction of the leading players. The publishers, the retailers, the distributors, the movers and shakers – those 5% of authors who earn the lion share of the profits and royalties; these are the people who should be addressing the issues first. Why? Because their voices can be heard. The interesting thing when you look closely at this elite band of people is that while they control a large percentage of market they do little to embrace new technology, often choosing to view it as a threat rather than an asset. Many publishers have not even begun to embrace e-Commerce yet or provide websites for its artists. There are one or two that are exemplary but in the main they are positioned somewhere in 1998 rather than 2008.

If smaller publishers had the same income to invest in new technology or the resources to embrace podcast, vodcasts, email marketing and full-on public relations activities as these mighty giants, than I am sure the book industry would be a different game altogether today. Is it change that the established players fear? I don’t think so. I believe it is a mixture ignorance and arrogance. The upshot for the small guy though is that many of these new marketing and promotional tools can actually cost nothing more than time and intelligence. Many publishers have not even embraced blogging yet…why? Opinion matters and the Internet has enabled small and large alike to influence and help change opinion through argument and constructed thought.

It’s time to shape up and step up because the future of publishing does not always need a crystal ball, companies such as Amazon is already catching on that POD is becoming big. In its recent approach to digital printing and distribution, Amazon.com has recognised that there is ‘gold in them thar hills’. Obviously the decision has nothing to do with the fact that Amazon owns Book Surge and will reap vast profits from storing and printing titles from a digital catalogue publishers have to buy into. Amazon’s spin is that by making POD customers use Book Surge or its Createspace service, it actually serves customers quicker. This is a backhanded compliment paid by Amazon to the testimony, power and quality of both POD and many of the publishers using the technology. The problem with this line of thinking is that it stops major publishers from embracing POD. Why would large publishers want to relinquish their back catalogues (for instance) to Amazon/Book Surge to store in its digital catalogue and sacrifice the huge margin smaller publishers do to Amazon, to sell their books. Though the cynic in me thinks the big guys will get a far better deal and much more lenient terms.

One may rightly question whether this is a restrictive practice by Amazon, but Amazon do give the choice of continuing to use your existing POD company, there are, as always, caveats attached though. Publishing is changing; the future looks interesting if not maybe a little uncertain. POD gave the little guy a fighting chance, a chance to be heard, a chance to be read. Small, canny publishers then utilised the new tools available, to punch above their weight and gain valuable market space. Amazon’s move could be an attempt to castrate the small guy in favour of the big guys. Whether you are a large or small publisher or an author with a vested interest, you cannot simply ignore what is happening.

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