Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Changes: The Ever-Evolving Book Publishing Industry--What Does It Mean for Us?

Janine Harrison
We have witnessed major changes in the book publishing industry over the past decade. Creative nonfiction has flourished, taking over larger publishing houses and relegating much fiction to smaller publishers. The demand for serious, intellectual books is at an all-time low; as a result, university presses are publishing work that they would not have previously considered. Electronic publishing has come into existence with a roar, sometimes referred to as the "Amazon Effect," causing big-box bookstores to struggle--Barnes & Noble plans to close 20 stores per year over the next ten years--and even, as was the case with Borders, to close. Self-publishing is becoming less stigmatized and gaining momentum as a viable publishing option, especially for mid-to-late career writers. And perhaps most recently, big six publishing houses, like Random House and Penguin, have started consolidating to adapt to a digital marketplace. These changes have made for a more competitive print marketplace that often offers smaller advances to authors.
E-publishing affords instant gratification for readers and e-books tend to be cheaper than hard copies. In 2009, only three percent of readers were using electronic devices such as Kindle and Nook; that number is now up to 15 percent. In one year alone, the number of people who e-read grew from 15 to 40 million. Kindle is expanding interactions daily and Zola, newer to the scene, is also on the move. It is projected that in 2020, 50 percent of reading will involve e-books.
The new digital marketplace entails print on demand as well. In Australia, for instance, where shipping costs are exorbitant, book vending machines exist. Customers order a book from the machine, which pours them a complimentary cup of coffee, and by the time they are finished drinking, their book is printed. E-publishers are beginning to work with hardback publishers to complete print-on-demand requests, but authors assume some of the costs. The good news, however, is that e-publishers may accept a book that traditional publishers will not publish; while this may call the overall quality of the book market into question, it may also allow readers more selection diversity. In addition, e-book royalties for writers tend to be considerably better, at 70-to-80 percent, than the ten percent offered in traditional markets. And, if a print book contract does not specify e-book rights, then the writer still has property to sell.
Due to the fast evolution of the digital market, agents are also asking for royalty renegotiations every three years. As an anti-movement, "ReKiosk" is concentrating on the return of the human element in book sales, and independent bookstore openings are slightly on the rise.
What are some conclusions that we can safely draw from these market trends? Traditional publishing is becoming more competitive, and commercial writing is more economically viable than literary writing. E-publishing is the wave of the future and writers should, therefore, be aware of e-book rights when signing contracts for print work. E-publishing is an option for consideration when work is rejected in the traditional publishing industry, and both e-publishing and self-publishing are viable choices for mid-career writers whose name is already known, bringing higher profit margins. Finally, perhaps no matter the digital market prospects, the human element will remain.

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