Long live the book… A view on the publishing industry

Note: This Post Originally featured on the WickedWriters Blog…  http://thewickedwriters.blogspot.com/

Given the subject of our posts this week – our opinions of the publishing industry – I thought it might be a useful idea to revisit an earlier post I had placed on my own blog. (A blog which has now, to a large extent, lain fallow as I have begun to contribute to Wicked Writers!)

Here I have re-edited Part II of what was a two-part posting. I hope you find its content of interest.

Self publishing 101: Risk Management

The book is dead...

The book is dead? Long live the book?

The launch of any new product into a market, and new novels are no exception, is a question of innovation. Put the hash-tag #innovation into Twitter and follow just how many people discuss this topic, and, importantly, what is being said.

Innovation is the word on the lips of politicians, businesses and consumers looking forward. And the biggest tool in the innovator’s toolbox is the opportunity presented by technology as it continues its rampant charge down the battlefields of commerce. The battlefield that is “Publishing” bears the scars of technology’s stampede! Just look at the launch of the iPad!

As any general will tell you, if you chose to fight on any battlefield you must be mindful of the terrain you face!

I covered Economics 101 for the Self-Publisher in an earlier post. Consider today’s post as Risk Management 101.

A question of risk? Really?

Of course it is. And what do we do about risk, as a budding novelist?

Launching a new product into a market is an investment. It costs. It costs to produce a book. Not just in the time to write it, but in the post-writing production process. If launching a book is to be considered as a business (i.e. authors – as well as Agents and Publishers – need to put bread into their mouths) then what strategies are available to de-risk the enterprise?


Hi guys... look how famous I am!

Become a celebrity?

Indeed! Short of (accidentally?) launching one’s child, in a balloon, into the airspace over a major international airport, or entering some mindless get-rich-quick game show, genuine opportunities for gaining instant celebrity status are few and far between. Such a strategy is as useful to the budding author as is hope! And hope is no strategy!

In the risk-reward equation of a product launch, what is at stake is the investment in bringing that product to market. If the product is untried, untested – with an unknown pedigree, it is highly rational to consider only a limited investment at first. But here lies the difficulty faced by the budding new author! The investment required to produce such a seemingly small thing as a new paperback book – that can compete on cost and quality in the market of other paperback books – is out of all proportion to its size. That is, of course, unless a sufficiently large enough quantity can be produced, marketed and SOLD!

This is an economic fact of life! It should not be a surprise to any new, budding author – the economics of starting a writing career just do not add up!

…Unless, of course, you decide to enter the battle!!


Let the battle commence...

Back to the battlefield, brave hearts!

The stampede of technology has done one critical thing – it has lowered the cost of production of the book! And I am not talking, here, about the capability of digital, print-on-demand, or the use of software to layout and design books at home. No, the biggest single factor in levelling the battlefield – in reducing the costs of production – which is the real boon to the individual budding new novelist, is that technology has redefined what a book is!

The book is dead! Long live the (E)book!

A budding new author who does not consider that an e-book is THE WAY to reduce the level of investment in book production, is missing the point.

At the launch my own first novel, RIVER OF JUDGEMENT, initially on Smashwords, I was thankful that evolution is our constant companion. As our global society becomes increasingly risk averse, as investment in capital-intensive product launches (as a book most certainly is) becomes reserved for “sure-fire” bets (celebrity) and sexy, high-tech panaceas (which a book most certainly is not), evolution provides its own solution. We adapt and survive.

Vanity, what vanity?

The low cost of producing an e-book provides a new author with the economic possibility to launch a new product into a real marketplace that has the potential to generate income (and put a few crumbs on the table). It is an opportunity, I would argue, not to be missed. The books of budding new authors can now exist alongside those of the established greats, and on the same terms!! No vanity press need exist in cyberspace – just good quality and bad quality.

Democracy rules, perhaps! So, publish and be damned! Go on, give it a try!

  8 comments for “Long live the book… A view on the publishing industry

  1. June 12, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I may not take “reading materials” into the restroom to use the john, but I do take them into the bathtub! When my book sells I get to buy myself an ipad (which I plan to use as an ereader among the other incredible features). Will I take my expensive gadget into the tub for a soak?

    Probably not for a long, long time. At least until my TBR pile of paper books is deplete (and of course, there is always the library!). While I’ve never in three decades dropped a book in the tub, I have had them get splashed a bit. I worry the expensive bit of plastic, metal and glass wouldn’t survive.

    Good points you made David – with the amount of recycling we do I often wonder if we couldn’t have a special recycling pile just for books (like we do for just cardboard and newspapers) and somehow recycle the higher quality paper into new books. This is probably being done somewhere already and I don’t now about it!

  2. Robert C. Nelson
    June 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Thank you for the non attack on my views. I always welcome thoughtful and incisive feedback. Yes, the kindle isn’t exactly green either. Plastic leaves a huge footprint. I don’t own a device: I access my ebooks on my computer. It’s not my favorite way to go, but it’s helping some. Greg has a point: I would never take my computer to the john. Both of you gentlemen are correct to say that paper will never completely vanish, and that’s great for my give aways and for people who are sick or those who can’t afford a $259.00 device. I think it’s great to go to a used book store and get a book as well. That’s one way to recycle. For many new authors, the ebook will be a wonderful way for them to go. So yes, there are many schools of thought. No one is completely wrong, no one is completely right.

  3. Robert C. Nelson
    June 9, 2010 at 3:14 am

    All my novels have been published old school. No more. Ebooks are here and are only going to get bigger. They are not only convenient and inexpensive:they are green. Wake up people! Paper books need trees to assuage the aesthetic amongst us.I’m getting sick and tired of hearing people talk about the ” feel ” of a ” real ” book in their hands. This is bullshit! There will still be some paper books around- I intend on giving some of mine away for free to Veteran’s groups, childrens’ organizations and such. But I would certainly love to know there’s more oxygen in the air I breathe than the fact some stuck in the Dark Ages reader is running his or her fingers across a book that will be thrown on the dung heap in a short amount of time. My opinion. Thank you for the soap box.

    • June 9, 2010 at 12:57 pm

      I think old school and eBooks can co-exist. Because I’m not bringing a Kindle into the restroom.

    • June 9, 2010 at 3:21 pm

      Robert, no problem! Yuu are welcome to add your views!

      So how green is a kindle? They are designed to be disposable products – they will be out of date/out of fashion as soon as the next version of the kindle is released, or whaterever operating sytem comes out that “upgrades” it, or until the colour-ways it is available in looses its fashionable image!!) The R&D money that goes into making them obsolete as soon as they are released so that you, as a consumer, can be “positioned” to buy another one, could be better spent on growing more trees!! Or investing in paper recycling plants!! The materials that go into manufacuting electronic complents are also part of earths natural (and limited) resources. There is always another view! :)

      I’m with Greg!

  4. June 3, 2010 at 11:56 am

    I wonder how a traditional paper book on the death of old style publishing would sell?
    Clearly there are vested interests on both sides of the conversation. Clearly too, it is harder today than ever before for a new writer to catch the attention of an agent, thereafter of a publisher, and then squeak by the marketing jocks who decide if–good or not–a book will make money.

    I’ve been dragging my feet about ePub. Mostly because I’m from an era where paper books, and the mythos that surrounds the publishing business, held a potential magic. Alas, no more.

    In the same way that almost no child in the US is computer illiterate, their children will likely have forgotten the look, feel, and smell of paper literature.

    Is it bad? For many reasons–none of them esthetic–no. But you have to ask yourself, what is it that will replace eBooks… for surely no technology is the last one. There is always something new waiting in the wings.

    • June 3, 2010 at 5:00 pm

      Richard, great point of view. Thank you for your comment.

      Personally, I do not see the demise of the paper book. Things will change, most certainly. But there will always be a market for both paper and e-format. They are different products, with different markets and different dynamics.

      The paper producers will eventually become a niche industry and change will be painful.

      After all these years, there are still the young of today who will seek out specialist “vinyl” record shops selling even 78rpm discs. And specilist production facilities still exist to manufature vacuum tubes to power specialist analogue music amplifiers for the quaklity of their “distortion”.

      What used to be popular is now niche! What was once niche becomes popular!


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