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Friday, November 4, 2011

Book Publishing Is Changing


·         The other day Harper Collins announced that it has purchased Thomas Nelson Publishers. This came less than a week after it announced it was swallowing up another publisher. The consolidation that was expected for the next few years is off and running.

·         I recently spoke to an author who is self-publishing her first book after having used a traditional publisher for her first 40 books. She wants to see what the new marketplace has to offer.

·         I had lunch with a literary agent recently who told me she was exploring other areas to delve into to supplement being an agent, because there simply aren’t as many deals to be made.  When an agent does sell a book they are seeing smaller author advances.

Anyone I talk to is embracing a new approach to a newly developed publishing landscape.  I can’t think of a single thing that remains the same in book publishing compared to a decade ago.  Here are some examples:

·         Amazon used to sell printed books from publishers; now it sells more e-books than printed ones -- and they are now publishers as well as retailers.

·         The number of bookstores has fallen dramatically mainly due to Borders mismanagement, the recession, Amazon and e-books.

·         More books are self-published than are released by the traditional publishing houses.

·         Books no longer go out-of-print thanks to e-books.

·         The traditional news media of radio-print-TV is still influential but doesn’t retain as many listeners, viewers, and readers as before.

·         Websites are no longer the rage but social media is.

·         Publisher catalogs and book galleys are shifting to digital.

Not all change is bad nor is it complete.  There are still many moving parts in the process of dismantling an industry that for several centuries changed very little and did so very slowly.  New winners and losers will arise as the book world remakes the marketplace.  Only time will tell as to who will be which.

Like all industries that change, members of the industry are seeking to figure out what will be what and then to invest in that direction.  There is more than a clear hint of the near future:  e-books are rising fast.  But who can say what things will look like in five years or 10.  Writers will still be needed, so will editors, marketers, publicists and advertisers.  The bigger question is how many bookstores will be left and how many publishers and literacy agents will be around?

One way to project the future is to state a hypothetical conclusion such as: There will be half as many bookstores left by 2022 as there are today. Now work backwards and list the anticipated causes that would need to come into play.  Then keep your eye out for signs those causes are coming into play.  For this hypothesis, one cause factor would be a significant increase of e-readers purchased or other direct-book-delivery services like Amazon sprouting up. One would also watch to see the pace of store closings over time or signs of expansion by the major chains or independents.

If you try to anticipate possible futures and observe how the current marketplace is trending, you can begin to grasp where publishing will be and then make a decision on how you see yourself fitting into that new scenario.

Maybe for book publishing to grow, we need a new marketplace.  Perhaps dogs and cats will learn to read through scientific tinkering.  Then we can sell books to them.  Or maybe more of the world will learn English and we can sell books to it. Or we discover planets with aliens who like to read books about Kim Kardashian.  Who knows?

Interview With Literary Agent Evan Marshall

  1. Is being a literary agent an endangered species? Don’t we still need people like yourself? Agents are by no means endangered. Publishing still needs us because we act as filters, selecting the best books and bringing them to the most appropriate editors. Editors are not capable to both finding books and editing and publishing them. They rely on agents; it’s a partnership.

  1. What do you love about being a part of the book publishing industry? I love how it is constantly reinventing itself. I have to smile when I think about the different trends books have gone through since I came into the industry, from disco novels to thousand-page historical romances all the way up to vampires and dystopian YA. These changes keep the industry fun and challenging.

  1. Where do you think it is headed? I think publishers will focus more and more on bankable brand names and leave the “long tail” books to smaller and self- publishers. I think we will come to expect lower sales on printed books as ebooks continue to take over. Ebooks will become to print books what mass market paperbacks were to hard covers. Yet none of these formats will go away.

  1. What do you look for in the authors you work with? I look for fresh new story ideas and nearly flawless writing. In a client I look for someone professional and reasonable who’s willing to put in the time needed to grow a writing career.

  1. What advice do you have to struggling writers of today? If you’re not yet published, try self-publishing. It’s a great way to get started. If your heart is set on the major publishers, study their lists exhaustively to find out what they’ve been publishing, and attend writers conferences and conventions to find out what they intend to acquire.

Interview With Online Book Reviewer James W. Durney


  1. How are you involved in the book publishing industry? My involvement has always been as a user of their product.  I have always enjoyed reading and try to read two to five books each month.  Being retired makes that much easier.  However, real life will interfere with reading time. I started reviewing on Amazon in 2003 and got serious about it in 2006.  Most of my reviews are for books on the American Civil War.  After that, they are nonfiction about World War I and the Indian Wars.  I read very little fiction.  I was an avid reader of Science Fiction and Mysteries at one time.  I do read some Civil War fiction and follow the Tattered Glory series.  My Amazon reviews were noticed by the Civil War community that lead to some email friendships with authors and people in publishing.  The Civil War Blog TOCWOC asked me to do a monthly column on Civil War books based on my reviews.  As B&N opened up for reviews, I started posting on that site too.  On Yahoo Groups, I maintain Recommended Civil War Reading and a number of Round Table Blogs publish my reviews. Since I only review what I expect to like, I do not feel this makes me a critic.  I see myself as an advocate for Civil War authors and the houses that publish their work.

  1. Where do you think it is heading? Reviewing on book selling sites is always questionable.  The owner may pull the plug at any time or change the rules as they see fit.  Since the customer review is an integral part of the selling process I do not see reviewing disappearing soon.  Most of a reviewer’s problems come from site policies and irate customers. This is exciting and dynamic time for Civil War publishing.  2011 starts the sesquicentennial.  This is bringing a flood of books to the market and new people into the hobby.  We are seeing some really good work that is extending our understanding of the war.  Savas Beatie, The University of North Carolina Press and Louisiana State University Press publish quality books that are a joy to read.  Authors like Eric Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi, Steven E. Woodworth, and Ethan S. Rafuse consistently produce quality work.  We are growing a new crop of authors in David A. Powell, Gary Ecelbarger, Alexander Mendoza, Lance J. Herdegen and Russell S. Bonds.  In addition, we have Jeffery Wert and Ed Bearss still contributing fine books. This combination of quality publishing houses and fine authors is producing great books on the Civil War.  We might be heading into the “Golden Age” of Civil War history.  I feel very lucky to be a small part of this.  

  1. Why do you love books? I do not know.  It is just a natural thing that I have always had.  It is an integral part of me.  I have passed this on to my children and they are passing it to my grandchildren.  I grew up with books.  My Mother read to me, Dad would bring comic books home on payday.

  1. Are e-books going to save or destroy the industry? Both! They are great for fiction; my wife will read a mystery once.  They exist on her Nook and take up no space in the library. You can adjust the print size without increasing the price. For history, until I can mark a map, the page I am reading and look up an endnote they will not work for me. I have been a war gamer most of my life.  I never thought the physical game would disappear but they have.  Instead of sheets of counters, pages of rules, maps and tables in a big multi-color box I buy a CD-Rom.  In many ways, it is an improvement but I do miss the smell and feel of a new game.  In 40 years, someone could be saying something like this about books.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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