Throughout the history of publishing, every time something new (the printing press, paperbacks, chain bookstores, mergers, etc) had the audacity to trip upon the scene, the naysayers always blurted out ‘oh no, this will doom publishing!’
Turns out these things did not doom publishing…only transformed it…and mostly for the better!
Now, the new tech (eReaders, tablets, easy self-publishing software, social media advertising, free online e-book stores, etc) has turned the old crusty and rusty publishing business models on their heads.
As long as I’ve been plugged into the publishing world and keeping track of the news — pretty much since 1995, when I started working in a bookstore — publishing has always been doomed. I worked at the store when the massive round of consolidations happened — Penguin and Putnam merged, Avon and Harper Collins merged, and so on. Everyone freaked out — imprints merged and vanished, lots of people lost jobs, and everyone worried that the diversity and range of books available, now controlled by very few companies, would suffer. On the other hand, I’d argue that this gave a chance for small presses to really take off and fill in the gaps.
Talk to writers and publishing professionals who’ve been around even longer, and they’ll tell you about the huge crises that happened in the 80’s, the 60’s, and earlier. The introduction of the mass market paperback, the collapse of certain genres, the price of paper. . . Here, a former Random House editor talks about how the rise of the chain bookstores in the 80’s changed publishing forever by shifting the emphasis to bestsellers — death of the midlist, anyone? There’s lots of doom to go around.
The last few months I’ve sensed a really huge amount of stress about publishing doom among many writers I know. If you don’t get all your backlist into e-book form right now, you’re doomed! If you don’t have a contract right this second, you’re doomed! If you’re with a traditional publisher you’re doomed! If you’re not, you’re doomed! The noise out there has gotten intense.
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