Self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Publishers versus Amazon. Has the beginning of the end of print books arrived? Are publishers a pointless middleman or do they still serve a purpose?
The world of publishing is experiencing some turbulence, and with that, a lot of uncertainty and questions that can’t be answered as well as most of us want. We have people who staunchly defend the publishers, and those who believe that it’s time for them to realize the pit they’re in. But I think it’s safe to say that many of us are in the middle, watching and waiting to see where the digital innovations and reader needs carry the industry.
Yet out of the uncertainty and upheaval comes discussion, which is healthy for the industry because everyone has their own experience to contribute.
This week’s LotW features Publishing Perspectives, a website that is described as “an online magazine of international book publishing news and opinion” (Source). The website is categorized into several different topics, such as self-publishing and children’s, and includes a blog for the most recent publishing news updates and a discussion segment that is designed to encourage “provocative questions and food for thought on the current state of publishing to our readers” (Source). Readers are encouraged to post their own opinions, to lend their voices to the discussion.
Anyone can subscribe to their daily newsletter for free.
Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling but start. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have. Just…start.”
– Ijeoma Umebinyuo
We’ve all had moments when we wished we could talk to an author about their work, their process, their life. Author events are common enough, especially in cities like New York and Boston, but they tend to be executed on a more formal level.
If discussing a book with its author sounds appealing, then BooktheWriter.com might be the perfect resource for you. With genres ranging from memoir and poetry to fiction and food, there’s something for everyone. The list of authors to choose from is packed with those whose books have been on the New York Times Bestseller list, and authors who may not have always been writers, like Christina Haag, who is still in acting, and former investment banker William D. Cohan. Authors are magazine and newspaper writers too, which provides for a variety of writing styles.
Click the banner below to visit and explore Book the Writer’s website!
Stories are cornerstones of culture, whether they be communicated orally, by manuscripts copied by hand, or through the modern publishing system. What we produce is said to be a reflection of who we are as a society. So what does the lack of diversity in publishing say about the industry and its important role as a promoter of culture?
Publisher’s Weekly held a panel discussion on October 16th to discuss diversity in the publishing industry workforce and the effect it has on what books are published. Publishing is not well-known for its racial and cultural diversity, and the discomfort regarding this problem is increasing. We Need Diverse Books, a “grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature” (Source) was launched last spring in a three-day campaign that was designed to raise awareness, brainstorm solutions, and take action on behalf of diversity. Even Buzzfeed and NPR have contributed to the discussion on why diversity is important to readers, culture, and the publishing industry.
One of the highlights taken from the discussion was the issue of power within publishing. Publishers often explain the lack of diversity in books as a problem of an unwelcoming market, but authors who are trying to wade into these controversial waters pin it on an unwelcoming industry. Blame for why there is a lack of diversity can be pinned on anyone and anything imaginable, but pointing fingers won’t bring change. As Jim Milliot, PW’s editorial director, said, “It can’t just be one segment of the industry working on this. We all have to get involved in changing this situation” (Source).
Daniel José Older, a contributing writer at Buzzfeed, agrees that the responsibility to promote diversity falls on the shoulders of everyone who is involved, but he goes a step further. “Ultimately, editors and agents hold exactly the same amount of responsibility that writers do in making literature more diverse,” he said. “The difference is, editors and agents have inordinately more power and access in the industry than writers do. As Arthur A. Levine’s executive editor, Cheryl Klein said: ‘It’s important to have advocates at every stage, from editing to marketing, from librarians to authors, so it’s an industry-wide effort'” (Source). There’s something to be said about agents and editors who recognize the need for diversity and seek out ways in which they can affect change for both the author and for the industry as a whole. Agents and editors may not have the most power, but they are the ones that stand between authors and the publishers; they are the ones who have the power to make the industry listen.
“Your ability to imagine that there is a market has to do with your ability to imagine that those people exist. And if [you] can’t imagine that people of color actually exist and can buy books, then you can’t imagine selling books to them. That’s not just about a company corporate diversity policy; it’s about actually knowing what’s going on in communities of color.”
Ken Chen, poet and director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop
But what if the industry refuses to listen, and instead relies on the traditional, and increasingly out-dated, way of doing business? Johnny Temple is the founder of Akashic Books, an independent publishing company that is “dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers” (Source). “If the industry doesn’t get more economically and ethnically diverse, it’s just going to be a pit that people are not going to be able to climb out of,” Temple said, “as this certain cultural sphere becomes less relevant to the population at large” (Source).
What good is a publishing industry that doesn’t maintain its responsibility to the culture as a whole? Diverse voices are relevant and necessary to shaping and reflecting modern culture as it really is. Diversity shouldn’t remain an option, or a “mission,” so to speak, but should become something that occurs organically. We’re not there yet, but with the changes that the digitalization of publishing is bringing, what better time to do some restructuring?
The feud between online retail giant Amazon and the Hachette Book Group does not seem to be making its way towards a resolution any time soon. New York Times columnist and Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman recently weighed in with his opinion. The following article in Publishers Weekly gives a brief overview of the situation:
“Amazon’s ongoing dispute with the Hachette Book group over e-book sales terms seems to have turned into a litmus test on publishing in the digital era. It has also shone a brighter-than-usual light on Amazon itself, prompting a number of stories questioning the company’s size, and approach to doing business. Now New York Times columnist and Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has waded into the battle, declaring without reservation that Amazon ‘has too much power’ and that the company ‘uses that power in ways that hurt America.’
“While Krurgman acknowledges that Amazon is not a monopoly, ‘a dominant seller with the power to raise prices,’ he says that it is actually a ‘monopsony,’ or a dominant buyer in a marketplace with enough power to push prices downward. Krugman dismisses Amazon supporters who contend that the e-tailer is just doing the business of capitalism and giving consumers what they want. To Krugman the issue revolves around the question of marketplace power and how that power is wielded.
“Krugman is more concerned with the market share and economic power Amazon has accumulated, even if it did so by being smarter than its competitors. He compares Amazon to a textbook example of the monopolistic abuse of power, J.D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, noting Amazon has ‘immense’ market power, even beyond its market share, and says that, like Standard Oil, some of Amazon’s business practices are out of line.
“He declares, ‘So can we trust Amazon not to abuse that power? The Hachette dispute has settled that question: no, we can’t.'”
To read Paul Krugman’s original post in the Opinion Pages for The New York Times, click here.
The role that agents play in the publishing process cannot be understated. They champion books for authors, utilizing their networks to get the word out, using their experience to get the best possible deal. Agents are vital to getting a book sold to a traditional publishing company.
Agents are also important to editors who are looking to expand their publisher’s catalog and establish their viability as editors. An editor who has a solid network of agents who know what the editor likes to acquire is a priceless line of communication.
But how do authors find a good match? And how do editors expand their agent networks when they’re buried under the responsibilities of their role at a publishing house? The first answer is networking. But in a world of internet connectivity, there’s another option to supplement face-to-face networking: QueryTracker (QT).
QueryTracker is a site designed to provide lists of literary agents and publishers, to provide information about them, and to track personal query information. It simplifies the process of tracking down agents who fit your criteria, all while collecting data like average response times, reviews, and comments from authors who’ve found their agents using QT.
Features of the site include forums for users to post questions and network, lists of top publishers and agents (and who they represent), as well as a place for users to keep track of all their query information.
For those of us looking into a career in publishing, it’s important to develop relationships with agents. QueryTracker is a good place to start becoming familiar with names of agents and smaller publishers.
While digital has disrupted much of the industry, some characteristics of the workforce remain the same.
“Employees at publishing houses worked a little bit longer each week and made a little more money in 2013 than they did in 2012. Those were just two of the findings of PW’s annual salary survey, which was conducted this summer and which, for the first time, featured a number of questions on racial diversity in the industry. While it’s no surprise that the publishing sector is overwhelmingly white, the lack of diversity is a bit eye-opening: of the 630 respondents who identified their race, 89% described themselves as white/Caucasian, with 3% selecting Asian and another 3% indicating Hispanic. Only 1% said they are African-American.”
Some interesting findings:
Out of a total of about 800 respondents, 61% said there is little diversity in publishing, while 28% were ambivalent and 11% said they did not think diversity was an issue. The publishing industry’s diversity (or lack thereof) directly affects what kind of books are put into print, and most industry members agree there needs to be “more advocates for books involving people of color throughout the business.”
The workforce is dominated by women (74%), but men earn more overall because of higher rates of employment in management.
The pay gap between men and women in publishing persisted in 2013, with the average male employee earning $85,000 per year and the average female employee earning $60,750 annually, up from $56,000 the year before.
The top complaint among employees in publishing was the increased workload, with 58% of survey respondents claiming they were dissatisfied with the two hour weekly increase (about 47 hours/week, up, up from 45 the previous year).
However, publishing employees were satisfied with their jobs overall: 85% of respondents reported being at least some-what satisfied with their current positions.
Most publishing industry employees seem to have overcome the fear that the sector is facing collapse: 54% of respondents said they were very confident or extremely confident in the future of publishing.
Self-publishing is also having an impact on the industry, according to the survey. Fifty-five percent of respondents said their companies acquired books from self-published authors in the past year; among trade publishers, that portion was higher, at 67%.
Originally reported in The Digital Reader (TDR), Amazon has begun a new publishing program that “is so new that it doesn’t yet have a launch day, URL, or even a name” (TDR).
Crowdsourcing isn’t a new idea. According to Daily Crowdsource, “The principle of crowdsourcing is that more heads are better than one. By canvassing a large crowd of people for ideas, skills, or participation, the quality of content and idea generation will be superior.” In theory, Amazon’s new venture would engage readers and reviewers to make the decision on what would be published from a pool of submissions.
Different from Kindle Direct and Amazon Publishing, this program is tapping into something altogether new. Do you think this program will be successful? By drawing readers into the decision of publishing, will Amazon bring itself more support? Is there enough reader interest to fuel this venture? Let us know what you think in the comments!
What happens when a successful content creation company releases a new, digital-only imprint?
Well, with the release of a site like Full Fathom Five (FFF) Digital, we’ll have a chance to find out. Digital is where it’s at, and James Frey, founder of the FFF, has recognized this and has taken steps to engage a new generation of readers.
“We are looking forward to discovering unconventional projects that have the potential to connect with a wider community of readers that haven’t been available to them before,” Frey said in an article on Mashable. Check out the full article.
This new digital imprint’s goal is to publish “quality fiction e-books for modern readers.” Every Wednesday, a new ebook is scheduled for release, beginning with Amanda Black’s The Apartment on October 1st. E-books will be released in every leading e-book retailer, as well as in a number of niche outlets.