Saturday, February 7, 2009

Filling the Void As the Old Book World Crumbles

In his recent editorial, Why Book Reviews Matter, Max Fisher comments on the rumors of doom concerning the Washington Post's weekly stand-alone featuring news and reviews of all things literary. (The editorial can be found here.) Even though the rumors are currently being denied, it is more evidence of the struggle all print media is facing, which is declining sales due to the availability of free content on the Web.

This trend follows in the wake of the rise in Print-on-Demand (POD) publishing that is forcing traditional publishers to completely rethink their business model. The days of filling warehouses with offset print books that are delivered to brick-and-mortar bookstores are quickly fading. A full 55% of all books are sold online, not in stores.

While POD publishing may be a nightmare for traditional publishing houses, it’s a dream come true for many authors. By utilizing one-stop-shopping vendors such as Lightning Source to provide editing, design, layout, and printing, and then posting their products directly on Amazon and other online retail outlets, many authors are by-passing traditional publishers altogether. However, vanity publishing still carries a bit of a stigma in both the literary business world and among readers. Self-published books are not considered to be as high a quality as those selected for print by traditional publishers.

Another emerging trend is being forged by small, independent publishers who are more author-friendly in terms of royalties and contract lengths and who still offer many of the perks of traditional publishers. In some cases, the layout and design fees are paid by the author. Publishing in this manner seems to be gaining in popularity as a “middle way” between vanity publishing and what is now being called “old-world” publishing.

Is the reorganization of traditional publishing house methods, the disappearing of print media and the rise of POD self-publishing brewing into a perfect storm that will result in the demise of quality standards? Only a select few traditional publishers and print media are considered as guardians of high standards. Getting your book reviewed in the NY Times is truly a feather in your cap.

Today, book marketing gurus claim that being the recipient of a book award could mean the difference in helping a librarian decide whether or not to buy your book. Writers who win such prizes market themselves as an “award-winning author.” Few readers check to see which award has been bestowed. The unfortunate truth is, there are so many awards offered to today’s authors that, given enough money and time, winning an award is not as difficult as it once was. And, very few of these awards are credentialed in such a way that it is any boon to the author to extensively advertise the name.

Anyone who has ever marketed anything knows that endorsements and reviews count. The higher the profile of the endorser, the better. As the old ways of book publishing and marketing continue to give way to the digital revolution, who will hold the new standards for deciding what’s worth reading? What will fill the void when the old ways are gone? Will we be even further subjected to the rising din of noise created by the masses when more people are shouting about their product while fewer are listening to accredited sources? Time will tell.

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1 comment:

Sun Singer said...

I'm surprised by the fact that more mainstream houses don't appear to be following the lead of HarperStudio by experimenting with new ideas, i.e., cutting exorbitant advances and discontinuing consignment method of selling in which books are fully returnable.

Mainstream houses could, it would seem, use POD for niche books and first runs of debut novels until sales requirements show need for offset.

Malcolm