The Darwinian Future Of Publishing

I don’t have the patience to do those posts people love: lots of words that boringly repeat the point over and over again. I just like to get to the damn point.

1) As the Big Six continue to die …

2) More writers will flock to self-publish via Kindle, Nook, etc

3) NaNoWriMo never-wannabes will continue to clog the sales pipes

4) Customers will become increasingly frustrated in finding real books

5) Amazon, B&N, et al, will get fed up hosting crap that doesn’t sell (electrons may be “free” but customer friction that loses sales is not)

6) All eBookstores will do away with self-publishing

7) The future will be filled with things like Authonomy and Book Country where people must fight for recognition

8) Think American Idol for books — but without real judges

9) Survivors/winners will then be allowed to sell to Kindle, Nook, etc, customers

That’s how it will be.

If you thought getting published was hard when it was just print, it will become even worse with eBooks.

Who wants to submit to a public slush pile and be judged by a bunch of people who resent that they can’t get picked?


Rewriting the rules for publishing


Filed under Digital Overthrow, eBooks: General, Friction, Marketing

8 responses to “The Darwinian Future Of Publishing

  1. Mark Coker

    We’re there already. Crap drops to oblivion and invisibility, quality rises like creme and sells.

  2. A counter or two, Mike.
    3) Crap books don’t clog the sales pipe. Most readers won’t encounter them at all because those books will never appear in most customers’ sales pipe. It takes a traditional publisher to successfully sell a crap book. If a book sells well enough to get into the sales pipe, then from a commercial standpoint it is no longer crap. Commercially speaking, a crap book is one that doesn’t sell.
    4) I don’t buy into the ‘choice is a bad thing’ argument. I’ve never had any trouble finding books I want to read out of the millions currently available, 99% of which are of no interest to me whatsoever. But let’s say you’re right: then it’s highly likely that tastemakers will evolve to become more influential. Bring it on. I’d love to see a new Barry Gifford influencing a whole generation of new readers.
    5) Why would crap that doesn’t sell cause customer friction? Customers won’t see it. No sales = no customers = no customer friction.
    7) ‘Mid-list’ is a euphemism for obscurity. Most writers are mid-list, currently. Fighting for recognition is what we do. Obscurity is the biggest enemy we have. You may be defining a new battleground but the battle has always been, and always will be, the same.
    8) Damn. I’m not eligible for American Idol. You know there was a Lit Idol once in the UK? No kidding.

    • mikecane

      >>>Why would crap that doesn’t sell cause customer friction?

      Because all search has currently turned to crap too. Google is no longer reliable and no longer present much of anything aside from SEO hype and spamblogs. And there’s no reliable metadata for book sales sites. Search often presents a list of results from which unknowingly customers are expected to choose, without any idea of what’s worth even reading the description of. This is the invisible shelf problem I wrote about earlier:

      Except as more and more crap from people who have no business writing continues to flood in, there will be more crap than stuff that’s even minimally fit to be described as “writing.” It’s hard enough to get people to read as it is. Making it even harder for people to find *worthwhile* stuff to read will only add to the perception that reading is an elitist activity.

      • I’d hazard a guess that 99% of all my own ebook sales have come as a result of Amazon’s internal recommendation algorithm. I’ve sold over 54,000 ebooks on Amazon, and 190 ebooks via Sony, Apple, Kobo, Nook, etc, combined. Why? Amazon don’t rely on people searching to find your books — they find readers who might like them and let them know they exist. What happens with crap books is that people don’t buy them when recommended, so Amazon stops recommending them. It’s a simple algorithm (actually, it’s quite complex: there’s a PDF out there that explains how their “item-to-item collabaritive filtering” works in great detail. From 2003, so no doubt it’s honed considerably since then). Point is, it’s automated, and incredibly effective, and drives more sales than most people are aware of. Better metadata would help, of course — anything better is, well, better by definition. But the idea that Amazon won’t want to be saturated with crap because nobody will be able to find anything good, misses the point that it takes a mainstream publisher to sell crap effectively. “People who have no business writing” won’t sell any of their books cause they won’t have the marketing spend to make it happen, and won’t have the quality to generate word of mouth. And how much stamina do you think these authors will have? Two, three, four books? I expect to see a high rate of attrition. Meanwhile, most readers will be happily unaware these books exist.

  3. If eBook stores don’t pay attention to providing ways for consumers to find quality books, then, sadly, I think the scenario you describe isn’t implausible. On the other hand, ingenious potential sellers and platform providers aren’t any less bright than quality creative authors, and someone will certainly succeed in finding a way to match interested buyers with quality work. Consumers will then flock to such a platform, thus saving future publishing from its impending doom.
    One might even argue that publishers become even more important in this future with its glut of mediocre long tail content. The job of sifting through the dross, finding the gems, polishing and packaging them will continue to provide real value to readers in search of good books.

  4. Don Linn

    Don’t you think there’s a role for independent publishers (not self-publishers…real independent publishers) in the future, irrespective of the state of the Big Six?

    • mikecane

      Yes, I do. So we get back to publishers as publishers again. But just not the machine-like publishing of the Big Six, where there are slots to fill.

  5. 1. Amen to Mike’s statement about search engines turning to crap.
    2. Why on earth should Amazon/BN care about hosting/selling crap that won’t sell?
    3. Why on earth should the biggest player Amazon insist on the ability to match or beat the price of competitors? That is anti-competitive in the long run.
    4. Who needs Amazon when you have Paypal’s micropayments at 5% + $0.05 USD. And you are allowed to sell it at a price between 99 cents and 2.99 without incurring a penalty.
    5. Literary people are used to hunting down overlooked masterpieces. Nothing new here.
    6. The only thing which has changed over the last 10 years is that I am reading a higher percentage of titles which have never been reviewed anywhere.
    7. I wrote long ago about how collaborative filtering (the “American Idol” mechanism you are referring to) simply doesn’t work with books. Do you seriously think an American Idol showdown would help the world identify the next Thomas Pynchon or Samuel Beckett?

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