Sunday, June 6, 2010

So This is How the Dinosaurs Died, Part 3

Want more proof that the world of publishing - specifically, the way we consume books - is transforming before our very eyes? No? Here's some anyway, in the form of a report from the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal! Is it possible to get any more buttoned-down, traditional, navy-blue-Brooks-Brothers suited than the Wall Street Journal? Maybe so, but if there is, I can't imagine where.

Here's what the Wall Street Journal had to say in their report about digital self-publishing at last week. "Fueling the shift [away from traditional publishing] is the growing popularity of electronic books, which few people were willing to read even three years ago. Apple Inc.'s iPad and e-reading devices such as Amazon's Kindle have made buying and reading digital books easy."

The report goes on to say that although overall U.S. book sales fell nearly two percent last year, e-book sales were up nearly three hundred percent, according to the Association of American Publishers. "E-book sales could reach as high as 20% to 25% of the total book market by 2012, according to Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant, up from an estimated 5% to 10% today."

I tend to disagree with those estimates. I believe the ongoing shift in readers' preferences will occur even faster. Digital reading devices are growing exponentially in popularity, and if sales of Apple's iPad even come close to approaching what the company is forecasting, I believe e-book sales could approach 20% to 25% of total book sales by the end of this year.

Think about it. Two to three years ago the question was whether digital book sales could ever become anything more than a fractional blip on the radar screen of total sales. A year ago the total was somewhere in the neighborhood of 2%. A year ago! Now the number is up around 10% and growing rapidly. Is twenty percent of total sales likely by the end of this year? I say it's not just likely, it's inevitable.

More from the WSJ piece: "Some publishers fear that one of the big technology companies now distributing e-books will compete for the industy's best-known authors, by offering advances in a bid to gain market share."

Translation: The big New York publishers are scared shitless that Stephen King will abandon his traditional publisher and self-publish a mammoth bestseller somewhere down the line, taking advantage of a profit margin many times greater than even he has been able to achieve through the traditional, ink-on-paper publishing model.

The focus of the report is on digital self-publishing. I've done a lot of research on the publishing industry in my attempt to learn as much as I can on the way to publication, and in traditional publishing circles, self-publishing a book has always been the quickest way to ensure irrelevence among agents and publishers.

That may not be as true now, as evidenced by Boyd Morrison's success self-publishing THE ARK and earning himself a traditional publishing deal after garnering impressive sales and reviews. But even if self-publishing is still frowned upon, there are many Indie publishers taking full advantage of the digital revolution, my publisher, Medallion Press, being one of them but certainly not the only one.

The revolution is here. It's inevitable, just as the sea change in how we read is inevitable. Even the Wall Street Journal, traditional to the core, can see it. Think about that for the sixty seconds it takes to download a new book onto your Kindle.

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