The 5 most significant trends in publishing today

In my enthusiastic quest to understand the emerging world of digital publishing I have been discovering some amazing blogs and resources. It is steadily becoming more clear to me that publishing has changed irrevocably, much as some people want to resist and pretend it’s still the good old days (such as they were). I say “steadily becoming more clear” because I live in a country where eBook publishing is still a pretty novel thing and where eReaders haven’t reached the level of distribution that they have elsewhere, particularly in the US. In fact, the more I read, the more amazed I am at the acceleration of ePublishing over the last couple of years and how unaware I have been of the trend that is already sweeping the globe – but has not quite reached my own little corner of the world. Yet.

And yes, in some ways it is sad to see the decline in traditional publishing and bookselling – after all, they have their warm and fuzzy sides. But for authors wishing to get their work out to an audience, it is also tremendously exciting.

One of the best resources I’ve come across recently is a free eBook called The Secrets to eBook Publishing Success, by Mark Coker, one of the founders of Smashwords. For anyone new to this game, Smashwords is an eBook distributor that offers a platform for uploading and formatting eBooks for just about any eReader except the Kindle. Amazon offers such a platform too, but theirs is exclusive to Kindle. In other words, if you are an author and want to make your work available on all eReaders, you’ll want to upload your work to both platforms.

Anyway, in his eBook, Mark lists the five publishing trends he considers most significant today. Here they are (in bold), followed by my thoughts:

  1. Bookselling is moving online as brick and mortar bookstores disappear. Brick and mortar bookstores have their charm and will no doubt survive in some form, but you have to admit that ePublishing has lots of advantages over traditional publishing – one being that books are no longer shipped back to the publisher if they’re not moving off the shelves of the physical bookstore. Until now, that’s been precisely the case – when books don’t sell, they’re packed up and returned … and the surplus copies of the book either sold at clearance markets, or destroyed. This is not an issue with ePublishing, where an infinite number of titles can be “in print” for an indefinite period. Which is good news for those authors who, in the past, saw their books disappear from bookstore shelves and, more often than not, thrust into obscurity soon afterwards. In fact, as Mark Coker discusses in his book, many authors whose titles have been out of print for a while and whose rights have reverted back to them from the publisher, are now uploading their old titles via ePublishing platforms, thereby giving their work a new lease on life.
  2. Reading is moving to screens as ebooks replace print books. Despite hearing the statistics published by Amazon last year about eBook sales outranking physical book sales, this point wasn’t quite brought home to me until I read this thread on Google+ by one of my favourite bloggers, Darren Rowse. As you can see if you click on the link, the vast majority of respondents to Darren’s question of whether they preferred to read eBooks or physical books said they preferred eBooks. Despite the Amazon stats, somehow it didn’t quite sink in how strong this trend is until I saw real people (or, well, the online version thereof) who confirmed it.
  3. New publishing and distribution tools empower authors to become professional publishers while eroding the monopolistic edge once held by large publishers. Yep. Just a few short years ago, self-publishing was associated with “vanity” and books that were self-published carried a stigma, as if they weren’t good enough for “real” publishing. Right now, indie publishing is a strong movement in its own right, with more and more traditionally-published authors opting to go indie, since they get far higher profits on their books that way. Self-publishing is no longer considered a last resort.
  4. Digital distribution enables authors and publishers to efficiently reach a global market. This comes in on the issue of territorial rights, among other things. Until now, publishing in territories outside of one’s own has been subject to a complex set of negotiations involving agents and the rights divisions of publishing houses. With indie publishing, books can instantly reach across all territories (translation issues notwithstanding).
  5. An over-supply of books and alternative media content will place downward pressure on ebook prices. Quite. There already is an over-surplus of books out there, and prices for eBooks are being driven down. But even so, with indie authors being able to earn as much as 70% royalties on the price of their books, as opposed to FAR less in traditional publishing (I don’t even know what the rate is in foreign markets – here in Iceland it’s around 23%), not to mention the opportunity to reach a far larger audience, this could easily work out to their advantage nonetheless.

As someone who only writes in English but lives in a non-Englsh-speaking country, the cards have always been somewhat stacked against me. When I have tried to get my work published in English-speaking markets, the fact that I don’t live in those countries has presented an obstacle (as if they weren’t enough already for an unknown author). Meanwhile, writing in English has presented an obstacle to getting published in my own country, since publishers have not wanted to foot the additional bill of having to translate a book into Icelandic first, before it is released. Given all that, I am especially thrilled about the side of ePublishing that eliminates the territorial aspect and allows me to get my work out to English-speaking markets unhindered.

That being said, I am having a book published by a traditional publisher (due out very soon) – but, being in English, it is aimed at the tourist market. Also, I only got that publishing deal AFTER I had ePublished the book on my own.

These days I’m working on a book that I hope to release in the near future, and for the first time I will be experimenting with the two platforms I’ve mentioned above (Amazon Kindle and Smashwords). I’ll also be implementing all the tricks and tips I’m reading about in all those awesome resources I’m currently discovering. Will keep you posted!

Posted in Publishing.