The best of times, the worst of times...
There have been some fairly gloomy posts lately which may lead some of you to conclude we're a sour, miserable bunch of old bastiches.
There are times when that is true for everyone, and real life intrudes onto the lives of authors too, believe it or not.
There is no getting away from it... we're in turbulent times. There is also no getting away from the fact that it's been steadily getting tougher and less likely that a book will win through just by being a great book that appeals to a lot of readers. The intermediates have gradually done away with pure reader selection, they've gobbled up the margins meaning book buyers pay more, and writers actually get even less. It's been getting harder and harder to get in and then harder to make a living as the bestseller budget gobbled most of the cash (which was very nice if you happened to chosen to be a ‘bestseller' and be pushed but sucked if you were the rest of us... And it didn't do the market any good either.)
On the other hand, this may be the best of times to arrive on the scene. Turbulence is a sign and time of changes. The last 10 years were the worst of times to get into writing... but that's pushed the equation toward where change simply has to happen (it will be argued by the various Uncle Tom's of the status quo, that more more books are being sold now, than hitherto. This gentlefolk is what is meant by lies, damned lies and statistics... 1) it has become easier to do very small press. You can even do it yourself. If you discount titles selling under 1000 copies you will I think discover that the drop in the number of titles is steady. If you discount titles selling under 40K - as the one time noob fiction genre paperback starting point... you will find that actually the drop has been precipitous. 2)It is convenient to these folk not to separate fiction out. Wonder why? 3)The only accurate way of assessing the health of the fiction industry would be proportionate. If in 1930 50% of the English speaking population could read and 50% possibly afford a book and the uptake was 25%... and 2010 90% of the now very very much larger English speaking population could read, 90% possibly afford a book and the uptake was 10%... Your final number of book sales might be larger.... but you have lost a vast amount of ground. And we have.)
So things are at a point where they have to start breaking. Yep, publishing as we know it will still be around maybe even for another ten years. Some companies much longer... but the world of books will be a very different place (for the better, we hope).
And then we added the internet and e-books (the two go hand-in-hand). Which wasn't just the last straw... it was enough to be a paradyme change on its own. As Kate wrote, the internet was alone enough to start the death of intermediates - with Amazon (and others) helping to speed/cause the collapse of the over 500 distributors (I think we're down to 4 ) which exacerbated the problems above and made life very hard for smaller publishers, and indies and sheltered big publishers and big box bookstores so they didn't have to start adapting. The other big effect is to reduce the value of ‘retail access' which, from a very long list that publishers in 1920 offered authors was one of the few things not eroded by technology and outsourcing. And then to this you added the e-book.
Now, in the realm of hard to pin-down figures... this one is very elusive. Charlie Stross on a list I belong to said that figure is supposed to be under 2% - although doubling every year. Another spot talked about 10%. And Sony reckons it'll be 50% in five years. Believe who ever you choose - the undenyable fact is the change is coming rapidly, and will have some substantial effect on....
Not the hardbacks they're trying to price them as...
Despite the price differential, hardbacks were really a bit of vanity once. Because cheap paperbacks outsold them a myriad times. Paperbacks and poplarity go together.
So where does this leave us? Remember I said this was the best and worst of times. It leaves us with a fighting chance to adapt and get with the new paradyme pretty quickly and cleverly. Which, may not seem such a bargain - no certainty, no safety. But hell, the way the status quo was going, it was getting harder and harder for new talent to emerge, and harder and harder for anyone but the chosen few to survive. The historical meritocracy of writing still existed but it was definitely getting tougher for the few to make their way up. It happened, though rarely without intervention. That was bad for everyone... except the people running the status quo and the chosen few. Now, for a while anyway, there is a chance in the shake-out to get a foothold. Carpe diem ( A carp a day, nothing like it).
There will be a bunch of new start-ups. There are going to a bunch of failures. Some of the major stakeholders now are like that chappie from penny-go-in are going to desperately fight the tide. Others, like Baen and Amazon will try and run in front of it and shape it and work with it. Some publishers will survive and thrive. Lots won't. The model is changing and we need to make sure it changes in a good way readers and writers and so that middlemen go back to serving both as as the best way to to well (instead of screwing both for their short term benefit).
This is a good time to be here. Some time back Charlie Stross was once again holding forth about what you needed to do to promote your books on the subject of blogging -- and someone asked the question - if bOing bOing started up today, in the sea of blogs... would it have succeeded? Maybe. But it would have been a lot harder work.
So: What do you see coming? And how do we best ride out the turbulence?
I see all sort of exciting new things. Changes in length is a biggy for me. How long will e-books be? And would you advance buy a series? (Not advance pay, but book a copy)