Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Biggest Challenges in the New Era of Publishing

As you may have noticed from my gazillions of posts about the wonders of e-books and the future of publishing, I'm a rather relentless techno-optimist. I think the future is going to be better than the past, and I believe having more books out there in the market is a decidedly good thing. I'm counting down the days until there's an invention that allows us to read five books at once.

At the same time, along with technological change comes major disruptions, and change is never even. There will inevitably be institutions and ways of life and old habits and jobs that will go by the wayside to make room for what's to come. Even if things are better on the whole (and I really do think they will be), there are going to be good things that are lost as well.

So I thought I'd devote a post to what I personally think are some of the biggest challenges for publishers, agents, authors, readers, and bookstores.

Publishers: Relevancy

In the old era, only major publishers had the infrastructure to get books to readers. You had to go through them to reach readers in large numbers.

In the e-book era, that necessity is no longer going to be there, and the distribution advantage that publishers have enjoyed for a couple of centuries will be severely, if not completely, eroded. All of a sudden authors, big and small, are going to have the option of going it alone if they want to, and the value proposition that publishers provide is not as clear-cut.

I don't think publishers are going to disappear entirely, and the package of services they bring to bear to produce a book is still unmatched. But if bestselling authors begin setting off on their own with regularity, it's going to have major ramifications for publishers' size and profitability.

Agents: Standardization

I don't think agents are going away. You know that phrase about how a combative person could start a fight in an empty room? Well, agents could start a negotiation in an empty room.

I personally think the biggest threat to agents isn't a decline of publishers - as I say whenever I'm asked, agents will negotiate with whomever is still around. As long as there are authors and readers, there will be someone getting the books to the readers, and authors will need agents to negotiate with those someones. And even in an era where agents aren't the gatekeepers to the literary world, they'll still have a role.

So what's the biggest threat to agents? I think it's standardization of terms.

Apple's iTunes and App stores have been revolutionary in many respects, but perhaps the most revolutionary is the one-size-fits all 70/30 revenue split for all apps. Big, small, it's 70/30. That 70/30 split is so powerful it even caused major publishers to adopt the model across the board for e-books.

If, hypothetically, advances largely go by the wayside and authors of the future are simply offered the same revenue split as everyone else and there's no room for negotiation, agents may be necessary for only the biggest authors.

Bookstores: Survival

When bookstores are already struggling and facing a looming mass conversion to e-books, it doesn't take a genius to see the challenges that bookstores will face. If you love bookstores: support them with your dollars please!

And my unsolicited advice for bookstores: you have a brand that people trust, and people will always need recommendations. Move that brand online as soon as possible, don't hide from the e-book era and give people a reason to keep coming back.

Authors: Attention

I actually think authors have a good situation in the new era, because everyone will have a chance to be heard. But, unfortunately, not all chances are going to be created equal. There will still be a big difference between a book launched with a major publicity campaign and a book anonymously and quietly uploaded to Amazon.

In any situation where there is a great deal of choice people tend to retreat to trusted brands, and I think that's going to be true of the new era. Megabestsellers and celebrities will continue to sell more, and everyone else may find it difficult to stand out.

But as Double Rainbow guy goes to show, hits can come out of nowhere. All it takes is a few people raving for a book to go viral and start spreading. And in the new era, word spreads faster than ever.

Readers: Confusion

I think some of the fears about a deluge of poorly written books are overblown. No one is going to have to go sifting through a huge pile of bad self-published books to find the good stuff. Besides, the era of the deluge is already here. There are millions of books out there and we are still able to find the good ones.

But there are going to be some challenges for readers. While I think anyone who wants a print book will be able to buy one for the foreseeable future, as bookstores close readers are going to have to find new ways of locating books, there could be format confusion and DRM frustrations, and territorial issues and glitches.

But ultimately I think readers will benefit the most from the new era. The more books there are to choose from the more likely it will be that the perfect ones for you are out there.

What do you think the challenges will be? What's scariest about the new era?

Art: Illustration from "Bilderbuch für Kinder" (picture-book for children), edited by Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch


Dina Santorelli said...

Great post. Spot-on.

Richard Gibson said...

Agreed that for authors perhaps the hardest part will be marketing and promotion, especially in a growing sea of options and products, but I would also add the agony of deciding: print (self-, traditional, big press, small press, on demand), e- (which formats, distributed how/by whom, etc.), or some other option (on CD? whatever). Things are still evolving so quickly it is difficult to know whether to go with betamax or VHS or to wait and see...

Matthew MacNish said...

As an aspiring author, the scariest thing for me is self-publishing. More and more it seems like a viable option, but hiring an editor, someone to format, someone to design, all while putting up your own money, and without the validation that comes with traditional publishing ... it's a bit terrifying.

Mr. D said...

I'm not sure anything scares me, but with the new era comes the "undiscovered country." Maybe that in itself is something about which people can be scared.

Rusty Biesele said...

I think the nature of paper books will change pretty drastically due to ebooks. Ebooks will become the promo for the paper books. When someone reads an ebook, if the book was an exceptional read to where they would like to read it again, they will try to buy the paper. But only if the paper offers something in return. If they are buying the paper to "collect" the book, then the paper book had better have collectable things associated with it, color illustrations, enhanced background material, other things which authors/publishers will figure out in the future.

A Tale of Many Reviews said...

Agree especially with a the fear of a deluge of poorly written books being published or that people will have to sift through poorly written books to find the good ones. Read the reviews. Others have already done that for you. ;)

Jennifer Carson said...

I agree with Richard, the agony of the decision for authors is a large component in this discussion as well. I've seen it (and suffered through it) myself. There are so many avenues one can take to publish their work. The industry is changing rapidly and, in my opinion, the small publishers will be the leaders in the pack because they have more flexibility and less overhead than the big publishers. Some genres, like romance, will find a large and profitable e-book market, but with more and more schools bringing in i-pads and other e-readers, I can see this trend moving forward for children's books as well, although growing more slowly. Children still need to have the physical sensation of the book, and that won't ever change. Technology has made the book business more tangible for those of us without deep pockets and large warehouses. Print on demand makes sense not only for small publishers, but large ones as well. It cuts down the out of pocket expenses for everyone involved in the actual building of the product and offers a way to purchase the book in print if it is wanted. However, agents and authors are now presented a new challenge with large publishers using POD-- the publisher's right to keep the book in print indefinitely. This is the new contract clause to fight!

Torre – Fearful Adventurer said...

When the major flood of self-published books eventually hits, it's possible that readers will turn to respected publishers to help them choose good books. Educated people often value their time more than their money, and taking a chance with a self-published book can cost a lot in time. Readers will only tolerate so many bad reads before they begin to look for ways to filter for quality to save themselves time. At this point, it's possible that readers will become loyal to publishers, buying the books that are backed by brands. Amazon may add a search-by-publisher option (unless it conflicts with their own interests?). If this happens, publishers will remain elite and agents will keep their jobs. Readers will be more brand aware than ever.

Stacey said...

Another fantastic article. I tweeted it.

My favorite thing about the changing publishing industry that you didn't discuss is the smaller publishers that are giving authors an option outside of the Big 6 & Self-Pub. Many are producing bestsellers like Samhain, Harlequin, and Entangled. Other newer ones like Month9Books look promising.

I, like you, think it's an exciting time.

Lorraine Devon Wilke said...

My biggest concern: "There will still be a big difference between a book launched with a major publicity campaign and a book anonymously and quietly uploaded to Amazon." That is SO true.

In fact, one of the prevailing reasons to go the traditional publishing route is to get that amazing package of promotional and marketing services you mention. As someone who has uploaded and sold many things online (music, CDs, photography, articles) I know the prep drill but, as you mention, there is a true glut of product out there, much of it mediocre, and even if you've got the goods it's not easy pulling from such a huge pack. I know many excellent authors who are jumping up and down for attention and except for the very few who have something fabulously viral happen, most get minimal sales and lost in the crowd.

So that's the biggest obstacle for me. Putting in the Herculean effort required only to be left in the mosh pit of unknown authors all jumping up and down to be seen and heard. But...

When there are no other options because the gatekeepers are so selective only a few are let in the traditional door, you make that choice because it's what's available and within your control. So we go for it, do what we can, and hope for the best. Personally, I'd be happy to give up a few points for a little help from the marketing pros!!

Unknown said...

The more complicated it gets, the expertise in the various stages of the process are necessary.

N.R. McLaren said...

I wonder if this move to the electronic world does not also present an opportunity to 'update' the book-reading experience a bit.

Books contain words. Often, they contain an awful lot of them. And that's fine, great and to be expected. But in terms of extras, they're often lacking. Gone seems the day of the illustrated novel for example.

The iPad (allegedly - I don't have one) has shown that reading a textbook can be a much more entertaining and informative experience, with the addition of video, animation, audio, and all manner of extra content. Should the novel not also consider whether words alone are enough in the modern age?

Look at what J.K. Rowling has done with Pottermore as an example. She adds a layer (very much removed from the book) of detail on there - a bit more content, explanation of what her thoughts and inspirations were etc. Imagine if lots of books had that sort of stuff... built in. We could bring illustrations back in to fashion too! Of course, it would have to be done very carefully, and in a way that added to, rather than distracted from the text... but still...

Just a thought.

The Editor Devil said...

Great post, as always, Nathan!

And as I tweeted to you, don't forget the challenge of ATTITUDE by the industry. A big turnoff for authors is the arrogance of trad pubs/agents/editors treating them like 2nd class citizens, mocking them, niggling over arbitrary reasons why their MS isn't viable because it doesn't fit in the same box as 20 other books.

QUALITY VS. VARIETY: And the celeb authors don't always produce the best stuff--some keep producing "ditto" so the era of books to fulfill contracts for contracts sake is fading. If anything, the quality may go up. At least the variety/selection will, which is best for readers!

OUTSOURCING VS. HOUSE MODEL: The challenge growing for trad publishers & agents is to hold back their marketing & PR staff from doing direct biz with authors. As an indie author, with 10 yrs in marketing/PR & 25 in editing/writing/publishing, I don't need a house to get my biz done. I need a few pro contractors, not a house. So outsourcing, not houseboats, is the strongest model right going forward. Which leads me to...

PRICING: If an indie author decides they need an agent, it may be more on a "coaching" model, where there is no % taken, just fees for time. As for contracts with trad publishers, you can get an exp lit lawyer and pay per hour. There are too many agents doing NOTHING for authors, which has especially spoiled their overall reputation among indie authors. And I mean bestselling authors before they went indie who are now dumping their big NY agents and pub houses.

CODE OF SILENCE: But the biggest challenge of all is the openness of communication. The code of silence has been removed. Authors are dishing, and I mean completely. In trad publishing, if you were caught saying anything negative about your agent or publisher/etc, you were punished. Now, everything is fair game, and authors are comparing notes. That's more power to authors. And this is why they are so angry--there has been much abuse in this industry of the artist (I'm not just talking about the $).

Anyway, I think it's a better time for authors and readers to be closer and stop having so many middle men decide what can/can't be published. Quality is decided more than ever by reviewers/readers with online ratings, as it has been for years. But they are finally seeing the true variety of books that exist, not the edited version from NY, which doesn't always decide based on quality.

My 10 cents. But counting inflation...

Warm regards,
Christine M. Fairchild

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Bryan Russell said...

For authors, the challenge will be to exist as both an author and a mini-corporation (or a major corporation if you're JK Rowling or James Patterson). The days where you could write a book, send it to the publisher, and then watch (or pitch in a little here and there as you see fit) as it becomes a book in the world have gone the way of the dodo. Now the writer will either have to do everything themselves or pay (or beg) people to do it for them. The cost and the output of labor are falling back and the author's head.

Yes, this gives writers control and autonomy, but it will also bury a lot of writers. You work sixty hours a week to support your family? Finding time not only to write, but also to copyedit, do layout, find outlets, market, do the accounting might just be too much. There are only so many hours in the day. And the cost? What if you can't afford these things? Maybe a few will get viral lucky, but there is likely to be a class disparity in the do-it-yourself future. Books will be the playground of the middle class (maybe) and up. Gone, perhaps, will be the struggling writer who finally turns out a masterpiece. Success may hinge more on your martketing abilities and financial backing than it will on your writing. Soon all the books might be written by Jane Doe, Inc. or John Doe, Ltd. And, sadly, corporate taxes are a bitch to file - that alone might knock off a few writers.

Diana said...

Barnes and Noble has a really cool feature on their website. If you find a book that you want, you can check the pick it up in the store option and it will be waiting for you within an hour. No shipping charges or waiting for it to arrive. Almost instant gratification.

And if you're a Books-a-Million Millionaire Club member, on top of the discounts, you get free express shipping when you order from their website.

It's rather interesting the way our shopping habits have changed over the last forty years. From downtown to malls to big box stores to online. There seems to be a rejuvanation of the downtown areas as places to go, hang out, and shop in smaller stores. It seems cozier, more personal than the mall, big box, or online retail.

Mirka Breen said...

Your optimism is why you are Nathan Bradford.

dani said...

Great points here -- I agree that a trusted brand can continue to sell books but it will look different online than in a storefront. Plus, the gatekeeper will be a mix of technology and human curation -- not either/or, it must be a mix of the two.

Shannon Donnelly said...

I don't think there's much confusion for readers.

As a reader, I go looking and find the books I like (word of mouth is still the strongest seller, and Amazon's referral program ain't half bad). And there are plenty of ebooks to buy -- there's no shortage. I can sample, and I do shop with price in mind (no way am I paying 7.99 or more for an ebook).

And once I find an author, I tend to stock up on all that author's work, so more work out is an advantage for any writer.

Authors probably have more confusion in that there are so many choices (which is the good news/bad news). And things change so fast.

We'll probably all look back in five years and wonder how simple it was actually--things do tend to like to get more complicated.

We'll get more readers, more formats, more options before it starts to streamline and then it'll expand again as new tech comes along.

It's all about the ride--hang on and scream loud and don't forget to laugh.

Rachelle Ayala said...

I am excited about this new era of publishing. As a reader, I have a plethora of choices from authors unafraid to jump genre guidelines and publish imaginative and innovative stories.

I'm not afraid of the giant slush pile. It gives me an opportunity to sample books I never would have seen had the traditional gatekeepers been present.

I can usually tell whether I'm interested by a 20 word tagline. If the blurb captures my attention, a quick read of the sample tells me if the work has been edited and brought to professional standards of storytelling. Is there a hook? Are the points of view clear? Is the work cleanly edited? Does the storyline promise to engage my attention?

That said, I do appreciate trusted reviews and organizations that vet self-published books and would like to see more policing done among the websites that promote and review indie books.

Thanks for the well written and succinct article covering all the bases of today's publishing challenges.

Rick Daley said...

I think the scariest battles on the digital front will be around piracy, but they wilol not be enough to crush the industry, no more than cassette tapes were to album sales.

Other than that, publishing is in a transition state and that leads to fear of the unknown, which may cause people as individuals and en masse to act (or react) in irrational ways based upon perceived fears rather than objective reality.

And fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the Dark Side. So there's that, too.

Twitter: @rjdaley101071
My Blog:

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think the market for getting books from authors to readers took a huge leap in efficiency with Amazon and their marketing machine (and possibly now B&N with Microsoft weighing in). The "out of the blue" successes weren't just because someone had a great social network or paid $100k to a NY publicist. They were successes for the same reason as every other book - people wanted to read it and told all their friends. Now that just happens at internet speed.

Laura Pauling said...

As a reader, I love all my options. I love trying new authors when their first book is free or 99 cents. I've had no problem choosing between the trad. pubbed and self pubbed books. I read the sample and it's usually very clear whether I'll like the book or not. Sometimes it works out and the book is great - sometimes it doesn't. But that's the way it has always been even when I was just reading trad. pubbed books.

Balinares said...

It occurred to me a while ago that maybe the core value proposition of publishers really is to absorb the loss on books that don't earn out what the writer got paid, and as of yet there is nothing to replace them in that role.

CoreyHaim8myDog said...

I'm finishing my masters in writing and also finishing a novel. Said novel is, broadly speaking, somewhere in the neighborhood of magical realism or sci-fi. What do you think someone in my position should do? Go traditional or go self-digital? Thanks!

Lauren Monahan said...

What a great time to be watching the industry. It's the wild wild west, and I'm intrigued to see who the new tastemakers will be. As you pointed out, readers are overwhelmed, and it still hasn't been determined who is going to narrow the choices for them. Goodreads and the like will provide a voice of the people, major sites like B&N will probably still have a say, but I feel like there's room for something new in this particular disruption, and I'm looking forward to seeing what it is. Thanks for reporting from the front lines in this new frontier & for encouraging so many to voice such fascinating insights.

Anne-Marie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne-Marie said...

I'm not scared by any of it, and feel rather excited.

What is happening with books is what happened to the recording industry 10 years ago, throwing a lot of the control (but also the work) into the lap of the creative artist.

I self-pubbed the first of a 4 part rock and roll novel series in February, and while it has been a lot of work and effort for me and my hubby, who designed all the ebook versions (and accumulated lots of redeemable husband points), I've met all sorts of great people online and in real life as a result. It's a slow process to build up a readership, but I am delighted that all the choices (including the errors) will be on my head, and ultimately, I get to decide how to proceed. And, as much as it would be nice to have huge sales and financial rewards beyond measure, that is not ultimately why writers write and I really am just thrilled to be in it.

Bring it, I say!

Moses Siregar III said...

Gimme some of what Double Rainbow guy is having!

mmshaunakelley said...

This is right on the money, and I love the line about not all chances being equal. Ironically, it used to be authors with money and fame that were at the head of the pack. Those still have an advantage, but authors with an excess of time (though in the minority) are clearly at an advantage for building networks and grabbing attention. Someone who has 15 minutes once a week to blog between two jobs is going to find it harder to be heard.

Peter Dudley said...

Nicely posited.

In the authors section, I definitely agree but think you've got only half the story. Your assumed definition of success is based on velocity. But velocity applies to the old publishing views: short term measures of sell through.

As an author who has decided to go independent, and to quietly upload to Amazon (no time or money for a big splash), I don't define success by velocity. I am looking at a very distant horizon. My first book had 5,000 downloads in the first 100 days. Pretty good velocity (even if 95% of those were free). But here's where I choose to focus: If I look ten years down the road, I'll have a number of other books, and, hopefully, a much expanded following. Plus, I will still own all my rights. Those 5,000 downloads the first 100 days? Great! But call me back in ten years and I'll tell you whether I feel like I've succeeded or not.

This will also help readers with the onslaught of crap. Crap writers will throw something up on Amazon, maybe even two or three somethings. But eventually they'll get bored and go do something else. Ten years down the road, those of us who are serious about our books will largely be findable by the extent of our full body of work. That's not a foolproof way of telling the good from the crap, but I think it gets readers a long way there.

I commend you on succinctly capturing the most relevant points in each category, though. Great post.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Great comment, Peter. On a similar note, you might like my Herd of Turtles post. :)

Andrew Leon said...

I mostly agree with you except for one thing: I think there is a huge deluge of crap out there, and I don't think it's going to get better. Most of the self-published stuff I've looked at is crap. However, that's not to say that most of the traditionally published stuff is not also crap, because it is. Some of it is even very popular crap.

I do hope one thing changes with agents: I hope they are forced, once again, to sell themselves to the author, not the other way around. The agent is supposed to work -for- the author, and they quit doing that (on the whole) a long time ago. It's time for the agents to start proving why we should hire them.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Publicity/marketing are the scariest parts, because as technology advances, it seems like authors have to do more of it. And on their own. And consistently. And while I think publishers will also start beefing up their marketing so that they become recognizable brands that readers trust, I don't think authors are going to be able to start slacking off. And that can be pretty scary for people who don't like putting themselves out there. It's something we have to accept, though; the days of the hermit author are pretty much over.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Nathan: I agree with everything you said.

Except, as authors have more opportunity to deal with publishers, and publishing, and readers, more directly than ever before--I think those middle-men and women, the facilitators, are going to be the ones who have to adjust most.

In other words, being an agent is likely to become more than the intermediary between publishers and authors. An agent will likely have to take part in the generation of publicity, and maybe even "managing" the author's "brand," to steal terms from the SEO types.

In other words, the literary agent may become a writer's publicist--handling and blogging on their "platform": website, twitter, facebook and whatever comes next.

I could be wrong. But I've suggested before that this sort of shock to even publishers isn't all that new, it just is for this generation's publishers.

At the turn of the last century, paperbacks--cheaply printed books--showed up in France. It is no coincidence that Paris became a literary center of the world. Writers (and other artists) frustrated with restrictions imposed by publishers, readers, and other authorities upon artistic expression, flocked to where others were already experimenting with everything from dance to music to language arts.

In that mix, a few with enough money actually bought physical printing presses. And began "publishing"--making copies of--their friends' works.

And regardless of how you or others rate James Joyce's booklength prose poem "Ulysses," it would never have seen the light of day anywhere else, if Sylvia Beach herself had not decided to publish it in Paris. And it is now considered, by many, a major leap in literary art, the equivalent (even more than Gertrude Stein wanted her writing to be) of Picasso and Braque discovering or deciding to try what became "cubism."

Yes, there is more and more access to "publishing"--putting information out for public consumption--than ever before. And it does mean there will be a glut of it, the same "slushpile" that agents and publishers have waded through looking for "gems" will now be what confronts readers.

They'll have to make their own decisions on what they think is appealing, to them, what they're willing to pay, and how much, for.

And writers will have to rely, more than ever, on their friends, or like-minded fellow artists, for help in either standing out from the rest in that slushpile, or in establishing a new marketplace.

That's the thing with art. It has value to the person creating it. But it has little value outside of its creator until someone else is willing to pay something for it. And once they are, it increases in value with the more people who find it valuable.

I just came from The Steins Collect, the collection of paintings from the salons of Gertrude, Michael and Leo Stein currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Once art patrons--particularly collectors--saw that the art the Steins were buying from the likes of Picasso and Matisse was valuable (appreciated enough to increase in value), even those friends' art became too expensive for the Steins to afford.

That's what publishers would like to maintain control over with the "Standard Pricing" model of 70/30.

Good luck to them, is all I say as an independent writer...:)

After buying our own printing presses, having our friends publish our writing, sell it, distribute it, talk it up, then finding the advent of ebooks, they'll naturally try to control the market. And something else will come along--maybe telepathy--and they won't be able to make money off of taking a minor risk with a popular writer. Or a major risk with an unknown writer.

But the writer will...

Gretchen said...

I absolutely love your techno-optimist attitude, Nathan, and just your positive attitude in general. you've really helped me understand how the publishing industry is changing, and made me feel pretty good about it. Thank you!

Mira said...

Really nice post, Nathan! I think you've succinctly taken a clear picture of what people are struggling with. This is really helpful because there's so much confusion and overwhelm right now.

I want to add something too about agents. In addition to needing a negotiator, many authors like a guiding companion - - it's a scary thing to put your work out there. I think agents fill some of that role now, and they may continue to find a niche in mentoring and supporting authors. Of course, others may come up to fill that niche as well.

In terms of the slush pile, I'm with you. I think the fears are overblown. You-tube is a great example of that. Thousands of videos, but the best find their way to the top.

Never underestimate the ability of a consumer to find a good product! Especially when that product has an unlimited shelf life, and word of mouth moves at internet speed, as Peter and Susan pointed out.

I agree with you, I'm very optimistic about this too! :)

Anonymous said...

Nothing is scary about the new era. When changes from hard copy to digital began, I was confused, not scared.

Literary Agents? Agree, but the hypothetical isn't a real hypothetical because culling the better written books, especially now, has to happen. Best selling authors will never share their pie with millions of other writers, because they are the best.

Some people will lose job, some will gain them along with new ways to distribute these books. In the meantime, venues such as the New York Times bestseller list will become even more valued.

Too much is too much, and these new millions of writers will wind up in the hypothetical slush pile.

This country, free, open, democratic market, the best rise to the top, no?

Sheila Cull

Sheila Cull said...

Hey! I'm not Anonymous. laugh out loud. I'm Sheila Cull.

Naja Tau said...

I thought your comments about bookstores were particularly interesting because I think of them as going out of business alltogether except as a kind of antique/botique specialty thing. Only time will tell (but guessing is fun)!

Fi said...

I love paper books (as opposed to ebooks) and I always imagined my novels in that format, but as I get to the point of approaching agents and/or publishers, I find that I'm very confused by the ever developing situation. I really don't want to self-publish but so many people I know have. Maybe it's a case of horses for courses.

Charlie said...

As long as printed books are still around, I have no problem with ebooks, with one exception.

Territorial restrictions - a step back. Unless every author self-publishes internationally, restrictions will stop people from reading what they want to read.

Nicole said...

Great points, Nathan! As a writer, I think there are going to be a lot of exciting possibilities on the horizon. As a reader, I'm a little bit sad - I went to my local B&N this week and it really hit home that I can no longer walk in and hope to find the books I want on the shelves there.

I don't mind Amazon, but it's sad to think that the in-story book-buying experience is pretty much over. That's what I loved so much as a kid!

Catherine Kirkpatrick said...

The biggest challenge is fear itself. Many industries, most pointedly the music business, fought digital tooth and claw. In the end, they caved and adapted. Publishing should embrace the great new tools and opportunities they have been given, put their energy doing and improving instead of fighting a rearguard action.

Shawn Smucker said...

Great post, Nathan. We have to be able to separate the temporal from the eternal: the current method of creating and distributing stories will always be in flux, but stories will always be around, at least as long as there are people to tell them and to ingest them.

By the way, San Francisco is a beautiful part of the world. My family and I are on a 4-month cross-country trip and have been here for about a week. It will be difficult to leave.

Daniel McNeet said...


Another good post, Nathan

I believe the only thing you can depend on is change. You are right about one thing: It is not always easy for cream to rise to the top, and it is unfortunate, readers will be the losers and incidentally so will be the hard working authors whom wish to make a contribution to the betterment of our society. #danielmcneet

Nickie said...

I guess I'll echo a few previous posts here and say that one of the biggest changes will be in how books are marketed (particularly ebooks) are marketed. When you niche and micro-niche genres and thousands of new books pouring in, it's hard to take particular notice of any single book. I ultimately the author will have to take increasing responsibility for marketing both their books and their own persona.

Not to say that this is a bad thing. I love being able to browse through Amazon and find hundreds of books under $2 that I can read on my computer.

I find it interesting that you talked about the future of bookstores, but not about the potential change this represents for libraries. Perhaps a future post??

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I sure would like to figure out how to get interest in my book ( to go viral. It's nice to have good reviews and all, but it'd be nicer to know that people actually knew it existed. The liberation of authors from publishers is a sort of double-edged sword: you're free to be alone, very alone.

Anne R. Allen said...

This is a perfect snapshot of the publishing world as it stands now. Thanks for putting it so well. Things are changing rapidly. Change is stressful. People feel like they're in the middle of an earthquake with nothing solid to hang onto. People who fear change are pulling back and burying their heads in moldering treeware and people who embrace it may be jumping in way too soon. But things will start to balance out soon. The important thing is to avoid either/or thinking and embrace the fact we have more choices than ever. (I'll be blogging about this on Sunday.) Great post, Nathan!

80s Queen said...

I don't think bookstores will ever go away. There will always be people who like to touch and browse with their eyes and hands and not the computer.

Christian Frey said...

I like to think that a story's merit is going to propel it out into the world, and that will never change... and I hope to (intend to) stick to that idea even if my books don't go anywhere!! But I've been reading Donald Maass' Breakout Novel book recently, so it is quite possible that's where the sentiment is coming from. ;)

Cathryn Cade said...


Another great post in the conversation about publishing changes.

Rather than being frightened, I think it's a fabulous time to be a romance writer! I was first pubbed in 2008 with Samhain Publishing, an ebook and print pub. The very next year they teamed with Amazon and the other big online stores, and suddenly the world was my marketplace, not just the smaller number of shoppers who knew of Samhain.

As a mid-list author who occasionally makes it to the best-seller lists, I appreciate being part of not only a quality book production process, but having a place in their 'storefront'.

Do I plan to self-pub? Absolutely. Some of my RWA chapter mates, of whom you've probably never heard, because they are in just one of the sub-genres of the huge romance market, are making great money by pricing their ebooks low and keeping 70% of the profits. I would never consider doing so without the expertise of a free-lance editor and beta-readers, but I will do it.

Will I stay with Samhain? As long as they want me.
Would I like a Big 6 contract? Hmm, not sure anymore. As I said, great time to be an author.

Thanks for sharing your expertise and vision,

Cathryn Cade

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the agent entry (though you would, obviously, know more about this.) Although I agree with you about the standardization element, you didn't address film / tv / game rights, estate management, or the variables of contracts (and IDK a lot about that, but there must be more possible than 70/30.) Who, for example, handles JK Rowling? And, while the split makes sense for genre, how does it figure into literary fiction?

Nathan Bransford said...


Agents will definitely be needed for that, but only really for the biggest authors.

Anonymous said...

"So what's the biggest threat to agents?"

The biggest threat is that they aren't going to be the *gatekeepers* anymore. At least not in the same sense they have been. They are going to be the people who represent authors, not the people who decide what the public reads. And it's about time.

Nathan Bransford said...


I disagree. Here's a post on that:

Agents are not just gatekeepers.

If the only role of agents were to function as gatekeepers, why do authors still need them once they're through the gate?

Peter Dudley said...

If the only role of agents were to function as gatekeepers, why do authors still need them once they're through the gate?

That is an outstanding question, but the more I watch the publishing industry flail, after studying up on it for the better part of the past decade (okay, studying is a generous term but bear with me), the more I think that all parts of the industry--agents, editors, publishers, distributors, booksellers, and even those authors who make it "through the gate"--act in a way that is loyal first and foremost to the publishing industry/mechanism, not to the artists or consumers the industry is meant to serve.

This is why, IMHO, consumers say they love independent bookstores but buy books at Amazon anyway and watch in sadness as the bookstores go out of business. This is why authors who've made it "through the gate" stand up to defend the benefits of "traditional publishing" and why many people decry self and independent publishing. It's why independent booksellers refuse to stock an independently published book if that book is produced by Amazon. These are behaviors that support the machine. In my humble opinion.

Consumers and authors on the outside of the gate don't exhibit those behaviors.

So, looking forward, when more authors choose to stay outside that gate, what role would agents have?

Nathan Bransford said...


People are definitely acting in their own self-interest. But most authors who have passed a certain threshold of sales/rights offers are more than happy to hand over 15% of their income to agents. I don't think that calculus will really change depending on where an author starts their career.

Someone who starts on the outside might well be more distrustful of the agents who passed on their work originally, but is a newly established author really going to choose to negotiate their own foreign rights and film deals and all the other deals, big and small, that come their way?

Peter Dudley said...

... is a newly established author really going to choose to negotiate their own foreign rights and film deals and all the other deals, big and small, that come their way?

Agreed on that. I don't think "distrustful" is really the appropriate word so much as finding that point of relevance. It will certainly be interesting to see how different agents evolve. We'll probably see a great diversification of approaches over the next decade, then some normalization. Certainly will be fascinating.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Peter and @Nathan - Indie authors are negotiating TV and film deals - sometimes with agents, sometime with flat-rate fees via IP attorneys. The idea that agents are NECESSARY for film rights/foreign deals is not being borne out by the deals that are being negotiated now - especially with indie authors being approached by producers rather than the other way around.

Peter Dudley said...

I agree, Susan, but I'm not sure we're speaking in absolutes such as NECESSARY. There is definitely a spectrum out there, and at one end are those people who (legitimately) don't need an editor, cover designer, agent, or publicist. At the other end are people who for one reason or another will gladly pay for one, some, or all those services.

The agent's role as gatekeeper is going to be reduced (which was I think the original comment), which means to stay in business agents will have to remain relevant in others of those areas. I've seen this reflected in lots of speculation about agents becoming publicists, or agents becoming more like talent scouts, or agents becoming project managers to coordinate art, production, publicity. All these things are possible, I suppose.

I still believe that a lot of people involved in the traditional publishing business are behaving in ways that support the existing machine rather than ways that adapt and innovate.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I still believe that a lot of people involved in the traditional publishing business are behaving in ways that support the existing machine rather than ways that adapt and innovate.

Agreed. I was mostly trying to point out that the "new established authors" that Nathan referred to are indeed making choices other than getting an agent to negotiate film/TV rights.

I can't even speculate as to how agents should/should not adapt to the changes going on in the industry. But the emerging trend that I see is a shift to author-centric services. If someone/somecompany brings value to the author, they're going to flourish as more authors are taking the "independent" title seriously.

(Did you see Jackie Collins is now self-publishing? Why? Because "everyone is doing it"!)

Allison Knight said...

With the lost of some jobs will come others. I can see a whole new market for people with promotional skills. Also, I think there will be an expansion of reader sites and reviewer sites (Yes, there are lots now, but I think we'll have more and better sites) With the downsizing of major publishers, there will be as need for freelance editors, cover artists, and tech people. What a great time to be involved in publishing.

Annie Seaton said...

I agree with many of the comments made over the past couple of days. I am excited by Nathan's comments. It is a fabulous time to be a writer.
The bottom line for writers in the current climate remains the same... the main thing that writers do... is write.Self promotion can tap into those writing skills and organisational abilities.
Time spent editing, formatting, uploading and promoting takes away from your writing time.
The happy medium.. find a reputable publisher who edits, provides covers, give you a personal publicist and still gives you a good percentage of sales and you have the best.
I'm there and loving it.
Annie Seaton

joseph j young said...

"What do you think the challenges will be? What's scariest about the new era?"

1. Biggest Challenge - new authors, Amazon Kindle authors in particular, are going to have to learn how to build their own online platforms, acquire social media and online marketing skill sets and more. So, it goes far beyond just writing, editing, and publishing and those not up to the task will not make it.

2. Scariest thing - ignorance and people quitting before their dreams comes true.

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