A few weeks back, publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin had an interesting post on the fragmentation, or as he calls it, "atomization" of the publishing industry as the act of publishing grows increasing dispersed.
Without the requirement of an organization to reach the public through bookstores and without the requirements of capital or knowledge to create printed books, any organization that is routinely reaching people interested in a common topic — whether or not they are creating content around that topic now, but especially if they do — will find it constructive to publish, and well within their reach and means to do so.
That is: publishing will become a function of many entities, not a capability reserved to a few insiders who can call themselves an industry...
This is the atomization of publishing, the dispersal of publishing decisions and the origination of published material from far and wide. In a pretty short time, we will see an industry with a completely different profile than it has had for the past couple of hundred years.He goes on to say that while the package of services that publishers provide to authors will still have appeal, he's not sure whether those services will be enough to constitute an industry that looks like the one we know.
For now, publishers can still rely on those services and their print distribution to attract authors. In the future, they won't have that. And as those services become the central differentiator, you have to wonder if the adversarial approach publishers occasionally take with authors (slow payments, lack of transparency) will give way to a true service-oriented approach.
When everyone can be a publisher, traditional publishers will have to compete on their service.
Art: Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster by Daniel Maclise