Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Fear often accompanies change, so it should be no surprise that many people fear some of the changes in the publishing industry. Self-publishing appears to be the wave of the future. In fact, more books were self-published last year than were published through traditional publication. Big publishers are moving to provide self-publishing avenues. Many people fear that the market will now be flooded with self-published books. Some people are afraid that books won’t have to go through the vetting process and readers will have to sort through a bunch of junk that looks like a slush pile. Some people talk about how there will be fewer big successes in publishing. All of this fear comes from not knowing what the future holds.

A lot of people’s worries are because they don’t really understand where this change is coming from. The current changes we are seeing are driving completely by technology, but people don’t understand the technology, what the technology can do and what it can’t. The current changes are driving by improvements in print on demand (POD) and book reader technology. POD technology takes a PDF file that has been formatted to look like a book, prints the book on a high speed laser printer and binds it in a cover. The initial investment is so low that anyone can create a book this way and have it available for sale. Book reader technology is similar, but no physical book it generated. People are looking at these technologies and realizing that they can bypass the traditional publisher all together. This makes it seem like the traditional publisher is on the way out the door.

But traditional publishing isn’t just about providing books to the reader. Traditional publishing is about making money by providing books to the reader. Current technology makes it possible make books available for a very small investment on the part of the author, but having a book that’s available to readers and getting readers to actually purchase the book are two different things. That is the traditional publisher’s strength. Their claim is that they know how to get a book into the hands of readers and that seems to be the case. When we look at all the books that were published last year, how many of the successful books were self-published? Not many. Even with the changes in technology, publishers will remain successful if they continue to seek out the books with great potential and put in the work to make them better.