ebook by Jamais Cascio

Print or Digital? The publishing industry can’t decide either

There are few things that make me happier than walking into a bookstore or cracking open a new book. The smell of the parchment, the feel of the pages under your fingers…

And I don’t know about you, but if a man ever gave me a library of my own… Game over.

But when you are trying to stuff eight novels into your suitcase for a week at the beach… Easier said than done.

So many readers are turning toward tablets like the iPad, Kindle or Nook to host their novels.

But what does that mean for the publishing industry? And what does it mean for aspiring authors like you and me?

When publishing began – and how it continued to operate until the explosion of the Internet – it was very much a three-step process.

  1. Find/sign with a agent and publisher
  2. Prepare the book for its specific audience (editing, packaging, marketing).
  3. Sell, sell, sell!

But guess what? With the boom of the Internet, publishers are now everywhere: blogs, Twitter, or self-publishing sites such as Amazon or Lulu. For the first time, it’s possible to “publish” without engaging in any other part of the process.

For example, E.L. James started out publishing short stories and fanfiction on her website. She then wrote and self-published Fifty Shades of Grey through a small online Australian company which released it immediately as an eBook. She has now sold over 700 million copies, and her novel beat out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as the best-selling book in Britain.


Aspiring authors – like James – are taking full advantage of the rising popularity of eBooks and the monetary advantages (no agent fee, no publisher cut, no printing press). They’re skipping straight to step three and using it as a sort of “screw you!” to the industry that makes publishing so confusing and difficult.

But critics and skeptics characterize these type of publishing methods as parasitic and blame them for the tension between writers and publishers as well as the decline in book sales.

Which one is right? Let’s take a look at each side of the argument…

Glass Half Emptygiphy.gif

Today, the publishing industry is written about like a patient on life support, a victim of digital disruption. Independent booksellers are going out of business all over the country, and even large-scale retailers like Borders – who liquidated its stores in 2011 – are struggling with bankruptcy. In 2013, paperback sales fell over 20 percent.

And eBooks are getting the blame…

By 2020, self-published authors will make up over half the eBook market and one-third of the trade market – digital and print. And there’s some pretty unhappy people.

Founder of Sasquatch Books in Seattle, Chad Haight, harshly criticized Amazon – which has commandeered over 80 percent of eBook sales – by accusing them of exploiting book publishers and “strangling the meager profits out of an industry that had become the weaker co-dependent in the relationship?” Ouch.

Even Harlequin, known as the great romance publisher, was the first company to admit that self-publishing posed a “competitive risk…[that] could negatively impact Harlequin’s revenue in the future.”

The next generation of authors is learning to publish like professionals, and combined with the huge influx of manuscripts in recent years, we’re looking at an even more dog-eat-dog competitive industry.

Glass Half Full

But there is a rather large sector who believe that digital innovation could actually invigorate the industry’s success. eBooks have absolutely developed their share of the market, but it’s generally less apocalyptic than people make it out to be.


Tim Waterstone, who founded his British bookshop chain in 1982, claims that he has heard and read “more garbage about the strength of the e-book revolution than anything else I’ve known” and that the physical book is here to stay.

In 2013, British consumers spent 300 million pounds on 80 million eBooks; this pales in comparison to the 2.2 billion pounds spent on 323 million physical books. That’s a lot of pounds, guys.

And with sites like GoodReads and social media, publishers, authors AND readers are really taking advantage of digital tools to spread the word and sell; best-selling author Brad Thor relies heavily on Twitter to “keep the relationship fresh while my readers are waiting for the next book.”

Why the hell do you think I am writing this blog? Gotta keep the relationship fresh.

The publishing world is working hard to adapt and join forces with the technology that will supposedly ruin them. And I think they have a pretty good chance at success.

The Futuretumblr_mtadokimao1rk0tgso1_500

But regardless of the inherent divide in the publishing industry, there will always be great opportunities for aspiring writers. The only certainty is that the venerable book business, a settled landscape for so long, is now open territory for anyone to claim.

The moral of the story: Focus on writing a good book, and publishing – in whatever form – will come later.

Do you prefer paperbacks or eBooks? Let me know in the comments below!









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s