Monday, December 8, 2008

Ballpark facts of the publishing industry

I listen to a lot of talk radio. Not as much as I used to but one of my favorites is Glenn Beck. He is also a best selling writer but that is beside the point right now. He is 'riddled with a.d.d.' and uses 'ballpark facts.' These are facts that have a glimpse of truth in them and are true as he remembers them. that is what this is going to be. I wouldn't get into a history contest with a professor based on this information but it should be close enough for the point I am trying to illustrate.

Every one right now is worried about the state of the publishing industry. Publishers are cutting back on accounts and new authors are being put on the back burner while established authors are having their expense accounts cut as well. What is a new writer to do.

This isn't the first time. Two hundred years ago the predominant form of publication was, you guessed it, the newspaper. Charles Dickens and even E.A. Poe serialized their stories and sold them to the newspapers. It sold newspapers and it was a cheap medium for the masses. this model also worked for Jules Vern and Victor Hugo as well as many other popular writers. Books were expensive and the library system, as we know it, didn't exist yet.

Let 100 years pass and the magazine picked up the pace. Newspapers decided they could get revenue in other ways and magazines like Saturday Evening Post, Life, Weird Tales and several others started to gain in popularity. In fact, while novels were being written, the popular medium was the short story (oh how readers habits can change). Several writers made a very good living writing just the short story: O'Henry, Lovecraft, Chandler, Hemingway.

This era in publishing lasted about fifty years or so, again with the short story being the most popular. Then the industry changed. In the 1950's or so and into the 60's the novel became more popular with printing technology changing rapidly and the advent of cheaper books and incomes on the rise novels came into vogue. Several short story writers either had to admit that they could no longer make a comfortable living in this new model and either, continued to write short stories and flounder or learn to write longer pieces and flourish. It was the new age in publishing and it seemed to work.

Now to the present age. 1997 or so (these are ballpark facts you can check this stuff on your own time) Stephen King decides to write an online novel called The Plant. He was going to publish it only online and you could pay him what you would (He threatened that if not enough monetary interest was shown he would stop the project.) It went on for a couple of chapters and then abruptly stopped, he claims because for lack of interest in the project. It was the most successful online book ever until over a decade later.

Come 2008. The economy is down (at least that is what all the economist will tell you. Have you been to the mall in the 2.5 weeks until Christmas. Looked pretty packed to me) The online model is looking better all the time. they are cheap to produce. People will buy their own readers (Kindle and the like, but the price needs to come down for the average person yet)

In short the industry will change. It has before and it will again. Nature of the business I guess. The problem is are we willing to change with it. I for one am willing to give it a shot and be part of the next big thing. Incidentally I think we are part of that next big thing already. the online magazine industry is becoming more viable with each each new issue. The formats are easy to read and even if you don't have a Kindle you can read some amazing stuff that looks like the printed page, even if it doesn't have the smell or feel of it.


Rob Brooks said...

Jamie, you sick, twisted freak...

Nice overview of American publishing history. We do tend to forget how much things have changed in our nation's history. But if we're getting to the point where traditional publishers aren't publishing as many new authors, then I agree, we're going to have to more heavily lean on e-books. I've done my best to resist it--books should be on paper!--but you can only ignore th efuture for so long until it becomes the present.

(And the "sick, twisted freak" is of course just a Glenn Beck-ism. Although depending on the amount of horror you write, there may be some truth to it...))

Jamie Eyberg said...

I knew I wasn't the only one who got it out here. You probably like "The Princess Bride" too!

Rob Brooks said...

Heck yeah! The movie and the book are both great. I highly recommend the book if you've never read it--William Goldman has a bit at the end where he goes into the Florentine history he studied and how he fought to get the rights to make "Princess Bride." It's hilarious.

Aaron Polson said...

I think something is going to change...dinosaurs are extinct for a reason. Someone, another blogger--I can't remember who, recently posted about today's youth becoming tomorrow's consumers and how they are being "raised" to read online.

'Tis true. I see it every day. It will have an impact on the publishing industry, to be sure. I think King was just 7-8 years too early.

Cate Gardner said...

I'm going to cry when people no longer publish real books.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I don't think that will happen, at least not in our lifetime. We have been printing books since 1492 when Guttenberg printed the first Bible. they have been around in all of these transitions it is just a matter of what the industry considers the most viable. just remember that you can still find lp's (records for those of you that are too young for that sort of thing)

Fox Lee said...

I'm with Catherine.

Aaron Polson said...

I will weep for the books if they ever go bye-bye, but I think the big publishing houses are going to steer change in whatever direction they can make $. Right now, I think the bigs are in flux.

BT said...

I think once ereaders become part of the iPhone/Blackberry type product - and they become cheap enough for everyone to have one - then paper books could have an issue.

Online magazines come and go all too regularly. I run the market hive for AHWA and remove 3-4 markets each month. At the beginning of December, Duotrope had 11 new market listings of which 9 were none paying and the other two were nominal. I removed 1 pro market and two semi pro markets at the same time. Doesn't quite balance out. So while there is always online mags, many just come and go. For dark markets, I currently only have 19 pro markets listed in my database.

The economy will rise and fall - its how we currently work. Unfortunately, it normally takes some form of conflict to fix things again - fingers crossed that doesn't happen again otherwise Afghanistan or Iran are in trouble. Somehow things will move forward and new writers will continue to get signed, just not in huge numbers.

In the end, good writing is still good writing. Do a little extra to make it great and some agent/publishing house will still sign least I hope so.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post.

And I truly don't think books will ever go extinct...the actual physical book, I mean. Because of people like myself and Catherine and Natalie...if you can get as much pleasure out of reading an e-book on a laptop while sitting poolside rather than holding the crisp pages in your hands, you have no soul.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Have you seen the pictures I posted of my own personal library. I am a book fanatic and I agree. Physical books have been printed for over 500 years now and they aren't going to go away that easily.