Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Whither publishing?

I surely don't know. I doubt that anyone does -- however diligently they try. The publishing industry's future is, shall we say, murky. (I reviewed some of the complexities back in March as "Publishing (black and) blues.")

As a working author, I need to care. You may not. But if you happen to share my interest in the topic, herewith some virtual tea leaves to read ...

Amid the few nano-percent of effort the media didn't recently expend on the Martin/Zimmerman trial was this story (this particular article from Reuters): "Apple colluded on e-book prices, judge finds." After Apple's publishing partners settled out of court, Apple itself has been found guilty of collusion to reduce Amazon's (at the time) 90% share of the ebook market. Apple has promised to appeal. Stay tuned.

Thousands of folk like me, meanwhile, took a legal beating as, at the appellate court level, "Authors lose class status in Google digital books case." (That article was likewise from Reuters, via Yahoo! News.) Bye-bye to the lower-court ruling that "it would be unfair to force authors to sue individually given the 'sweeping and undiscriminating nature of Google's unauthorized copying.' " The legal battle now moves, attorneys for the Authors Guild say,  to whether Google's indiscriminate scanning (so far, of 20 million books!) falls within "fair use" doctrine. Again, stay tuned.

Both cases deal explicitly with digital rights. After several years in which ebooks claimed an ever greater share of sales of my personal titles, it was natural to wonder: does my experience amount merely to an inconclusive few anecdotes, or am I seeing a small part of something meaningful and much larger?

Apparently, the latter. See, as Wired reports, "Why Big Publishers Think Genre Fiction Like Sci-Fi Is the Future of E-Books." That article opens:
One of the biggest success stories in U.S. publishing in recent years has been the continued growth of digital book publishing. Last year, total revenue for e-book sales in the United States reached $3.04 billion, a 44.2% increase on 2011′s numbers and a figure all the more impressive when you realize that growth is additive to the print publishing industry. Even more surprising,  publishers have focused much of their attention on genres like sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and romance fiction – markets that have traditionally lagged behind “literary fiction” in terms of sales.
Finally, as Business Week reports (and this seems more an oncoming train than the light at the end of the tunnel), "Amazon Wants to Sell Your Fan Fiction Through Kindle Worlds."

If you've discovered a pattern somewhere among the tea leaves, I'd love to hear it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Publishing's future, I believe, has a lot to do with the greater issue of 'intellectual property' rights. There is a major philosophy which holds that no such rights exist because nothing physical has been created: only greedy people want to be paid for producing nothing (by the way the same argument is used against bankers). This line of reasoning is founded on the belief that intellectual pursuits (basically all the arts) are intrinsically satisfying and that is their reward. Bound books are at least something that can be held, ebooks take the issue to a higher level. If they are denied a collective legal capability, writers and publishers will struggle to individually defend their earnings. Few of them can afford the legal fees. In that event the field will be only for amateurs. Performing artists are unlikely to join ranks with writers. They make most of their money from their performances not sales, production and distribution of media. And many performers consider pirated CDs and DVDs as cheap advertising for their shows. Reading non-writers should be concerned that the source of their passion is being assailed.