While bookstores are shutting their doors left and right, publishers have been taking increasingly desperate measures to squeeze cash out of what they apparently still believe is their core business — applying ink to tons of wood-pulp, shipping it on trucks around the country to be sold, and then destroying any leftovers. The thing is, most everyone else has noticed that the digital age isn’t coming… it’s arrived.
So, with the business models of many major publishers floundering, what does this mean for the future of books… and more importantly, the stories they deliver?
Personally, I believe that printed books will always be around, but as time passes, they will become cherished objects rather than shot-in-the-dark, mass-produced fodder with Martha Stewart or Fabio on the cover. People will buy physical books that contain the stories that they love, as mementos, souvenirs, or to collect… or perhaps to support certain graphic novel writers that beg them for their support!
As I see it, publishers will need to do two things to survive:
- They’ll need to abandon their roles as printers and focus on becoming even more trusted certifiers of quality — giving their stamps of approval on well-written books to help readers filter through the ever-rising oceans of bad ones. (After all, anyone can ‘publish’ a book today, but, let’s face it, most self-published ones are crap)
- Publishers will need to increase their focus on the promotion of their authors.
This is not to say that publishers will be able to make the same kind of money they have in the past. They won’t — just look at the music business! While the digital revolution will bring the costs of distribution down to almost nothing, simultaneously, many of the publishers’ justifications for the high price of books, and low payments to their authors, will evaporate. It will be the readers and authors who will benefit from this new landscape, each squeezing the publisher from opposite ends. Readers will enjoy more competitive prices, while authors will gain leverage to retain more rights to their work and larger shares of profits, turning their noses at royalty rates not worth the paper they’re printed on. (sigh)
And for all you people who refuse to read on anything besides gen-u-ine paper (regardless of how good the e-reader technology gets), you guys will still get your way. You’ll eventually be able to print licensed copies of nearly any book while you sip your latte and watch it being constructed before your very eyes. Actually, you can do that now! Have a look…