The Changing Publishing Landscape

Grand canyonYesterday we talked about how slow everything seems to go in traditional publishing, and how it can be tempting to think of “quick” e-book publishing as better simply because it’s faster. I have a couple of things to add today about how this industry is changing.

Shorter Lead Times?

I do think that with new technologies affecting everything from printing to distribution to marketing and sales practices, plus pressures from the marketplace, publishers might be moving toward progressively shorter lead times, even on their books that need to be printed and shipped. Ironically, this change will be slow, as many publishers already have books in the pipeline for release through 2013 and 2014, so it will take a while to turn this ship.

How Timely is Your Book?

In this Internet and digital age, it’s increasingly necessary to think about each potential book in terms of the timeliness of the material and whether it’s more suited to a digital (i.e. immediate) treatment or it’s more timeless. Does the topic really need to be covered in 50,000 to 100,00 words or more, or is it best digested in smaller bits? Some non-fiction topics lend themselves best to being covered on blogs and websites; many how-to and self-help categories are already so well-covered on blogs and websites that consumers have far less demand for books. In considering certain book proposals, a publisher is less likely to say “We’d need to publish this one quickly” and more likely to say “This looks like it would be a great article or blog post,” or “This should be an e-book.” (Whether or not the publisher wants to do the e-book is another story.) In any case, when you’re trying to sell your non-fiction topic, be aware that agents and editors are assessing whether your book should even be a book.

Legacy Publishing

The great thing about a printed paper-and-ink book is its permanence. The very physicality of an old-fashioned book is something that often gets overlooked in the mad dash to go digital. There’s something undeniably special about the physical presence of a book that you can hold in your hand, and it can’t be matched by being able to show someone how it looks on your Kindle or iPad screen. Seeing the spines of all your favorite books on the bookshelves in your home is somehow much more satisfying to most of us than looking at a list of titles on a screen. This has led many people to start talking about the “legacy” aspect of print publishing—referring to the idea that physical books are collected and treasured by scores of readers.

I think this “legacy” idea helps us to think of printed books in a different way. Rather than being in such a hurry to get our books out there (as we discussed yesterday), we can allow the process to take the time it takes, exercising our patience and cultivating peace in the process. The end result can be a product of excellence and quality, something you can be proud of, something you can hold in your hand for years to come.

Decisions, Decisions

As publishing changes, you’ll be faced with these choices yourself. Is my book “of-the-moment” and timely, or is it more suited to permanence and timelessness? Do I want my book to exist as pixels on a screen or is it important for me to feel the weight and heft of it in my hand? Should my book even be a book, or is it a blog, website, or newsletter?

These are just a few of my random thoughts on how the landscape is changing. What are your thoughts on timeliness vs. permanence?

Tomorrow… we address whether or not publishers really are editing books anymore.

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  6. The publishing landscape is changing, we can see that there is a lot of jostling for position between publishers, distributors and retailers as they all try and find their position in the new digital world.

  7. PW Creighton says:

    It is a nice way to perceive the differences between E-pub and traditional. One of the interesting factors is our perceptions in this radically shifting arena. While there is something timeless about print (I still love grabbing books of the shelf myself) there is something even more timeless/consistent about E-pub now. So long as you want the books out there the E-book will continue to exist past a first print run, second or even re-release down the line. They exist without breaks in shelf life.

    As this arena continually shifts I’m curious on how powerful E-Pubs are perceived by Agents now (not self-pub).

  8. Dan Smith says:

    Nice to think of legacy publishing as being palpable, but what happens when the bookseller decides to return all those unsold copies? You can’t buy a book that is out of print. An ebook NEVER goes out of print, NEVER stops earning money until nobody is interested in reading it. An indie author/publisher doesn’t have to beg a legacy publisher for the e publishing rights in order to get a return on his hard work.

  9. Peter DeHaan says:

    I, too, perceive printed books as having more permanence than e-books. When I think of legacy, again, it is the printed book that wins out in my mind.

    However, looking 100 or 200 years into the future, if any of my work is to survive, I suspect it will much more likely be in digital form over print.

    Computer memory is cheap and getting cheaper. Once a book is stored digitally, it could be around as long as people are — not forever, but for a very long time.

  10. U.L. Harper says:

    Man, I just don’t believe in the whole I need it on my shelf bit. I usually get rid of that stuff when I get around to it. I simply consider it hoarding. Books wind up being about $2 in some bin or in a box. Their basically synonymous with trash or something to be recycled. Keep in mind I love holding a book but it’s just not that important. I’m more impressed with the content, not what the content is on. I just don’t care. I look at it like this. The L.A. Times has been in print for, I don’t know, a while. How many of those issue does anybody have, talking about permanence.

    Books backed up for years? What kind of a lame business model is that? Think about it. You have an idea, nobody can see it for years? Friggin silly. Not impressed.

  11. Thanks for another interesting post. I’d love to hear more from you, at some point, about how you think the world of ‘apps’ will link with book publishing in the future?

  12. Yes, permanence. I just got to spend my 12th anniversary in Powell’s Books in Portland. This is one of my favorite spots and makes me feel eternally 21. (This is the age when I discovered this place of book wonder.) Real books. You can touch them, smell them, and snuggle them. You place them on a shelf with pride after reading and completing them. I have a special shelf reserved for my most favorite of reads. (Have you ever been to Powell’s Books?)

  13. Botanist says:

    The one thing holding me back from diving into the e-publishing pond is the longing to hold my book in my hands and see it on bookshelves.

    Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I love browsing shelves of books, in bookstores, in libraries, and fairs and garage sales. How would an e-book find its way into a box on someone’s driveway to be found and maybe treasured by a new owner?

  14. Great thoughts. It seems that everywhere I turn, I hear about e-readers, about Kindles and Nooks. And I have resisted. I am a book reader. I want to read books. I want to feel them in my hands and hear the page turn. But I am living in 2011, and everything is electronical. People meet and marry via the internet these days.

    So my happy medium is this: I am doing a kindle giveaway on my family blog, sort of a nod at the electronic age hoopla, but as far as my manuscript (memoir) I am praying, and holding out for a book. We’ll see what (or even if) God does.

  15. heidi says:

    It really is changing. Just like music did, it’s the book’s turn.

    I love holding a book in my hands and I love my e-reader. I am often waiting for my kids at skating, ballet, swimming…so to slip my reader from my purse and pick up where I left off is very convenient and pretty awesome.

    I think there’s room for both book and reader.

  16. Pen and Ink says:

    We tried an experiment in self publishing. So far have earned enough for the Taco Special at Taco Bell,

    One of us got a deal memo from a traditional published three month ago and is waiting for the contract. The wheels of publishing do indeed grind slowly,

  17. Kathy Janzen says:

    Oh to hold a book in my hands is magical. I have well over 1000 books in my collection. Some that I have carried with me since I was a child. It is so exciting to see my kids turn the same pages I did as they rediscover what I uncovered so many years ago. I have written for years and I am now just looking into actual publication of my books. I would be happy to have my books out in any format. However, I want the legacy of that physical book to hand to my grandchildren one day

  18. PatriciaW says:

    I wonder whether publishers might consider going digital first at some point, only printing, or only printed limited quantities, until demand for a collectible suggests otherwise?

    • Patricia, there is.
      Tyndale’s new “Digital First” functions the way you described. One of the Seekerville writers, Pam Hillman has her debut novel STEALING JAKE coming out soon under this program.

  19. I think there’s a place for both. But as a published author who has both digital and print books available, I can say there’s nothing like holding your physical book in your hand for the first time and seeing it on your bookshelf day after day. When your book is strictly digital, you miss out on that very great pleasure.

    And as a reader, I have a box of Agatha Christie mysteries that I inherited from my late grandma. She would buy and read them, pass them to my mom, who passed them to me. Whenever I get one of those books out to read again, I remember Grandma and think of her holding that same copy of the physical book. I see the pages she dog-eared, her favorite spots that the books fall open to. I picture her smiling as she reads about Hercule Poirot’s antics. Reading a digital copy just wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t hold all the memories of Grandma.

  20. This will sound petty, but I can’t autograph an e-book. I want to see my name on my cover on a book on the shelf at the bookstore. I prefer to read print books and will hold out for traditional publishing to a trade paperback.
    I’m with Lisa Marie in that books are collectable.

    While that’s a preference as a reader and writer, I’m also grateful for the e-book revolution. A soldier friend deployed to Afghanistan said he’d be lost without his kindle. He wouldn’t be able to carry fifty books with him in a war any other way.

    I hope that both formats continue to live side by side, like gas and electric vehicles. For the same reasons. Each have their merits.

  21. Loree Huebner says:

    I still have the dream of holding my book in my hands someday.

    I love books. I do so much reading from a screen now – for work or writing – that if I am reading a novel or reseaching some history, I would rather open a real book. In all honestly, reading from a screen hurts my eyes after a time.

    Interesting post. Thanks.

  22. JP Kurzitza says:

    You are correct, Legacy publishing = old-fashioned.

    Bang-on to Dan Holloway’s comment! We’re writing stories, not books. Whatever is the most efficient way to get those stories out to the public is ultimately what becomes popular. It was paper books, and is quickly becoming ebooks.

    And as far as “collecting” books on our shelves and admiring how nice they look and feel, this applies mostly to readers aged 35+. Remember how many CDs we all used to stack and organize and display in our living rooms or bedrooms, now it’s “look how many songs I’ve got on my iPod – 2200.”

    Yes, book covers may still sell books and they may look pretty, but it’s the content that ultimately drives the word-of-mouth sales, regardless of their outer appearance or format.

  23. Sylvia says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! It’s so tempting to follow the crowd into self publishing.

  24. Hi Rachelle, Once again I am intrigued by your blog today. On my Facebook page I’ve asked the question, Book in your hands or Kindle and the response was overwhelmingly wanting a book in their hands and on their shelves and in the tub. I think that some of that has to do with which generation that you are talking about.Some books are so cherished that hugging my Kindle just isn’t the same.

  25. “…there is something special about the mass-produced book as an object—it is more than just a presentation of the ideas of an author. When a text is published and the book is designed and printed, it becomes a physical manifestation not just of the ideas of the author, but of the cultural ideals and aesthetics of a distinct historical moment. Should the physical book endure the onslaught of virtual forms of information, it will likely be its very materiality that facilitates its survival.” From By Its Cover by Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger

  26. Mary Jo says:

    I saw a girl reading a book under a tree in the park yesterday–she looked so happy and absorbed (a print book not an e-book). I hope kids continue to read real books. I admit I’m a print fanatic, but I do see the logic in publishing some books just for e-readers in order to save trees–especially if, as you said, the book isn’t a “legacy” type of book.

  27. Richard says:

    Im kind of old school when it comes to reading a book, so like what some other folks said i prefer holding the book in my hand. But to offer the book in a e-book format would make sense for the publisher……………Also please drop by my blog to a brand new post today from old order Mennonite Jean. And look for Jeans first ever recipe (whoopie pies) on Amish Stories this Wednesday. Richard

  28. Anna Saikin says:

    I’m glad you brought up the point about physicality. The permanence of the written word (especially now that most books are printed on acid-free paper) is one of the driving forces in my decision to pursue traditional publishing. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  29. Susan says:

    I don’t enjoy reading an e-book. As you stated, I love the feel of a real book. I enjoy the process of entering a book store and searching the shelves for a special book that I can take home to enjoy at my leisure. It’s personal.

    I had to tackle a project of going through old boxes in order to organize our storage area. It was not fun, but of course, I found some treasures we had packed away.

    I found a huge box of special books. We had to decide which ones to keep. One of my adult daughters happened to be at our home that day. I wish you could have witnessed my husband’s reaction as I pulled out certain books. His eyes lit up as he told my daughter and I how he felt about each book. There were several he felt she should take home to share with her husband.

    I feel the publishers are correct, not all manuscripts need to be publilshed as an actual book.

    Books should be special. They should mean something to the people who pay good money to purchase them. In many cases they should be handed down through generations to share the ideals we value.

  30. BK Jackson says:

    I have totally made the switch to e-books (for fiction) over print. Having just moved, I’m even more determined to go e wherever possible. LOL!

    The only area in which e-books won’t work for me is non-fiction that I use for research (but passing fancy non-fic is fine in e-book). #1 because most of the books I consult were published some time ago and are unlikely to go e, and #2 because in non-fic, unlike fiction, I do need to be able to flip physical pages.

    I agree it’s nice to daydream about having that first published book physically in your hand, but it doesn’t have the hold on me that it used to.

  31. Kristy Ks says:

    As a reader, I like ebooks for more informational type topics… 10 ways to do this, 30 days to this, etc… But I still can’t get on board with reading a novel in electronic form. I’ve tried and I hate it.

    As a writer, I do pray for the opportunity to have a real, hold-it-in-your-hands book published someday. But I’m trying to be open to whatever God has for me.

  32. Jen Daiker says:

    I’ve never sat down to think what publishing agencies are really thinkings. I know times are changing and people are having to adjust but I’d hate to hear that my book would be better as a blog.

    I personally love the idea of traditional publishing. I have the dream of having my book on the shelves. Holding it in my hand. Watching it get read so many times. I suppose it’s because it’s how I read. I’ve tried the ebooks and they’re not nearly as enjoyable for me. Guess it all comes down to preference.

  33. Thanks for these words of wisdom. I am eager to see how Marla’s ebook sales compare to her traditional books’ sales. Her title is a winner!

  34. J M Cornwell says:

    I see no reason why both ebooks and print books cannot co-exist or why some readers will not buy both to have their favorite books in print on the shelves. Certainly, with many people moving to a smaller carbon footprint and opting for much smaller and more compact living spaces, digital books are the only things that will fit since the rest of the space is taken up with living.

    What I do not understand is traditional publishers’ continuing to set the price for ebooks nearly as high as hard cover copies and often as much or more than paperback. It seems publishers are pushing people to buy print since the margin of difference is so slight, but this may backfire. Ebooks will not replace printed books, but setting the price of ebooks for those people who prefer the digital version will send readers rushing to look for secondhand print copies instead of buying the full price print. Ebooks sold at a reasonable price (below the cost of paperbacks) will not dilute the market nor will it keep people who want them from buying print in hard cover or paperback. This is a short-sighted move on traditional publishers’ part that may well cost them their profits and their readers. Value across the board for all versions of a book is paramount when purchasing a book is quickly becoming a luxury in tough economic times.

  35. I definitely want to feel my book in my hands. And I definitely want my book in brick and mortar book stores. So to me, this wait is worth it.

  36. I can see certain books/premises being a timely book and it would be better for the writer to self publish. But I think there are certain books that transcend time (much harder to writer – I think) that are worth the wait, that are more than a blip on Amazon, and that will be around for a long time.

  37. Wendy says:

    Exercising patience…check. Cultivating peace…check. I’m holding out for being able to feel the weight of my book in my hands.

    I want the team. I want the dream.

    Great post!
    ~ Wendy

  38. Pam Halter says:

    Aimee said it all for me.

    I’d like to see text books on a Kindle or something, but let me have my hardback novels lining my bookshelves!

  39. One of the reasons I still love traditional publishing is being able to buy a print book that will last, can be admired, and can be opened at random. I’d also love to have my mainstream novel on my book shelf!

    On the other hand, I love the immediacey of downloading e-books, reading them and archiving them, without taking up shelf space. But that’s only for the kind of books I wouldn’t keep for ever anyway.

    So, I’m happy with the two options – as a reader and writer.

  40. Dan Holloway says:

    On the question of lead times, for me the single biggest problem that traditional publishers have is their vertical business model, the way everything is kept in house and dealt with sequentially. At a time when many businesses have become more horizontal, maintaining a strong strategy-and-governance-oriented core whilst simultaneoulsy outsourcing the diverse tasks associated with the output of their final product, it seems publishers are dragging their heels.

    As for timelessness and permanence I’m really torn. On the one hand, as a writer I have to keep telling people I don’t write books – I write stories. And whether a story survives has to do with the community that does or doesn’t embrace it and not with a physical casing. On the other, there is the question of preservation so that future and diverse individuals and groups can (re)discover a work that was previously overlooked. BUT – and this is the big but (so to speak), if we really care about this second aspect, then it’s almost as a sociological enterprise and has little to do with publishing. Publishing paper books serves not to preserve the vast spectrum of a society’s utterings, it preserves only those parts that a small number within that society chooses to have as representative of its voice. By associating that collection of paperbacks with a society’s legacy, we actually (by making them stand over against other forms of output) limit that society’s representation of itself for future generations.So for me the whole legacy argument is muddle-headed and actually quite dangerous. If we care about preserving a society’s voice, then embark on a social enterprise to make *everything* paper. If we want to hand on the stories a society values, then who cares about the format – a society will always preserve what it values. But masquerading paper publishing as the former seems to me to be a disngenuous move in the extreme on publishers’ behalf.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Dan, you make some interesting points. On the first one…it’s not obvious to the outside world but most publishers are outsourcing almost all the aspects of their business, to greater or lesser extent depending on the publisher. There are freelance acquisition editors, line editors, copy editors, proofreaders, typesetters, cover designers, photographers, marketing and PR specialists (and more) who contract with publishers. Many pubs work with outside sales rep teams (and always have). And of course they outsource their printing and shipping. Just like other industries, publishing is pretty open to outsourcing specialized work and the extent they do it differs company to company.

      On your second point… I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure that “preserving the voice of a society” has always been in the hands of a tiny group of people, throughout the history of civilization. Nowadays our society’s voice is being captured and preserved by an absolutely enormous number of people. Who will care about that in the future, though, I’m not sure.

  41. marion says:

    I think my baby definitely needs to be a print book.
    On the other hand, the possibility of e-publishing is like a card up my sleeve–not sure if it’s an ace, though!
    I really want to go print.

    • Marion said, “I really want to go print.”

      Don’t ignore what your readers want.

      In April I sold five copies of a paperback (a mostly humorous memoir).

      After much reluctance, I published an e-book version, and sold 135 copies in May. June sales will probably beat May.

      I’m amazed that hundreds of people would buy a memoir written by someone they never heard of. I am not Tina Fey or Anthony Weiner. I also made much more money from the $4.99 e-books than from the $15.95 p-books.

      Some readers requested that I publish a hardcover for gift-giving. It should be on sale in a few days.

      If there is enough demand, I’ll consider skywriting or chiseling into cave walls.

      We have to write to please ourselves — but we don’t pay ourselves. It’s important to offer our words packaged the way readers want to buy them.

      Michael N. Marcus
      http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
      http://www.BooksForAuthors.com (reviews of books for writers)
      http://www.Self-Pub.info
      — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
      — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

      • Lisa Marie says:

        Michael, you make a valid point. As someone else pointed out, the younger generation — I’d say age 30 and younger — would find our discourse laughable. They don’t buy hard copy. I discovered this when on tour with my S.O., interacting with his younger fans. The concept of buying a CD is foreign to them. Moreover, they don’t have the money to buy them.

        My concern with the so-called ebook revolution is that a certain segment of the older population is going to miss out on new books and new authors. My mom, for example, is never going to embrace an e-reader. I’ve talked to her about one (she needs reading glasses, and I thought this might be a better option for her), and she said, “No, that’s too complicated.” This is a woman who still plays vinyl records and tapes movies on VHS, for crying out loud. (!)

  42. I’m always far behind the electronic trends; it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I finally bought a cell phone that can take pictures. If and when I do publish a book, I’d just be happy to know that people are out there reading and enjoying it; it wouldn’t matter to me if they were reading it with an e-reader or not. And I think it’s possible for books to be “permanent” even if they’re released electronically; they could always be re-rereleased into whatever new form is made next. It’s like with movies that were originally released on VHS and are now being rereleased on DVDs.

  43. This is another comparison that, to me, speaks volumes (pun intended) about the difference between music going digital and books going digital.

    There’s little ‘precious’ about a CD or tape because you don’t actually connect with them physically in their use.

    However, opening the pages of my favorite book takes me on a memory-ride of what I ate, where I sat, who my bestfriend / boyfriend was at the time, etc, etc, etc.

    There is more than permanence in a physical book. There’s experience.

    That said, I have no doubt e-books will grow and grow. I just sincerely doubt the disappearance of the hardcopy.

  44. Lisa Marie says:

    Hmm. I’m sitting here looking at my bookshelf. About three quarters of these books I really should take to the used bookstore, because I don’t intend to read them again. I hate taking books to the used bookstore; I feel like I’m abandoning the poor dears. It’s a heart-rending experience (which is why my house is so cluttered). I collect signed, first edition literary novels written by notable authors. There’s no way I’m going to trade in my signed Bukowski, Bowles, Ginsberg, etc. I’m about to acquire a new one and am so stoked. One doesn’t “buy” books like these; one “acquires” – sort of like art. ☺

    On the other hand, I have no compunction about reading genre fiction on my Kindle for Mac. I read a lot of single title romances, and e-books have really cut down on the number of paperbacks I buy. This is also what I write. Speaking personally, I don’t need to hold a book in my hands or see my name on the spine of a book anymore than I need to have hard copies of the (online) magazine articles I write, because I am not and never will be Paul Bowles or P.J. O’Rourke. Yes, it’s amazing the first time you buy a national magazine and see your byline in it. But after the first publish, it’s all about doing business and making money as a writer.

  45. I just released my first self-pubbed e-book last week (after 4 traditionally published physical books). The Husband’s Guide to Getting Lucky–an experiment of sorts.

    I’d love to report back in a couple months with stats about my amazing success, but time will tell. And I know this much–it has been HARD WORK. I’m completely exhausted and drowning in dishes and laundry and a million other undone things.

    • Dennis says:

      I am writing a horror novel but it seems the chances of getting it published in the traditional manner are so slim I’m planning to try e- publishing. As this is my first shot at writing a novel it can be very discouraging to see bookstores closing, publishers laying off people and disappearing altogether.

  46. Hmm…I’d never thought of the fact that editors are questioning whether a book should even be a book. I’m assuming this is more prevalent in non-fiction than fiction, but I have a blog friend who is serializing a novel (for money), with lots of extras. So, still a book, but totally different animal. (Hearkening back to the time of Dickens and Tolkien.)

    I think the timeliness is definitely an issue where it seems like an author gets a fast-track on the publishing route (meaning, at least in my limited experience, less than a year lead time). But sometimes there’s just this karmic kismet working out. I’m thinking here of the book about Seal Team 6 that pubbed probably just a week or two after they took out bin Laden.

    That permanence and legacy aspect, the spines on the bookshelves, the paper between my fingers, is entirely why I’m still on the “pry physical books out of my dead hands” side of the fence when it comes to e-readers. I’m not yet ready to embrace our techy overlords. Someday perhaps. Just not right now.

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