Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Changes in Publishing (and what it means for writers)

If you're not involved in media and publishing on a day-to-day basis, then it's very possible that you don't know just how much the publishing industry has changed in just this past year (or even 3 months). When I first started in publishing (a little less than 11 years ago), changes took years to happen; now, the playing field seems to change every month. How long until things are changing every week? Or day?

Anyway, here are some recent changes in publishing:
So, let's put all this news together and look at how it might affect writers. Here's some of my guesses, which may or may not be on target (y'all can debate that in the Comments below):
  1. Writers need to loosen their grip on a dream of making it into bookstores. Sure, writers should continue trying to write bestsellers and quality manuscripts, but brick and mortar bookstores may not even exist in another 5-10 years, since everything is going digital.
  2. Writers should be flexible and innovative in how to deliver content. That's right, I called it content. Whether it's nonfiction, fiction, poetry or something completely different, it's still content. And maybe a printed version of it will only serve the author's ego, while not fulfilling the needs of today's audience, who may want it as an iPhone or Droid app, Kindle download, YouTube broadcast, blog post, or any number of other ways.
  3. Writers who hold onto the old dreams will be very uncomfortable in the near future. If they're not already uncomfortable, they'll soon feel what all the brick and mortar bookstores are feeling: hopelessness and despair in the face of change. Those willing to adapt will have an easier time of things.
  4. Newer writers need to lead the charge on new technologies. If you don't completely comprehend and understand the new technologies, don't worry; after all, no one else does either. The time is right for experimentation and innovation. And the great thing about this is that it levels the playing field for all writers. Seize the day and make a name for yourself.
  5. Your potential audience is still hungry for the same things. They still want information, entertainment and engagement. That will never change, whether we're drawing mammoths on cave walls, carving stone tablets or viewing videos on our smartphones.
For a great blog on these topics, I suggest you check out Jane Friedman's There Are No Rules. You can follow Jane along with 30,000+ other tweeps on Twitter @JaneFriedman.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Here are a few other posts that may interest you:
Both Twitter and blogging are important tools for today's writer. They are free and available to all.


Not free, but worth checking out are:
After all, that's where the future is headed. Might as well see what it looks like.


Jessie Carty said...

Good stuff Robert! I wish I was an ereading fan but I just don't like the feel ofte kindles and such. Now if the ipAd was cheaper.. I can see storefronts going away though. I already don't feel the urge to do poetry readings at bookstores as much. Open mikes are way better :)

Marie Elena said...

That's just sad. But I think the bookstores will make a comeback, by-and-by. People will miss the whole experience. I also truly don't want to even think about the loss of feeling the pages, the scent, spines lined up on bookshelves, the sound of pages turning, etc. Say it ain't so, Robert!

Colin Palfrey said...

Hi Robert,

I think you are only seeing part of the picture, as are the publishers.

I sell many books, and do best with paper backs. However, I learned long ago that online marketing is by far the best way to attract readers, but if you then offer them a paper back your sales will more than double.

So to summarize: The marketing process for ebooks is vastly superior, but the perceived value of ebooks and in fact the demand is far less. Just go for the best of both worlds with online marketing for a paper back book.

Colin Palfrey

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Marie, bookstores aren't dead yet, but it's hard to imagine them surviving too long as corporate entities. Over time, I think this could be an opportunity for local bookstores to take the power back as far as the brick and mortar bookstore goes. Only time will tell though.

Jess, I still love to get lost in a book I can hold, but I have a feeling these eReaders are only going to get better and better. I mean, they've already come a very long way in the past 10 years. And yeah, poetry readings in bookstores often doesn't make sense, since so few bookstores even carry a decent selection of poetry.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Oh, I agree, Colin.

That's why I emphasized the trouble with brick and mortar bookstores. Printed books will continue even if the physical stores disappear, but they'll be sold online and delivered by online stores, such as,, and publisher websites.

Books won't disappear from stores completely either--even if bookstores go extinct. The Walmarts and grocery stores will probably still have shelf space reserved, as will the specialty stores.

... Paige said...

thanks Robert, I still have not picked which reader I want so I'm still using paper.

now I'm off to see Jane

Joshua Gray said...

As a reader, I still haven't bought an e-reader yet. I love the look of a little library inside my house. I'm old fashioned that way, I guess.

As a writer, I have been one of the last hold-outs on submitting to e-zines, but this past year I gave up the need to want to see my work in print. I still love it that way and prefer it that way, but in some ways e-zines are better. I have had two long poems published in an e-zine this year that may have been rejected before due to space, which is a direct relation to expense 0f printing. But beside those two poems, most of my acceptances this year have come from e-zines. I'm officially on board.

As a bookstore customer, I buy most books online now. For me the thing that is nice about going into a bookstore is the browsing aspect. I will be very sorry to see that go away. Sure, you can still browse on Amazon, but it's not the same thing. Not even close. Maybe that's what online bookstores need to focus on next?

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Joshua, I think improving the browse-ability is definitely something more online retailers have been trying to improve. But it's never going to be completely the same.

I love print (my home is filled with books and boxes filled with books), but the technology (and money) are going in a different direction.

Deepali said...

Hello Robert, Interesting that so many of the folks wouldn't use the e-readers because they like the feel of the book.
I love my Kindle, and I still do read paper books from my library. The huge advantage an e-reader gives you, is that you can carry it everywhere and pick amongst your entire library for the book you feel like reading right now.

Good points in your article there, quite thought provoking!

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Good points, Deepali. Part of such comments may just be a "Green Eggs and Ham" argument. Once more people try it, I think they'll find they like it. I've seen many people convert over the past year or two.

Marissa said...

As a former bookstore employee and current librarian, I've seen both sides of the e-reader issue. Even though I still rely mostly on paper for my material(e-readers are so darn expensive!), I actually feel extremely optimistic about a world filled with e-readers. I think that books, for people who don't consider themselves "readers", often hold a stigma around them. People who aren't used to the traditional experience of reading come into a bookstore or library get intimidated by the shelving, the staff, among other things. But being able to buy a book from Amazon in your living room opens up reading to a whole group of people who might have been missing out. The new format, I think, equals a new start for a lot of people who have been left in the cold by traditional reading experiences.

I also happen to think that Twitter and blogging are the greatest things to happen for poetry in hundreds of years. But I could write a whole (e) book about that. :-)

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Good point, Marissa. While there are many who feel right at home in a bookstore or library, there are many others who feel the complete opposite. I believe e-reader prices will continue to fall as more people own them (like all technology).