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Why publishers are going to become more powerful as e-books sales grow


Does the growth of authors who choose to self-publish rather than sell to a traditional publishing house hail a new golden era for the novel?


Will self-publishing remove the power of the old guard?


Or will the e-book marketplace simply become congested by millions of poorly-written novels, cluttered by an absence in the digital marketplace of any quality control?


In the best case scenario of the e-publishing realm, international book publishers will no longer hold aspiring writers to ransom. Authors can simply publish their work straight to the online marketplace as an e-book, and the reader can pick up their book on a Kindle or iPad.

Publishers have a commercial objective in every book they commission. Every book must make money. If it doesn’t, the route to the reader is closed off, and the book will not be published. This is the perception of the jilted author, who has produced a novel of such literary genius he worries it has been rendered unviable as a commercial entity. And yet it must exist, so the author turns to e-publishing.


And yet, finding no audience, or rather, having no audience find the book, it bombs. E-book marketplaces are like libraries without a Dewey Decimal System:

E-books  will not be the death of the old publishing model. Ultimately, the old publishing model will control the new e-book market.


Reading John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture (blogger’s review here, Jungla review coming up) reveals the error in the misguided perception of e-publishing’s future. I have a limited understanding of the commercial mechanics of the book publishing world, but by explaining the real role of publishing houses, Merchants of Culture has revealed exactly why e-publishing is doomed for authors without the backing of publishing houses.


The reality is that publishers do not merely buy author’s rights, print them and sell them to retailers. Publishers create markets for books, and that’s very different to bringing a book to market. Anyone with an internet connection can bring a book to market, but like the proverbial horse to water, they cannot make it sell.


Good publishers build markets in a world in which it is attention, not content, that is scarce.


As more and more authors publish half-baked novels online, the e-book marketplace will become an impossibly competitive marketplace, in which a search for “Twilight” will bring up Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling nightmare, and a thousand copy-cat versions written by aspiring authors in their bedrooms (Twilight in Space, Twilight Nights, Twilight and George, Twilight: The Prequel, Ode to Twilight, repeat ad nauseum).


The only books which will rise to the surface of this electronic landfill will be the books which are supported in print, by publishing houses with enduring and valuable commercial links to retailers, book reviewers and with dedicated publicity engines.


The e-book may be sold digitally in the future, but its market will be created offline, in the traditional world of publishing houses.






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One Response to “Why publishers are going to become more powerful as e-books sales grow”

  1. “Ultimately, the old publishing model will control the new e-book market.”

    Wishful thinking. It’s already lost control. The ideas you express completely overvalue the role of the traditional publishers. All of the dynamics you refer to have changed…


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