For thousands of years print publishing has been the main way in which information has been passed down to the people for their consumption. Today, the publishing industry is in the process of being reinvented through innovative disruption and this 3rd Annual State of the (Indie) Publishing Union is a summary of the current state. Combining of the old with the new—where the author is the publisher, and where the reader can also be a publisher. The industry is in an Era of Convergence after being disrupted by the internet.
In science, it is said that galaxies, like the one we live in, are a result of some massive star explosion (supernova) that left debris randomly scattered in its radius of influence. The gravity of some big pieces begin to attract to one another and material begins to coalesce. Order begins to form from the mess and galaxies are thus born to the beautiful organized chaos within time as the particle’s gravities continue to converge. Today, publishing is in this state of convergence. The industry’s new energies are coalescing to form order where needed. Time is slower though at the galactic level, so the beauty will come later. It’s a bad news with a good news report that I am sharing this year. I had some doubts and worries about the industry but feel encouraged as I see energy forces gravitating and uniting. However, with all things in nature, we get flavors of everything, including the bad. Just like in Hollywood, the Jedi’s and the First Order forces of the world are natural and forever existing and are competing with each other. Without one we could not find and appreciate the other. So just as the dark side will always turn people over from the light, as long as the light is stronger the best will develop and survive.
So where exactly is there order being made amidst the chaos? Convergence in publishing is all about the combining of the old with the new—where the author is the publisher, and where the reader can also be a publisher. Here are some concepts that seem to be getting heavier in their gravitational pull:
Easability: The digital disruption has created a beautiful avenue to publish pieces of content easily: think Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords, Wattpad, social media, blogs, and email newsletters. Readers too can access what they want to read simply as well. Between RRS feeds, online magazines, content generators like Reddit, Medium, and promotion generators like Bookbub and Library Thing. Publishing and reading content has become convenient and quick.
Less is more: Smaller pieces of content are being published. Long gone are the days that a book has to be a certain number of pages with a specific look and feel to be authentic. Publishing can be anywhere from a 140-character text, to a long novel. Between webpages, blog posts and comments, people are able to express themselves with less words and can still be just as influential. Book series have become popular as a result, and alongside this our attention spans becoming smaller.
Mobile: Yes, there are still some that love to read with a physical book in their hands and enjoy the sound and feel from the turn of a page. But truth cannot deny that even those people have turned to their mobile phones for posting or reading on social media, commenting on blog posts or articles, or just simply reading their favorite authors and magazines on their phones while they wait in line, sit on the train or the toilet… Readers are able to consume published information anywhere because of mobile devices. Some companies are getting better at understanding this type of human behavior, but there is still a lot to learn. Humanity is still evolving to this shift in our way of life, as everything is mobile now—from working and paying bills to contacting friends and reading your favorite newspaper.
Data: Human data analytics are paving the way for research into everything about us. There is no longer an appropriate time for reading (at home in a comfy chair, at the library, outside feeling the wind blow) —anywhere and at any time we can read and consume published material electronically. Modern marketers are studying this and using technology and data to make sure content reaches the right people, which is the basis of current success in discoverability in publishing today. Therefore, it’s necessary for indie publishers to turn to content generators like Medium, LinkedIn Publishing, Goodreads blogs, Booksie, and the like for marketing their work and to tap into the data intelligence they are experiencing. Distributing content to different platforms is an important convergence in this new publishing era so that readers interested in your content can find you through use of their data analytics. At some point, discoverability in publishing won’t be the problem.
Everyone has then become a publisher: The most apparent and important part of this current publishing convergence. You, me, mom, your eleven-year-old cousin, grandma even. The digital disruption has allowed anyone who has an internet-capable device to publish anything: thoughts, feelings, to-dos, articles, expert advice, political commentary, bullying, what they cooked… Perhaps we are having an identity crisis? I guess that means anything that can be typed (or talked to text), or recorded for video, is considered eligible for publishing. Everyone now has a voice and we have yet to truly understand what that means to society. It’s truly empowering and liberating and we are all still getting used to it—where available. There are still some parts of the world where internet access is controlled and I am often reminded how many of us take for granted our easy access to it. For example, for free at your neighborhood library, or never if you live in North Korea as under 5% of their population has internet access, or Cuba where internet is only available at government controlled "access points” and Saudi Arabia were about 400,000 sites have been blocked, including any that discuss topics dissenting with the Islamic beliefs of it’s monarchy.
But before I digress too far, almost everyone, even those who do not consider themselves authors, writers, or artists, are publishing. Some experts believe that the number of books available on the internet in digital libraries will exceed that of the physical books in the Library of Congress. So then how does one distinguish themselves? That’s what’s up in the air. Discoverability and differentiation may slowly be converging, but there still isn’t yet a good mechanism for discovery and competitive advantage. Even though data analytics is paving the way, many creatives with real publishing talent are still lost in the dust, either not sure how to follow along the disruption wave, don’t have the financial resources to get there, or have yet to get that lucky or serendipic break seen by “Shades of Grey”. Thus, Darwin’s theory of evolution still wades on, churning away, allowing only those with skill, resources, and luck to pull through and survive.
Creative artists now have editorial independence if they want it and if they have access to what’s needed to evolve and survive. This entails some sort of branded content—they have to be business owners as well. What’s when one becomes an indie publisher—one that steps out on their own with self-conscious construction, creates their own message, their own style, their own passion, and has business sense of some sorts applied to their overall design, developing a competitive advantage and expressing passion to some extent. Unfortunately, not enough business schools have yet jumped on this opportunity to provide focused niche business classes to creatives, and many art and writing schools have yet to include business classes into their instruction. This convergence will come next. It’s the absolute only way creatives and writing schools can survive the intense Darwinism present in publishing (and well everywhere else for that matter). To digress a little more, countries like North Korea, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia will not see growth in their economy or people if they continue to censor internet use and will be the first to be eaten by proven Darwinian science.
This also means that many won’t survive to see the future of this publishing convergence. Now that anyone with access to the internet can publish anything at any time to everybody that uses the internet for anything–Amazon’s publishing and retail business should be scared. As society continues to be drawn to the internet to publish everything about their personal lives, imagination, and expertise, Amazon will eventually no longer be the main distribution channel for publishers, or main retail channel for readers. Every social media and content generation system will collectively bring Amazon down to its knees—potentially—unless Amazon puts the creative artists and writers first instead of their profits, and give us access to what publishers in the 2.0 world need: data, data, data. Companies that will survive this convergence will give data to their publisher, or they will find other ways to distribute their content, because we can publish anything, anywhere, at any time, and have an audience looking at it, whether that be cousin Joe, your old boss, or the audience your spouse organically built from his newest novel.
As an indie publisher living within this current environment, I have entered a renewal period, where out of it will be a breath of new life. A version 2.0 of TC Publishing will arise where I’ll take all the lessons learned from being an indie publisher over the last four years and re-strategize. The sea doesn’t like to be restrained, and neither do I, but indie publishers have many obstacles to overcome in these rapidly changing, chaotic, and converging waters. My galactic ship has scars, holes, and war wounds that it’s a must for TC Publishing’s survival. I must take some time to step back to build the ship stronger. I am going to re-think indie publishing by going back to design. This renewal period for TC Publishing will shed away the concepts of traditional publishing that no longer apply and are damaging. The sea, in its unrestrained form provided the environment that produced life on Earth, and it is with that spirit of experimentation and survival that I am eager to see what comes of this transformation.
One of the first lessons I have already learned during this renewal period is that I spend too much time on TC Publishing as a business and not on my writing. Therefore, my first strategic move is to go back to the reader and writer in me, and connecting with my own pains and needed gains from the perspective of a creative artist and not that of a business person—then build a business model around my needs as an artist—not just to patch holes to stay afloat in the raging sea. Instead, add a new spoiler wing, larger bullet-proof windshield, or flag claiming my allegiance to the indie empowerment movement to help build community and strength.
As today’s societies around the world experience uprooted governments—laws, standards, religion, traditions, lifestyles, medicine, and other conservative and traditional structures are being reinvented—or disrupted. There is more than just publishing being reformed in our modern world. Change is a sentiment being felt everywhere around the world and a more progressive movement where the new values of the majority need to be taken into consideration in order for people and companies to capitalize on these new convergent technologies. One recent addition to the publishing industry in this sense was the creation of the first “publishing startup incubators”. It is within these open innovation spaces that new structure in publishing will come that will give Amazon fair competition, force big traditional publishers to reduce their ebook costs, new models for discoverability tools from data analytics will be built, more distribution options, elimination of exclusivity, and lots more. Better cooperation between publishing and technology will emerge and as a result, finalize the convergence trends mentioned above and bring about more. The movement here is currently small, but as results begin to show positivity, more interest will emerge. Real value from the publishing convergence will not occur until these publishing incubators become more mature. Then, the gravitational pull that these incubators will generate will be hard to overcome. The Death Star was always destroyed, while the galactic pull from the center of formed galaxies continue to emit light and force beyond what anyone can fathom. Jump into the light my fellow creative friends and avoid being blown up in the Death Star, because you will if you continue to keep and follow the rules of the old game—they no longer apply.
See other reports on the State Of The (Indie) Publishing Union:
It is becoming pretty well known nowadays that the traditional publishing industry has been disrupted. Disruption is a word that tends to have a negative vibe. However, its actually due to an innovation that comes around and because of its efficiency things get evolving that need to be. Therefore, in trusting nature to take care of the ever-cycling planet we live on, I cannot help but embrace the changes that disruptive forces such as Amazon and devices like the iPad, along with competitive pricing as a result, have brought upon the publishing industry. These disruptive platforms have provided an atmosphere that promotes self-reliance and self-service that led to self-publishing and self-printing (or otherwise called print-on-demand). They filled so many holes that were dragging down the industry with screaming opportunity. Its obvious that the “self” within publishing needed to have it’s say. In effect, the disruption has uprooted the monopoly that large and traditional publishers had. The ongoing technology revolution that has already disrupted other industries is finally getting underway in publishing. Clark Gilbert and Clayton M Christensen in their research on innovation in digitally disrupted markets found that “across industries, only 9% of disrupted organizations ever recover.” Which one of the top names will survive in publishing? Nine percent is not a large number. New York is no longer the top publishing hotspot now that the internet has provided a global marketplace. The publishing business is in the process of being reinvented through innovative disruption and this 2nd Annual State of the (Indie) Publishing Union is a summary of the current state. Trends are scaling quickly, while others are plummeting fast. Everyone in the game is playing catchup, even those that have matured a bit. The industry is in an Era of Entrepreneurship.
I came into the publishing industry three years ago on inspiration to share my writing with others, just as others have done for me. Initially I was a discouraged when I realized how disrupted it was, but as I learned more about the industry, the freedom became empowering within the mass chaos. The foundations were shaken by seismic change, the mess was still on the ground, and people have been since cleaning up and rebuilding after a storm that raised the stakes for all affected. As a newbie my objectivity and immaturity of the industry allowed me to begin building structure where it aligned with my soul and what I felt was right as an entrepreneur and passionate creative artist–instead of having to comply to norms. It was inspiring to be a part of a community where anything was up for grabs for anyone, they just needed to start picking up the fallen rocks and start building. Only this time mortar wouldn’t be the binding solution. Instead, electricity and connectivity through the world since the boarding walls have collapsed–a market never truly experienced before. Building a publishing company in today’s disrupted industry climate is a lofty goal, one not for the light hearted. It’s still rough out there in the streets even though some foundation is on its way to being rebuilt or new one’s are taking shape. Half of the roughness that exists is due to traditional thought and ways still lingering in the minds of those residing residents which had it conditioned into them. Even in today’s disruptive environment, every author or other content creator eventually learns that the publishing business is dreadfully exploitative of them and much of this stems from old perspectives pre-disruption.
I went to a handful of conferences and seminars over the last year and the topics are the same, ran by the same group of people conditioned with perspectives from the past attempting to keep alive these old traditions. The younger ones go to the seminars to be influenced by these ideals, guiding them to beliefs that are no longer valid. I spent some time last year parading the streets of Chicago’s publishing world and found that the literary scene sucks. There aren’t a lot of us evolving our thinking about publishing. In the summer I went to a panel series seminar and one of the panelists made a comment to an audience full of MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) grad students and local writers–that writing is now a hobby, not a career. So I wondered what the purpose of going to school to pursue an MFA was then? I also noticed a very big tendency for overall negativity about the industry, noting the need for lots of persistency and not to expect to make lots of money. Not motivational at all. Although it was reality, they weren’t doing anything about it, just gripes and complaints and continuing to do things the same way as before and telling a group of soon to be graduates that hope has been lost. But, go to school to further your hobby.
At another writer’s conference one publisher said she would never publish herself, completely disregarding the self-publishing movement. A few months after, I went to another that had a set of speakers giving advice on how to query publishers with your work. Several of the panelists noted that writers should be selling themselves and not the story in cover letters and pitch emails. As a small indie publisher I want the exact opposite: I am instead curious about the submitted work and how it connects with my projects and brand, not who the artist is and how I can exploit their contacts. This is how old traditional publishing found their next superstar, while missing out on amazing success of authors they didn’t even bother with just because that writer didn’t know someone. The quality of someone’s work isn’t necessarily tied to the connections they have, but of pure talent, and that’s what indies capitalize on.
I am often asked what indie publishers are looking for in authors? My answer is talent, passion, and an online presence. Talent and passion don’t need an explanation if you’re an artist, but online presence does. The importance, influence, and increasing presence of ebooks along with the usage of mobile devices for our everyday lives now requires artists to have an active blog and/or website and regular social media presence. So fellow artists–keep this in mind as you submit to publishers, journals, webzines, of indie publishers. However, I at least do consider everything submitted, whether they have an online presence or not and have published many that do not. However, the realization that discovery is done differently now is not yet understood by all creative artists as necessary, especially when schools aren’t teaching artists how to have blogs–yet.
The old school mentality of perfect pitches to university presses and the media are still deeply embedded in the industry. I am saddened that authors and artists, specifically those coming out of writing programs, have this immediate need to get published just to prove their worth. In the past this was a requirement with traditional publishing as many publishers didn’t want to bother with those who were not previously published. This traditional thought is now evolving yet schools are still teaching their students to find literary journals and just get published, published, published and build your resume. This is why literary journals were needed in the first place and a big part of their current existence. At some point literary journals will no longer be needed once schools have adjusted their thinking and the industry continues to evolve in the direction it is. Students can publish themselves.
This is why I have attempted to reinvent the literary journal with my personal research, eradicating the prior-needed university connection. I have found that many of the authors and artists that submit their work to my journal projects have no interest in what the message or concept behind the project is and have no interest in promoting the journal and their work in it either–all they want is to say they were published. Some bios are so long because at the tail end is a parade of journals they have been published in. It is really disappointing to see some creatives have no excitement in the acceptance and publishing of their work that they don’t care to promote it. This is not everyone, but it is the majority. I do my best to weed though submissions to see those that really attempt to connect to the core of my projects and practice thinking deeper about this world and our circumstances in it. This is difficult for some to do, as they are taught to produce, produce, and produce more, then leave everything else up to the publisher. To MFA students, times are a changing, and smart universities are now adding relevant programs to their lineup such as digital publishing and creative marketing on a global scale. Times are a-changing and Chicago hasn’t caught the drift–yet.
Evolution will begin to organize, and the Millennials (who are not-coincidentally named), have ideals that are vastly different and have begun to take places in the companies that are disrupting–the future is going to be very different. Therefore, any traditional thought that no longer has any real place in the developing energy will eventually not survive. However, until then, this battle ensues, and publishers, authors, artists, content creators, and any other who has decided to go on their own to define what it means to publish anything today, gets to ride the waves of independency through the wind of opportunity. Carl Sagan’s law of evolution states that “Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” It’s not only old traditional mindsets that are eventually going to become extinct, but also newly formed ideas and experiments as we find new ways of building through the chaos. This is the basis of entrepreneurship and anyone who claims to be an indie is doing it–some with skill and others without, providing the diversity in which evolution is maximized.
Although disruption caused the entire structure of the industry to be dismantled, it created a leveled playing field between authors and publishers and between traditional and indie publishers (or more of reality, publishers of all sizes). Some early adopter companies and their platforms are getting more mature as widespread acceptance is taking shape, proving that some models are working, while others are not. What works this year may not work next year. Those who are gifted enough to appreciate flexibility are beginning to evolve and change into truly viable products to help bring value to the rebuilt town, at least for now. Things are still a-changing, nothing is stable yet–nothing. This means that the Penguins and Random Houses of the industry are competing directly with self-published authors and indie publishers, but are resistant to accept this fact. For example, many large traditional houses see digital books as an add-on to print, whereas innovative successful companies in today’s disrupted world see it the other way–print as an add-on to digital. This alone distinguishes the two very quickly to the consumer of content, also known as readers, when ebooks sold at $14.99 don’t have any better content than an ebook that goes for $2.99. Consumer demand will push the final buttons that will demolish what’s left of the foundational thought of traditional companies that still stand. That 9%, although small, will eventually be made known. As a response to the convergence between publisher and author, publishing houses are acquiring each other as a survival tactic, trying to use the notion of being bigger as the way to win. Again, a very different strategy from the Millennials that are the future of world society, running very successful businesses by small handfuls. As a professor that teaches ethics courses, I find that this situation is the opposite of John Rawls’ theory of a just society, one in which those who are advantaged take care of those who are not because there may be a day in which one can go from advantaged to not, so might as well cover all bases. This is not the ethical thought that resides in traditional publishing, thus everyone is now on the same level since no one looked out for anyone. Traditional publishing was not just.
Even though the very definition of what it means to be a publisher is changing and many successful self-published authors didn’t need to find a publisher to sign them, there is still a place for publishing companies and that is specifically for marketing and exposure of good books by talented authors in a very saturated market full of bad content. Good indie publishers have imprints, some financial resources, built-in quality control processes, and a brand to increase the chances that the books they publish will generate higher earnings for authors. There are a great number of books written that have never been found by readers because of discoverability issues. The biggest issue for any independent creator is being noticed by their market. There is so much information available, much of it free, that it has become a fierce battle for eyeball time. Content is literally like a needle in a haystack–difficult to discover. So how do fans find us? It’s obvious that first, good quality content is required, but that alone is not enough.
Discoverability is tied up with marketing and it’s a problem for both producers and consumers of content. How to find the segment of the global market for your content is tough work on a global stage. Publishing went from having a dozen customers (distributors) to a billion in this entirely new global economy and trying to get your fans to find you in the vast and crowded digital landscape takes a lot of time, energy and skill. The doors of the internet that opened up the world has proven to be much bigger than ever expected. To be noticed, authors of content need marketing and business sense to build a brand and many don’t want to bother with any of that, and meaningfully so. Instead, authors can still use publishers as an avenue for their work. There is still enormous opportunity for publishers to manage everything that comes with writing a book for those who don’t want to bother with these new requirements of authors. Regardless of what the definition of a publisher ends up being, there is still some value in publishing companies and it appears that those who are currently succeeding are scaling a loyal audience from scratch. However, starting from starch is intimidating and difficult to do–but proven not impossible. Organic growth is so important, but also so very hard. Again, not for the weary soldier.
Therefore, the most important thing an indie can do is focus on customer acquisition. Marketing becomes so important that even if self-publishing authors don’t want to, it’s necessary whether you do it yourself, pay someone to do it, or be picked up by a publisher that will do it for you. If you’re an author, you’re also a marketer, simple as that. This doesn’t make many self-publishing authors happy, and hey, I don’t blame them, as I would rather spend my time writing more too. It’s just the reality of the current convergent situation that leveled the playing field. Traditional publishers don't know how to do customer acquisition very well since their customers have always been bookstores and distributors, and self and indie publishers are still figuring it out. Content marketing uses data to understand an audience and it is in this marketing space that the current Era of Entrepreneurship in publishing has the most activity. This is because taking the time and money to invest in finding out who resonates with your ideas, writing, and thoughts is worth it, and necessary for survival. Then, continue building relationships with them virtually after you find them. Ultimately satisfied customers are what drives success in publishing right now, and how to do that as a publisher is constantly changing.
I do find it interesting that keywords are used as marketing tools and entrepreneurs are starting, albeit slowly, to understand Amazon’s technical logic with third-partyprograms to analyze keywords and understand demand better. Niche marketing involves using data of just a handful of words to describe a book so that people can search and find you more specifically. I have yet to have luck with this personally, as the saturation is so high of people using the same, or similar keywords, that other components, such as reviews, ratings, and even just a good book cover, is necessary. Having keywords that work is only one part of the equation. Although I am all about experimentation and entrepreneurship, I am not really sure how I feel about paying people for reviews, such as at readingdeals.com, or Fiverr. Reviews are so important to the indie and self-publisher for many reasons and to manipulate the technology system by paying someone makes it hard for organic reviews to differentiate the market properly. A new form of natural selection can result of this, and its favors those with money, instead of those with talent. It’s as if people in the industry are going at it in any direction possible just to make a sale, stripping away any passion in the pursuit of spreading a message, or story. It’s the starving artist’s battle for food still.
So how can self-publishers and indie publishing companies survive the leveling of the playing field in an environment that is full of armed soldiers protecting what they rebuilt among the rubble? Many are using the trendy word Publishing 3.0 which really means taking the lessons thus far learned, walking away from the armed war, and become professional. Yep, that means putting the business hat on, taking the “hobby” out of the equation, and thinking career. Most people invest thousands of dollars in education to get degrees and certifications in preparation for their career. The need to be, look, sound, and feel professional, along with having the needed marketing, the right edits and design inside and out–means taking the time to look at content as a work of art. The word self-published will eventually go away since indie has now become the industry norm. It will no longer be about whether something is self-published or traditionally published, it will be about a final professional product. Indies are now equal competitors with traditional publishers and the need for thinking in 3.0 terms is all about evolving with real business sense to actually compete. Self-published authors and indie publishers without established platforms and business sense will soon become quickly eliminated, and this is when competition will actually begin.
Another strong area of entrepreneurship in publishing is trying to find a way to not need, or rely less, on Amazon. Although Amazon has provided the platform for self-published authors and indies to compete with the big names, Amazon still needs competition. Someone or some company still needs to give Amazon a run for their money. It is this lack of competition that doesn’t force Amazon to provide indies with more value-added tools, a natural consequence of being a monopoly. Amazon provides tools for production such as templates and software for catching formatting errors to help with design, as well as distribution to the largest market of book consumers. It’s also free to sign up and publish in print and digital. Everything the 2.0 publishing community needs. The 3.0 publishing community doesn’t. Amazon is not yet ready to provide tools for being an actual professional career-oriented publisher in the convergence. Instead, professionals already have, or will, partner with who they need to get the production, design, and marketing aspects of their content since editors, designers, and marketers are no longer working at the big publishing houses but instead are striking out on their own. There is a real opportunity here for publishing entrepreneurs to take advantage of this unpreparedness by Amazon. For example, 3.0 publishers need emails and other demographic data of those who purchase their books, Amazon doesn’t provide any of this information. We need less complicated and easier digestible reporting than what Amazon currently provides. Lastly, Amazon’s exclusivity requirements are burdensome to publishers because it restricts growth for the publisher and is a form of exploitation that authors are tired of and is reminiscent of traditional publishing not innovation. Exclusivity is for old traditional publishing, certainly not for the 3.0 publisher because at some point publishers get very little benefits for exclusivity. If Amazon is going to keep their exclusivity requirements then a benefit should be provided such as insights and transparency to their logic so that choosing keywords and categories isn’t a nightmare and lengthy experiment for many. The perks that come with exclusivity have not recently proven to be beneficial for me. Amazon often forgets one thing–that they need happy authors to use their platform. Right now authors are using their site because they have to, not because they are happy. The monopoly will only last for so long.
Today’s convergence in publishing brings the need for cooperation and community. An example of this is the publishing industry’s first set of business incubators allowing for open creativity in a digital data driven world by connecting technology, investment, innovation, and publishing together. Incubators are great at experimentation and testing the waters and it’s about time they have entered publishing. Although I could argue that every indie or self-publisher is an incubator of their own, it’s quite a different story to have the financial and expert support to fund startups. Communities of indies are telling other indies what's working and what is not. Sharing without the fear of competition. I appreciate the likes of Self-Publishing Podcast and Book Journeys that have gravitated to this concept of community and sharing. The amount of competition is so enormous, that it cannot even be considered just yet because everyone has risk in the game. The Author & Artist Collective as well as my Online Marketplace is attempting to do just that, bringing together an aggregate of creatives working hard and sharing lessons learned, blurring the lines of competition through cooperation and opportunity sharing. Thomas Edison once said that “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.” As long as indies are actively planning with one another, the opportunities that make sense will become obvious.
Start-ups that survived the change in infrastructure from brick and mortar to satellite and electricity are redefining the publishing industry’s values by asking questions like: What is a book? Who reads them? Where do they get them? What is their value? How will the future consume them? The definition of publishing is going to keep changing and be reimagined in preparation for the Millennials who appreciate initiative and risk taking. Disruption is not for the faint at heart, but the company of motivated and inspired contenders provides an exciting incentive to excel.
The 7 of Wands tarot card indicates a time when facing one of those momentous happenings in life, when we must grab our courage to go forward and tenacity to achieve long-term success. The card notes a position where you are forced to fight for what you believe in. The wands form a septenary; a triangle and a square, together creating an environment of uncertainty where rules and circumstances may change due to evolving energy, forcing unity amongst the two. Perseverance and strength is required.
Image is a reproduction of an authentic Genovean Tarot exhibited at the Fournier Playing Card Museum in Genova, Italy, 1887.
There is a dark side to publishing, one that takes advantage of artists and writers leaving them starving even though they are doing the work they love. Many times they are forced to give up rights to their work, sign in-perpetuity clauses, follow rigid rules, and give up creative control in exchange for being published. However, we are living in a time when the rich, powerful, and traditional publishers that have built the foundations of the industry are getting weaker by the minute due to the advent of technology and the revolution of the Internet. The traditionally established publishing industry’s high barriers of entry and long history of tactics, processes, and perceptions are now outdated like yesterday’s iPhone. This current situation has provided a landscape of people pounding through the broken glass doors to make their point, proving the need for change, showing direct approval of the masses.
Can you feel a bit of tension in those words?
Yes, I’m kind of mad. I have a love-hate relationship with publishing right now and let me tell you why. I had some precursor thoughts about the publishing world before jumping full fledge into it. Then as I swam among what the tide brought after the dam was broken and experienced the masses walking within the rubble rebuilding where they could apply their talents and expertise. This has led to a complete lack of structure that is driving me crazy. As a former project manager that found planning very natural, this was immediately painful for me. As any successful human needs to do, I adapted, and this state of the union is my overview of what I have observed and reflected upon over the past two years as an indie publisher and literary artist.
This report comes from a very objective point of view. Although I went to college for quite a long period of my life, my degrees were not in English, I had never completed a full book, and all I knew about publishing was the top handful of names like Random, Hatchett, and Wiley. I was in for a shock as I entered this world of disarray with solely pure passion.
Let me begin with emphasizing that the industry is in a state of overflow leading to a primordial state of chaos. Those living in these new conditions have created a diverse array of options, products, and services in so many variations that it’s hard to keep track. There are hybrids upon hybrids of business models that are growing at a distressing rate. Some are sustainable, some are not. The testing of hundreds of different ideas are being done to see which ones have traction and can survive the climate change. It reminds me of the thoughts I have when I read about the asteroids that supposedly hit and killed the dinosaurs, wiping out and creating a new host of life in its ashes. The diverse spawn of life that reemerged was drastically different from what was there before.
The prior purpose of traditional publishing houses was to weed through the available work and publish what they thought would be bestsellers. Just like fine wine, however, reading tastes are very subjective. Consumers of reading material left it up to these houses to make decisions for them on what they should be reading. Now with thousands of indie publishing companies and a multitude of writers and artists self-publishing their own books through online vanity publishers like LuLu.com, readers have a brand new selection of reading material at their disposal like they never had before. Readers can finally choose for themselves what they do and don't like. This mass access has led to a saturated system, making discovery and marketing very difficult, for both the author and the reader.
One of the best things that the traditional publishers did was groom the books they published by removing errors and creating reputable book design by using internal expertise to polish and edit professionally. Many self-published authors and indie publishers do not get the privilege of having this grooming process to the extent that traditional publishers do. This creates a disadvantage to those who don't have the finances to obtain these pricey services on their own, or aren’t educated enough to have a personal process in place for decent edits and design completed. I can’t imagine any reader, especially a seasoned reader, wanting to read something that hasn't been polished. Yes, even traditionally edited books will have errors but some self-published books are beyond acceptable. I must admit it took me time to really understand the depth of this, but now I do wholeheartedly. Readers have now become their own quality control which is almost a foreign concept to them as well as a time-consuming task. At some point, readers will get tired of this and will shy away from new authors, stick to just a few, or continue to only follow books that are published from traditional houses. Thankfully, through kindness and mutual sharing of passion, volunteer editors and designers have kept the breath inside the lives of some indie publishers like me.
This leads us to ultimately the most difficult issue for any publisher, artist, and author: discoverability. The website is the new phone book and an absolute requirement for visual artists and writers. Like it or not, Google now determines which products do the best. We are now living in an era of tags, keywords, and search engine optimization (SEO), and books, art, and online magazines must fit into search algorithms. The Google brand is now a household name that everyone turns to daily. Google is our go to for everything in our life. Google is now not only a company name, it’s a verb. Google is the lifeblood of discoverability. Those who can afford expensive SEO for their websites will reach the top of Google and feed our attentions every time we turn to it. I find when I research on Google that the top front page list results aren’t always the best products, or articles I need. Instead, most of it are companies that can afford to be placed there. Those like me who have figured this out have been privy to experience the Page 3 and Page 10 of Google results. It’s there that I find a tremendous sea of diverse thought, products, and services… driven by passion, and not a lot of money. This ideal of second best has created a sub-culture that has not yet been tapped into. Passion and quality seem to have been removed from Google’s search equations. There is a large sea of creatures that live in the depths with content, community, and value if you swim deep enough. Google has yet to tap into the beauty of its later pages. How can those within the depths be discovered? It then becomes frustrating to grab the attention of those in the light from the darkness when the internet has created an impulsive urge to immediacy and impatience. How can indie publishers and artists find their readers and markets with Google then? Discoverability will remain a hurdle and limitation for quite a while.
Naturally we are then brought to competition, and a lot of it, all trying to successfully evolve out of the primordial pool and survive on land. Since the industry is in a diversity boom, taking the usual approach to competition is not sustainable. Society is used to a handful of competition within industries. Currently that is not the case in publishing, as there are hundreds of thousands of competitors, depending on how you look at what your competition is. The perception of competition needs to change, from one in battle, to that of survival. To that end, I have decided to take a different approach and encourage collaboration instead. Publishers, authors, and artists working together to share best practices, lessons learned, cross promotion, and motivating each other to keep moving along the flow of our passion. We were never meant to do things alone, as humanity in its entirety thrives on being in unison. I am a true believer that when we assist each other in surviving, everyone benefits. Everyone in the publishing industry should cheer each other on, instead of booing the other teams.
The traditional distribution chain is responsible for getting print books into the stores of neighborhood books shops and all the brick and mortar chains we are all familiar with such as Barnes & Noble,Tower, and Blackwell’s. It is nearly impossible for the small indie press and the self-published author to make successful strides in the traditional distribution chain, not to mention getting into libraries. Innovative technology has allowed the ability for books to be printed on demand (POD), removing the need for the traditional distribution and very large and expensive print runs. Although this is of great service to the needs of those who have troubles going the traditional distribution route, this has made book covers the wine labels of the publishing industry – as discoverability now includes the ability to catch an eye as they lie in thumbnail form in a row with the next. Though sales of physical books are still higher than ebooks, this is changing year after year. Further, with the rising inflationary symptoms of our global economy most consumers are saving money wherever they can. As the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, this disturbing truth will make it even harder for print books and the shops they are bought in, to survive. Most of the time ebooks are cheaper (although not always) and consumers are jumping in. It is for these reasons I have vouched that every ebook published through Thought Collection Publishingwill be 2.99 cents, as I believe very strongly in equal access to art and literature. I will only spend very little energy and effort on physical book distribution and will stick to the POD until better opportunities exist in the traditional distribution model for indie publishers.
I know and respect the reasons why people and companies hate Amazon, as no one wants a monopoly whose power over prices and just about everything else, can turn into abuse, but none of the other online retailers are giving publishers the tools and access to the market we need like Amazon is. If other retailers worked as hard and thought as smartly about strategy and process like Amazon does, they would be better competitors, but they aren’t. Amazon is the epitome of everything I learned in business school. The company is truly the market leader in many industries, not just publishing. There are people and companies that hate this and I totally get it. I agree in healthy competition. To that end, I challenge Nook, Kobo, Google, Apple, Smashwords, and other up and coming retailers to give Amazon a fair fight. So far these retailers just have not yet figured out how to win. I recommend a book to all leaders and change agents in those organizations – The Art Of War by Sun Tsu. The issue I do have with Amazon is their need for exclusivity. As a writer I enjoy my rights and not having the right to place my ebooks on other retailer sites in order to take advantage of Amazon’s marketing tools really annoys me. This is one of moral aptitude that Amazon hasn't yet included into their guiding principles. The retailer Magzter is definitely doing a good job being innovative in providing free marketing services to their publishers as they understand that when they help their publishers, everyone wins.
Lastly, some other rants I must include in this specialized venting session on the state of the publishing union include:
• Authors and visual artists are now business owners. Gone are the days of just being a writer, photographer, or painter. We must also have some business sense. If you do not, or wish not to, being successful will be difficult.
• Unless you know someone or have the finances to use services that still aren’t guaranteed, press releases will never get published.
• Unless you know someone or have the finances to use a third party company, your books will never be reviewed as much as it needs to trigger online algorithms to make books discoverable to your market.
• Literary and visual artists must now accept the fact that taking time away from their writing and art for online marketing is absolutely necessary. Although many are opposed to this virtual living, embracing the personal online presence is now required. It is this digital revolution that has created the much needed change within the publishing industry, so it must be embraced by its participants. The problem of online marketing lies in where to market, as this is still changing daily. I have spent hours upon hours on marketing that didn’t work. This is wasted time I could have spent writing. It appears that relationship building on the internet is definitely harder than in person. Some of us are still adjusting to becoming social online as it feels almost science fiction, or unnatural, but the rise of social media and online social interactions is because of us; we embraced it wholeheartedly.
Since we are on the verge of a new era, and extreme change is happening within publishing, I propose some traits the newly evolved creatures that arise from the primordial pond should have: altruistic, inventive, clever, independent, original, progressive, visionary, and fun. So what happens in nature when there is disorder? Eventually gravity will make energy coalesce and order will spontaneously appear. I have no doubt that the future in publishing will hold amazing specimens of life, capable of great things. One thing is for certain, however, it will NOT be where it was ten years ago. One of the key laws and rules observed and proved in science is survival of the fittest. Those that can adapt and keep up will be the ones that survive. Traditional publishing companies will never truly accept this fate as they will hold tightly to their attributes and preconceptions that dominated their original form. It is now up to the Indies to rise. Self-publishers and “Indies” of all kinds, it’s now time to unite and spread a different cause. Thought Collection Publishing is building a community of new creatures growing from this global primordial publishing pond. Come visit my side of the publishing world as I attempt to build a community of those likeminded publishers, writers, artists, and consumers. Together in the Author & Artist Collective we can be more effective as a group as we collectively scan the latest developments in publishing, pass on tips, and share experiences. Visit our Marketplace and help us build our opportunity space, ridding competition and collaborating instead.
Community is the answer for now in the current state of the publishing union; strength in numbers.
Update Note: These communities no longer exist, however, Kat still believes in strength in numbers and is working on developing communities in the future.
See other reports on the State Of The (Indie) Publishing Union: