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.