For thousands of years, print publishing was 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 is the theme—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 gravity's continue to converge. Today, publishing is in this state of convergence. The industry’s new energies are coalescing to form order where needed. 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 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: