It’s a Crisis
When I entered the publishing industry it was in crisis. I didn’t pay much attention to it, because friends who’d been publishing for decades told me it had always been in crisis.
What they didn’t tell me is that the crisis had been steadily worsening, since at least World War II. The reason they didn’t tell me that, is that if they’d told me that, I might have looked at print runs, and also how things were accepted/rejected/marketed.
Look, it is a condition of the human race to want control over scary situations. There is a reason for this. After all in the Neolithic, if you didn’t find a way to fight back/control the tiger/whatever, you’d be num num nummed, right? And you left no descendants…
So when the publishing industry entered its first crisis (as far as I can tell caused by paper scarcity in WWII though it might have been WWI) the executives decided there was ONE thing they needed: more control.
Little by little, they went from printing anyone who would “pass” the “okay” mark to trying to publish only “good” things (which quickly became a moral judgment where they confused themselves with social workers.) And then it was slowly morphed into “we will control how it’s marketed and how much it’s marketed and…”
With each measure of “control” culminating in the push model of the early oughts, the printruns took a nose dive.
This was predictable, not to say dead simple. If the person/s you’re trying to please aren’t those you’re selling to, but your bosses/colleagues/critics, you’re not going to please the public.
And this is how the crisis finally crashed, about five years ago. It crashed not because print runs had reached zero (though some rumors I’ve heard – never mind.) They were still finding things – usually one little line away from porn (if that) to bring in the rubes.
It’s a slippery slope, as movies have found out. Once you hit porn as a way to pack in the rubes, you’re going to have to increase the shock value exponentially EVERY TIME. But they hadn’t reached that point – yet.
But they’d reached low enough. Not to the level they weren’t a profitable industry, but to the level that their ignored and un-served clients were hankering for something.
Which is when, like the hero in a Western, riding over the ridge, we got ebooks. And kindle, and Amazon. And those numbers made publishing houses have to pay attention to what was selling on Amazon…
And now, the wailing is that the publishing industry is more in trouble than ever. That is… b*llsh*t. It isn’t. Not the PUBLISHING INDUSTRY. Just part of it.
Yes, some traditional publishing houses are in a mort of trouble. And of course, what they think they really need is more control.
They don’t. They need to take deep breaths and change direction. It should start with “Who are my customers and potential customers?” (One of the houses not in trouble is Baen who always kept sight of “serving our public.”) and continue through with “how do we attract good writers to our model?”
Dave Freer covered some of that in his post on Monday. It wouldn’t be very hard for even the most clueless publishers to turn the model around if they did that.
But as Amanda posted yesterday, they prefer to imagine they’re in control and to pay consultants to tell them what they wish to hear. “Go to sleep. There is no saber tooth tiger. You’re perfectly safe.”
It’s a crisis, see, and if they can’t control it, they’ll pretend they can. Or that they’re victims of circumstances. Or something.
It won’t work, but if it makes them happy, fine.
I’ll just wave as they fall off the cliff. Their crisis is not my crisis. I work for Baen and also now indie and, curiously, the old model holds true for this. Bad times are good for entertainment. I’m up to my neck in work, and things are starting to move. (If I can just catch up on lost time.)
So, forget the crisis. Read. Write. Let big publishing scream and run and jump off the cliff.
More for us.