Amanda had a post yesterday wondering if traditional publishers would catch on to the fact they’re killing themselves by refusing to adapt to ebooks.
Pardon me for being cynical here for a minute but: no. They won’t. Why would they? Ebooks have now been a reality for over ten years, with absolutely no change in the industry — not where it counts — so why would anything happen now.
Worse, Indie publishing has been a thing and been eating their lunch for 9 years at least.
And looking from the outside you, gentle readers, scratch your heads and go “but …. how can they not see it?”
Look, change is hard for humans. Change by itself, even positive change, can cause great destruction if it happens too fast. Change plus what feels like the destruction of status and livelihood? Few humans can adapt without breaking or going into profound denial.
And I have it on good (though not infallible) authority that most people involved in traditional publishing are in fact human.
If the change were, say, a shift in public taste that affected maybe one department of a publishing house, it would be easy, “Yo, Higgins, no one is buying stupid baseball romances, anymore. Dump the ones you’ve bought on the market at as small a loss as you can and let’s buy football romances.”
If it were a change that affected only one publisher? Easy. It would get bought or go under.
But this change affects the whole industry. The way many people now well past midlife have learned is the way to make a living. Their raison d’etre. Their source of being.
They’re not the only ones being hit. The early 2000s saw an hecatombe of computing business. A great pyre of burning, prestigious and previously safe careers. My husband somehow managed to stay employed continuously for the last two decades, but he’s in a minority.
And journalism has also been burning for a decade.
I’ve watched a lot of friends, middle aged or older, get laid off.
And there’s a pattern to it. People just never quite seem to adapt, to get things together. A lot of them fall in deep depression. It takes an extraordinary character to pull out of it. (Look, working on it, okay?)
So, imagine that happens to your entire industry.
The weird thing then is that you don’t even need to acknowledge it. Particularly if you’re an industry as — frankly — shifty as publishing.
You see, publishing in the 20th century was working on 19th century rules, at best. It was all “you’ll take what we give you and like it” and “if you want the prestige of being a published author, you’ll act utterly professional, even if you have to clean toilets on the side to make a living.”
And if the way they treated their suppliers would make any mafia don jealous, the way they reported earnings would make the most crooked casino blush. Trust me on this. I wrote, one year, for four different publishers.
What would you wager against the chance that those books — different genres, different subgenres, very different covers — would all sell the exact same amount, down to the last, single-digit figures? What would you wage against their doing it, year after year?
But you see, they were the only game in town. It’s very bad for any field to lack healthy competition. It does not encourage best business practices.
Which brings us to what happened when competition (at first small and hesitant) appeared after almost a century….
This will surprise only those of you who haven’t been following the long, slow debacle: they lied to themselves.
At least I presume it’s to themselves. Unless they think they’re lying to us, and that by lying to us they can influence reality. It’s possible.
It’s also pathetic. And sad.
If I read ONE MORE article about how people are sick and tired of ebooks, and paper books are coming back, it will be one too many. The publishers/editors/etc reading those and BELIEVING them maybe perhaps want to read a book called Lying with Statistics.
Usually the method employed is “ebook sales grew by a smaller percentage.” The fact that most publishing nabobs believe this foretells the return of the popularity of paper bricks means — to me — that half of their chicanery in royalty reports MIGHT be due to the fact that they’re innumerate. or that they follow the hot new trend of believing that two plus two equals cat if you subtract chicken.
So what happens when an entire industry gets laid off?
I don’t know. I think the next stop on this Via Dolorosa is their attempt to get someone — anyone — to legislate indie publishing illegal.
When that fails (hopefully. If it doesn’t we’re North Korea bound as a nation) they will retreat overseas, like ousted royalty. The fact most houses are held by European consortia is the only thing keeping them afloat.
And after that? I don’t know. I’m a little shocked at how long it’s taking Europe to catch on to ebooks. But heck, it took them a long time to get rid of the Hapsburgs, too.
What about me and those caught in the maelstorm of publishing’s death.
Well– even though I expected it and counted on it, it’s been a difficult adaptation. I suspect more because of when it hit — both in terms of my health and my life — as in, in the last 18 months my entire life has changed, was expected to change.
It’s just that… well, a lot of change in a short time screws you up even if you know it’s coming. They say people get stress-sick while moving, even if they looked forward to the move.
But– I’m writing again (even if still laying down flooring on weekends. ) — and I have SO MANY books to catch up on.
One way or another, I’ll get them to the public too. Sure, right now amazon, but it’s important to remember the change isn’t done with us, so I’m keeping an eye out.
One way or another, though, the stories will get told and sent out to the audiences. Because that’s the important part.
The paper brick industry was only ever a way to accomplish that. A way that now belongs mostly to the past.