Well, at least that’s been the opinion of a couple of bloggers this week, but I’m not sure I’m going to be running for the hills just yet.
The publishing industry is changing, yes, but it’s not about to implode. The rise of self-publishing has allowed more authors a platform for their work (this isn’t always a good thing) and every year we are seeing more and more new presses and small publishers set up. Brilliant. This is all good news for the writer.
But it doesn’t mean the end of traditional publishing. Not by a long shot.
Some of the more militant self-publishers are fond of declaring that self-publishing is going to take over the industry and traditional publishing houses are going to collapse imminently. How do they figure this? And is it just wishful thinking?
The comparison they like to use is the music industry – which often shows how little they know about the music industry too. They tend to cite the successes of independent artists as an indication of the rise in popularity and prominence of doing it yourself. Apparently the music industry is in peril too, and the big record labels are quaking with fear and also, like the big publishing houses, about to implode.
Last I checked Sony was still in business.
Here’s the thing, the majority of independent professional musicians are more likely to be playing at weddings than Wembly.
If you really want to compare the music industry with the publishing industry then you at least need to understand how it works. Let me break it down for you:
The music industry is very like publishing – it’s dominated by The Big 4 (Sony, Warner, EMI and Universal) with different labels making up their various divisions. In publishing you have the Big Six (Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House and Simon & Schuster.) The Big 4 account for three quarters of the music industry.
A step down from that you have the independent labels and publishers – those that are not part of the bigger companies. These are folks like Cherry Red and Bloomsbury.
Down from that you have the DIY folks – those who started their own record labels and publishing houses to showcase their work, the self publishers and the unsigned artists – those folk who produce their own work and make it available for others. These are the ones availing of Kindle and iTunes.
A step aside from that you have all the people who are professional writers or musicians but who don’t fall into the categories above – technical writers, journalists, orchestras, wedding singers etc.
For every Beyonce there are hundreds of thousands of musicians who’s band never make it further than their parents basement. It’s the same in writing, for every Dan Brown there are countless writers who never sell more than a handful of copies.
The thing I’m trying to point out is this : if you are going to use the music industry as an example of why the publishing world is going to collapse, you need to understand how both of them work. The music industry is alive and well, just like publishing. Instead of trying to use it (wrongly) to prove a nonsensical theory, try looking at it as an example of how there is room enough for everyone and their needs.
Publishing isn’t going to collapse. Trust me, Random House aren’t shitting their pants because I choose to self-publish my novel, in the same way that Sony aren’t crying every time a kid uploads a video of themselves singing to YouTube.
Each author, just like each musician, needs to choose the path that’s right for them and their work. The outlet that suits me won’t necessarily suit the next writer, but I don’t go around making wild, unfounded claims in an effort to back up my choices.
Either way, we all have to pick our own path, and, while I love the control of self and independent publishing, if Penguin want to offer me a stupid amount of money for one of my books, I doubt I’d have to think too hard about it.