Publishing & Self-Publishing: Where Is the Tipping Point?

by | Jul 16, 2010


Another interesting day in the world of publishing. I picked up on this story by Yoree Koh from the Wall Street Journal’s Japan Time from an alert early this morning:

One of Japan’s best-known novelists and film makers, Ryu Murakami, has announced he’s cutting his pretigious publisher (Kodansha) completely out of his next book, instead publishing directly to the Apple iPad on the straight agency arrangement Apple has instituted. Here’s what Koh had to say:

Ever since the arrival of . . . electronic book devices, the magnates of the traditional publishing industry have feared the worst: that precious big-name authors might sign directly with e-book retailers, relegating the old-school publishers as the dispensable middleman.

Let the nightmare begin. Novelist Ryu Murakami plans to release his latest novel exclusively for digital bookworms through Apple Inc.’s iPad ahead of the print version. Mr. Murakami, the acclaimed author of over 15 novels replaced the publishers with a software company to help develop the e-book.

(Kodansha) wasn’t immediately available for comment.

I was just contemplating this piece of news and what it might mean for other self-publishers and authors eyeing Murakami’s piece of the sales in the iBookstore: 70% to be split basically between him and the developer of the iBook.

The Other Shoe?

Then another story came across my screen, this one appearing even more incendiary, about novelist Janet Evanovich. Evanovich is the author of a spectacularly successful series of novels that just seem to live at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list.

Now there’s a rumor that Evanovich will leave her long-time publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and is seriously considering self-publishing her next books. Here’s Mike Fleming’s take from Deadline New York:

In a shocking development, bestselling author Janet Evanovich is leaving St. Martin’s Press after 15 years. The publisher refused to pay her request for $50 million for her next four books . . . I’m told Evanovich is St. Martin’s biggest fiction author . . . Evanovich’s longtime . . . editor, Jennifer Enderlin, said, “I’m not commenting on anything.”

Apparently Ms. Evanovich has denied the accuracy of this story. But whether it turns out to be true or not seems somewhat beside the point. The fact that it can be taken seriously at all, in the current publishing climate, is the real news to me.

This follows on:

  • The April release by Steven King of the e-book edition of his newest work, Blockade Billy one month before the hardcover version published by Scribner,
  • Amazon’s capture of the exclusive e-book rights to two of Steven Covey‘s best-selling books for a year,
  • The recent signing by AmazonEncore, the retailer’s new publishing arm, of thriller writer and e-book advocate JA Konrath‘s next book to be published exclusively on Kindle.

The Future: Still Unknowable, Isn’t It?

I’ve speculated before about what it will take to arrive at a “tipping point” of some kind where a bunch of forces start to work together to completely transform the landscape of publishing and even the notion of what a “book” is. Forces like:

  • the gradual decline of bookstores
  • the cost of printed books compared to ebooks
  • the environmental impact of printed books
  • the convenience of ebooks and improving ebook readers
  • the “mile-wide mile-deep” inventory of ebooks that’s developing online
  • the gradual assimilation of the “digital life” in the minds of more people
  • the unmooring of books specifically from cultural literacy, because of new digital formats for text, and
  • the availability of completely new forms of text, and uses for text. Text enriched with a multitude of other media and capabilities, a truly convergent technology that renders “books” hopelessly old-fashioned to people who have been reading on screens since infancy.

Here on the front edge of the wave of history, it’s often hard to make out what lies ahead. The digital transition is picking up speed, more business is moving online, authors are looking to change their relationship to the way their work is used in the marketplace. It’s combustible, and likely to get hotter.

It seems inevitable that changing technology, changing habits and a changing economic reality will eventually tip over, leading to basic, systemic change. Maybe it’s already happening.

Here’s my question: What do you think will happen next? Is self-publishing about to become the new paradigm?

Resources

Mike Fleming in Deadline New York
St Martin’s Losing Biggest Fiction Author

Yoree Koh in The Wall Street Journal’s Japan Time
Murakami Skirts Publishers With iPad Novel

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by Mike Baird, https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/

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