The Future of Book Publishing: Two Predictions

Amazon EncoreHere’s a prediction: within three years, we’ll see the publishing industry split into two tiers. Bestselling authors will work with traditional publishers–Simon & Schuster, Random House, and HarperCollins. And new authors will prove themselves in the self-publishing arena before they’re allowed to play in the big leagues.

If you’re an emerging author, you’ve probably already stumbled into this world. You know it’s practically impossible to get the attention of an established publisher. And if you do get lucky and find a publisher, the marketing department (now staffed by a couple of 24-year-old interns) all but ignore your book while they focus efforts on proven authors. Your paltry 10% royalty doesn’t really matter since your sales figures are so low. After six weeks, your publisher pronounces your book sales “disappointing” and loses interest.

At the same time, Amazon is opening doors for self-published authors. In May of 2009, the company quietly launched Amazon Encore, its first imprint as a publishing company. Using both sales figures and customer reviews, Amazon identifies books with potential and invites their (often self-published) authors to sign with Amazon Encore. The selected books are then formatted for all platforms (print, ebook and audio) and reintroduced into the marketplace–backed by Amazon’s substantial marketing muscle.

The number of titles published by Amazon Encore is small so far, and the imprint seems focused on novels. But if you’re invited to play, word on the street is that the royalty deals are far sweeter than those offered by traditional publishers.

And here’s another prediction: within ten years, serious self-published authors are going to wonder why they ever needed any publisher–Random House or Amazon Encore.

The Power of Social Media in Building an Audience

Yesterday when I opened my iGoogle page, “today’s spotlight video” looked something like this.

Because I love both soul and gospel music, I clicked on it–and became an instant fan of an unknown singer who doesn’t even have an album out yet. (LaTosha Brown. Check her out. Fabulous!)

As LaTosha tells it, as of the day-before-yesterday, her video had been viewed 310 times. Today, that number is 496,642–an instant fan base! Her record company, PortoFranco Records, is scrambling to get this cut on iTunes so some of those fans can actually buy the single.

Kindle Singles Books are not as accessible as music in this way, but there’s cause to believe that short pieces, priced low and marketed through social media, could become for authors what this single song is for a talented, upcoming musician: a way to develop an instant audience for their work.

Earlier this year, Amazon launched Kindle Singles, a division that is actively seeking articles, essays and stories of 5,000 to 30,000 words. These pieces, which are being reviewed and quality-controlled by editor David Blum, are being priced between $.99 and $4.99–impulse buyers’ pricepoints. Publishers Weekly recently reported that six of the 75+ published works on this platform have already reached bestseller status among all Kindle books.

Kindle Singles has terrific potential. It provides a new platform for long-form journalism and could revive the world of short stories. And most importantly, it could build audiences for those emerging voices who have been abandoned by traditional publishers.

How Viable is Self Publishing? Proof is in the Numbers

Kindle and booksClearly, 2011 is a tipping point for self-publishing–moving this new publishing model from backwater to the forefront of the publishing world. It’s all happening despite the bow-tie traditional publishers who still would have authors believe that they are the only ones who can bestow legitimacy on a work. But the track-records of self-published authors don’t lie.

There’s a terrific article by Alison Flood over at the Guardian that traces this coming-of-age for self-publishing. Highlights from the article:

– Author John Locke just passed the 1 million mark in sales of his mystery thrillers on the Kindle platform. He’s the first self-published author to do so.

– After years of resisting, JK Rowling finally announced this week that she’ll be selling her Harry Potter series as ebooks. They’ll be available on her new website Pottermore.

– Self-published co-authors Louise Voss and Mark Edwards claim to be selling 1,900 copies a day of their thriller Catch Your Death.

– Author Amanda Hocking who started by selling her paranormal romance stories on the Kindle platform for $.99 to $2.99 has now signed a deal with St. Martin’s for a reported $2 million.

– British writer David Moody started by giving away his zombie novel Autumn. Now he sells his novels on the Kindle platform for $.99. Chump change? He was making $1,500 a month when he attracted the attention of a film producer.

– Thriller novelist Barry Eisler turned down a deal reported to be worth about $500,000 from St. Martin’s to self-publish. He has accepted a deal with Amazon (now a publisher in its own right) for a six-figure sum for one book. He says the Amazon deal offers “the advance and marketing muscle you (might) get in a legacy contract; the digital royalties, creative control and time-to-market you get with indie.”

– GP Taylor, author of the children’s novel Shadowmancer, is one of several authors who started as a self publisher, proved his worth, was picked up by traditional publisher and is now considering going back to self-publishing. He sells 6 ebooks for every paperback.

Delivering Ideas: 2011 & Beyond

What does it mean to be an author? How do you deliver ideas powerfully? How can technology help?

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, I think it’s a good time to grab a glimpse of publishing’s future–a fascinating place! Check out this stunning 4-minute “essay” on global health trends created by brilliant Swedish academic Hans Rosling: