Amazon signs up authors; Publishers need a new angle

You won’t hear me saying that traditional publishing is dead. But I will say that if they don’t pull their act together and reconfigure for the new world, they’re going to be dead. The old model, where a good author didn’t have nearly as much choice in getting their work in front of people as they do now, is becoming uncompetitive. Change-or-die, frankly.

So to add to the old-school woes, the New York Times released an article talking about Amazon’s role in signing up authors directly, offering them more creative control than a traditional publisher, and generally treating them like what they are: the actual source of  their income. This isn’t news, of course, but the NYTimes article is pretty thorough.

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.

I read about plenty of discontent with Amazon, often from booksellers (remember this?), but the reality is that if Amazon is offering a competitive package to authors, why would they go through the trials of self-publishing/traditional publishing at all?

“It’s always the end of the world,” said Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives. “You could set your watch on it arriving.”

He pointed out, though, that the landscape was in some ways changing for the first time since Gutenberg invented the modern book nearly 600 years ago. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

I have to disagree in part: there is an ever growing need now, more so than ever, for the hidden heroes of publishing, the service providers formerly hidden behind the walls of traditional publishers: the typesetters, the cover artists, the freakin’ editors. Literarium is pretty much predicated on my expectation that these professionals will be more in demand than ever, from both self-publishers and small publishers who outcompete the traditional businesses. Saying that editors don’t fall into the ‘really necessary’ part of the writing/reading process is foolishly overvaluing the quality of unedited writing out there.

Just sayin’.

He is right about one thing though: it’s like the shift in the music industry (which almost destroyed them due to their inertia) and the shift in the movie industry (which despite their imbecilic decisions on content availability is thriving, contrary to fearmongering reports by industry bodies).

Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in.

There’s also a reference to Kiana Davenport’s dramas with Penguin. All very interesting, and interesting times. For people who are invested in the publishing industry, as opposed to a specific business model in the publishing industry, it’s all pretty exciting.

Here it is: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/technology/amazon-rewrites-the-rules-of-book-publishing.html

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