the traditional publishing industry and why it should die, a rant

Let’s be clear: I hold no ill will towards the multitudes (read:small but very well-connected) of people who work hard at producing quality pieces of paper-based entertainment for the literate masses*.

This rant covers the slow death of the industry model which has clung to life despite the easy availability of new technologies and formats and employment and resources to assemble A Book from someone’s typo-ridden submitted manuscript.

Slow death, you say? It’s the only proper source of decent stories!

Well, kind of. But not really. Storytelling (that media-spanning** beauty) is A Thing which we [consumers] all Consume [see?] whenever we read, watch TV, go to the movies, or even look at the news {in whichever medium}. This writer does not profess an opinion on the factual content of the latter.

Ah, you say. You meant that traditional publishing is the only way to get worthwhile books?

Still wrong. Let’s completely ignore the non-fiction (by which I refer to textbooks and references rather than biographies, as they come under storytelling) titles which are usually the farthest thing from traditionally published, and focus on fiction.

We all know by now that a teeny-tiny fraction of writers will ever Make It Big. Some of us have read Statistics Which Indicate that it is possible to make a modest <read: at the breadline> living from writing (assuming one is either the owner of a paid-off home or in possession of a very understanding partner***) without ever becoming a household name****. Fair enough, but that’s not the point, is it?

In an age where we can access {not quite} the Sum of All Human Knowledge from a device we carry in a pocket {not quite that, either; my 5-inch screen is apparently incompatible with women’s clothing pockets}, why does the publishing industry not expand? Why aren’t there even more people getting in on the beautiful cacophony***** that is literate content?

Short answer: there are. They don’t make money.

Long answer: no-one but the distributors are making enough money to muscle in on the market. *coughAmazoncough*. There are millions upon millions [the British Billion, as it happens] of ebooks available through the major platforms, and as a result of their price control measures there isn’t an appetite to spend money on books. This applies to the traditional industry and the self-pubbers alike, but for one of those groups there aren’t multiple people to pay with the (still paltry) royalties.

This lower accepted level of earnings (and yes, the platforms themselves are truly to blame for this, though I don’t hold it against them because Availability of Content for Not That Much Money {future rant: the problem with being an Anglophone outside the USA: book edition}) makes it harder still for the traditional publishers, so they’ve merged, and merged, and merged again. The upshot of that? They stay in business. The other side? Fewer books, fewer opportunities to read new authors, less breadth of content.

They’ve held on through sheer snobbery: certain persons <regrettably including my other half, the Twenty-Something Grumpy Old Man> have an ingrained aversion to electronic-only content. I like paper books as much as the next bookworm, but I pay a lot more (as in, Amazon’s pricing bands mean I rarely never pay more than £5 for an ebook, and regularly £8 or £9 for a paper one [when I-Need-To-Read-It-NOW!!!-itis doesn’t necessitate paying OVER TEN OF MY ENGLISH POUNDS for a hardback pre-ordered so that I receive it on release day]) for the privilege of holding a distinct document in hand.******

{future rant: why I like ebooks}

{future rant: why I like paper books}

I own an ereader AND a smartphone AND a laptop; I can read books wherever I am without weighing myself down. I buy a lot of independently published ebooks, but I also occasionally buy from publishers. (The reason I know this? I see some books I have electronically in paper format when browsing my local bookshop. Still weirds me out. Some covers look fantastic on a screen and pathetically out of place on paper. The reverse to all old-fashioned fantasy covers <no, let’s be fair: all old-fashioned fantasy covers look utterly dire in all formats. For some reason American publishers still like using those styles{future rant:book cover design practices}>.)

Before I get *completely* sidetracked, the Reason I Think That traditional publishing should die is this: it should cease to call itself an “industry” when it’s merely a subset of the actual industry and strive to be the cream of the modern working crop; outsourcing and using technology like the best of the independents. This wouldn’t prevent gatekeeping (snobby term for choosing what makes it to publication), and would encourage better writing, better production, better competition between publishers, and probably a better experience for the writers [since people would stop expecting to be able to live on an advance and look at continual earnings potential].

Comments, complaints, casual insults? There’s a button below.

*{future rant: gatekeepers and how to keep them}

**let’s all make a pact to use ‘medium’ (the singular of ‘media’, as you are already well aware) wherever possible to Confuse And Irritate

***or you’re Batman or, I don’t know, Lara Croft? Inherited wealth, anyway

****I can’t think of any one writer who truly deserves that title, though; not from disparagement so much as the niche nature of storytelling. Fiction is a restricted audience; especially genre fiction

*****Read Spellwright by Blake Charlton. Do it. Then read the other two. You’ll see why ‘cacophony’ inspired this aside when you get there.

******That’s all a book is: a very nicely formatted (and proofread) document.

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