What does the future hold for the publishing industry? It’s hard to say with any certainty. With the world so interconnected via the web and the new possibilities that holds, there’s no telling where it may lead.
Consider magazines for a moment. For short story and novella writers, magazines were the go-to way to get published for over a century. They were everywhere – newsstands, racks in the checkout line at the grocery store, on shelves in the pharmacy, and pilled up in stacks in most waiting rooms. It seemed like they’d always be here.
But with the advent of the internet back in the early to mid 1990s, magazines began to decline. Most have either quietly shuttered their doors or moved into the digital realm (much like newspapers). What used to be a viable market for writers to get their work published is now a shadow of its former self. I find it sad. When I was a kid I loved reading stories in the magazines I received each month in the mail. Asimov’s, Omni, Weird Tales…
The thing is, getting published on a website just isn’t the same as seeing my name in print. Maybe that’s an old-school way of looking at it, but I don’t think anyone can deny how cool it is to pull a magazine off a rack in a store, flip to the table of contents, and see your story title and name printed there. But, unfortunately, those days are mostly gone now.
The other big change over the past decade or so has been in traditional book publishing. The big publishing houses are pickier than they used to be. They are more concerned with the return on investment than they are with finding new voices. They want known quantities, books that are guaranteed to sell. With more writers in the field and less opportunity, the only viable option for most authors is to self-publish. Obviously, it’s not the same as traditional publishing, much like publishing short stories on websites rather than in print magazines. But still, it provides an option for writers who don’t want to wait months or years to find out if their book it going to ever make it to a bookshelf.
Self-publishing is now a huge industry. I was late getting on that bandwagon. I was one of those people who felt I needed to go the traditional route, to work with an agent and all that jazz. But over time I realized that I didn’t want to deal with the waiting and the uncertainty. It’s not that I don’t think my stories are good enough. I’m damn proud of the ones I’ve written. It’s just that the traditional market isn’t what it used to be and I needed to evolve.
But what’s next? While I see some of the big publishers beginning to consolidate, there are also a lot of small, indie publishers popping up on the literary landscape. While that does provide some new opportunities, there’s still the concern for a return on investment. I can understand that to a point. No one wants to lose money. But at least with the indie publishing houses you can get a quicker turnaround and still get to see your name in print.
For now, I think that self-publishing will continue to grow. As long as the companies behind it – Amazon, B&N, and the others – don’t overstep and try to take advantage of the authors using their platforms, it will prosper for all parties. Of course, who knows what may be down the road? Maybe new formats, new options, new platforms will be invented and utilized. What it all comes down to is getting the stories out there and making a little money. If those two needs are satisfied, writers will flock to it.
We just have to be patient.