Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Future of Publishing

Publishers are being challenged to up the ante if they want to retain mid list authors on their books.

Melbourne author Max Barry was one of a panel of publishing industry heavyweights discussing new models for book publishing at a Melbourne University seminar on February 9. He’s the author of Syrup, Jennifer Government, and Company and has a new book Machine Man due out later this year.

Barry says at the moment mid list authors earn around 40 to 50 thousand dollars a year. However he talks of an American author who sells his unpublished works as e books on the Amazon Kindle website for one to two dollars. Because the books are so cheap and people are willing to pay for them, he’s expecting to earn around 400 thousand dollars this year and has turned down a contract with Hyperion Books to publish his next novel because the money’s not worth it. Barry says people will buy almost anything at such a small price and that’s something publishers have to realise.

He claims publishers are fighting cheap electronic books because they’re afraid of the cannibalisation of the industry (if people are used to buying e books for $9.99 they won’t want to buy a hard cover for 30 to 40 dollars.) When Amazon first started selling e books it sold them at a loss in order to spark the sale of the Kindle. But publishers protested and they’ve now entered into an absurd agreement where Amazon sells its e books for 12 to 14 dollars but publishers and authors get a smaller cut. Many publishers will also release hard copy books first and hold the electronic version until weeks or even months later. It’s something Barry calls “an exercise in denying people what they want to pay money for.” He believes publishers are making themselves less and less relevant, saying, “publishers need to offer me something I can’t do myself.”

However, Graeme Connelly, CEO and Director of Melbourne University Bookshop, doesn’t believe the publishing industry in its current form is doomed. He compares it with the film industry, saying the advent of cheap video cameras, coupled with DVD sales and pirating hasn’t spelled the end of Hollywood. Although anyone can now make movies, people still want to see Blockbusters and he believes the same will be true of books.

Editorial Director of Lonely Planet Piers Pickard says it’s an exciting time for his company because of the scope of iphone applications for travellers. Lonely Planet is also looking at the best way to work with tablets. But Pickard says reference books aren’t likely to become popular as electronic books in the near future because they don’t work well in a digital setting. While e books are perfect for a linear novel, they’re not so great when the reader wants to simply flick the book open at a random spot.

What are your thoughts? Are publishers as resistant as the music industry once was at embracing change? What do you think the future of books will be? Do you read e books or are you sticking to hard copies? And how driven are you by price when it comes to purchasing books?

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