Big Six Publishing is Dead–Welcome the Massive Three

The Reader of the Digital Age–Trust me, he won’t miss paper.

Ah, the times they have changed. The year was 1983 and life was good. Summers filled with trampolines, swimming pools and evening walks to the snow cone stand. Cartoons were only on Saturdays, and if we stayed up too late playing Bloody Mary and toilet-papering the neighbor’s trees and overslept, we were out of luck for another week.

Music stores were a rare treat, a place to spend birthday money or blow our allowance, and a Fox Photo Hut graced virtually every grocery store parking lot. My mother would always turn in the film and then the car would break down and we’d run out of money. No one knows how many of my brother’s baby photos were lost.

What did they DO with all those pictures people couldn’t afford to pick up?

Who would have thought that one day, everyone would walk around typing messages on a phone? Or taking and then sending pictures with that phone?  Who would have believed that a computer company would be a larger distributer of music than Tower Records? That car stereos would stream tunes from satellites floating above the Earth’s atmosphere? No more cassette tapes. Who could have envisioned a day that Kodak would be a memory and a home telephone an anachronism?

It is an amazing time, and I can say that Star Trek fans did envision a lot of these changes. Yet, even when we see it coming, it is very surreal to see it actually here. As an avid Trekkie, I do like to think of myself as a Futurist, so today we are going to indulge my future vision.

The Big Six have a new problem…Microsoft.

Yes, it does look like Microsoft is what is going to save Barnes & Noble’s tails. From this article by Felix Salmon on WIRED:

Barnes & Noble has sold a 17.6% stake in its digital and college businesses to Microsoft, for $300 million — a deal which values B&N’s remaining 82.4% stake at $1.4 billion. And while the $300 million is staying in the new joint venture and therefore not available to help the bookstore chain with cashflow issues, the news does mean that Barnes & Noble won’t need to constantly find enormous amounts of money to keep up in the arms race with Amazon. That’s largely Microsoft’s job, now.

So why is this a problem for the Big Six?

The same reason that Apple (a computer company) was a problem for Tower Records, that Sprint (a cell phone company) spelled death for Kodak and that Amazon (an on-line distributor of everything from camping equipment to push-up bras) gave Border’s its mortal blow.

The Big Six are dead. Welcome the Massive Three. More on this in a moment…

The past ten years have been nothing but market Darwinism. The slower species who refused to adapt to the new climate after the comet strike (birth of the Internet coupled with an affordable personal computer) are now being devoured by the faster, hungrier and more agile creatures.

Notice Tower Records, how it defended how music-lovers, “would always want CDs and music stores.” Instead of realizing it was in the “music business” not the CD business, it stood there, dumb and immobile…..*munch* then the Appleosaurus Rex ate it whole.

Then Kodak stood looking at the shiny black hole that was its business plan. It put both feet in and got stuck. Sprint flew out of the sky and took chunk after chunk while the Kodak beast cried foul. “People will always want film pictures!” it wailed as it bled.

All the Kodak beast had to do was grab the digital stick, but it was too stuck. Soon the other digital predators smelled blood and the parsed the Kodak beast until it finally died in a pool of red.

Now we come to the book distributors and publishers. “People will always want paper!” they cry, even as they can smell Border’s bloated, dead storefronts rotting in the sun.

I think the metaphor is clear.

Amazon took out Borders and gave Barnes & Noble a nice flesh wound. The Amazonasaurus also took a nice chunk out of the Big Six. B&N and the Big Six need to ask the hard question.

Will people really always want paper? Did they really always want records and CDs? No. Did they really always want film? No. The view from the cave is nothing but a graveyard of former giants, bleached bones from the rulers of an age that has passed.

Adapt or die is the message. Ah, but the Big Six could have a problem.

See Barnes & Noble has proven it can scrabble with the best of them and even get in some sucker punches below the belt. They had no problem devouring the indie bookstore when it suited them to claw their way to the top of the food chain. Now that it has partnered with Microsoft, should the Big Six be worried?

My opinion? YES.

Barnes and Noble likes being an apex predator. It got a taste for being on top in the 90s, and, make no mistake, it longs to revive the glory days.

Who can blame them?

If I were the Big Six, I would worry big time. Why? Because, the only disposable part of this relationship is…the publishing houses.

I have to say, my hat is off to B&N. That company has moxie. I’ve blogged a number of times how the Big Six should have revisited its relationship with B&N. Once books went digital and e-book sales took off, propping up a paper distributor was just a bad plan.

In my blog Bracing for Impact–The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm I said there was really no reason that the Big Six couldn’t sell directly to the consumer and just distribute the books themselves. I advised that they make the move and go digital. For paper? Focus on POD technology, the consignment model was too inefficient.

Hmmm, a fan of this blog sent the link to that post to the CEO of B&N. Curiouser and curiouser…

I LOVE NY publishing. I have consistently tried to help them. With the model I proposed, New York would never again have wasted money on books that didn’t sell. They could have ruled the Digital Age well. The Big Six would have only sold books that, well…sold. And in my model, they could have partnered with Barnes & Noble and done it together.

Ah, but B&N has a new friend, and you know the saying, “Two is company and three is a crowd.”

Some see Microsoft’s investment as a good thing for publishing. Finally, Amazon is going to get a run for its money. Not only does the Nook now have the backing of the Windows giant, but now consumers don’t need to buy an e-reader to have one.

Now an e-reader will be built into every Microsoft operating system. Kindles and Nooks will eventually be for only the die-hard fans, because readers won’t really need them (kind of like cameras were replaced by our cell phones).

Amazon has been able to gain market share by capitalizing on its Kindle. Ah, but that was before the Microsoftisaurus decided it wanted to get into the publishing business, and, Barnes and Noble, being the crafty survivor, made a big new friend a bad new digital world. Microsoft is investing because it just makes sense.

Amazon shouldn’t be the only one reporting record gains each quarter. While the Microsoft-B&N deal is serious bad juju for Amazon, I think they will weather just fine. Amazon is the very definition of “adaptable.”

I have consistently wondered why New York didn’t grab hold of e-publishing. Why couldn’t the Big Six open digital divisions? Why didn’t they seek out Microsoft? Why couldn’t Random House have a self-publishing division that allowed authors to upload e-books for sale (um, like B&N’s PubIt). Then they could vet out authors, and only “officially” represent those authors who’d met a certain standard (X amount of sales).

I know this new world seems very strange, but it seems as if computer companies are destined to rule the Digital Age, which I suppose only makes sense. It has a bit of poetry to it if one thinks about it.

The Big Six, in my opinion, are in big trouble, because they really are no longer…necessary. This doesn’t make me at all happy to predict. I’ve tried and tried and tried to help, but to no avail. The Big Six might remain for a few more years, but frankly, what advantage do they hold? What do they really have to offer other that a crap load of overhead?

Sure they have a love for the written word that the new giants don’t possess, but then again, Kodak held an unrivaled passion for photography and that didn’t save them from the iPhone.

No matter what way I look at it, I can’t see how the Big Six can remain relevant. The Windows has closed, pardon the pun.

Literary agents and editors have home mortgages to pay, and they’ll go where the money is (and NY is hemorrhaging cash). No one can fault them for wanting to eat and be able to put braces on their kids’ teeth. Cover design? I think Microsoft can handle finding a graphic designer or two.

Oh, and then Microsoft doesn’t have to build in stratospheric Manhattan rents and horrific costs of shipping paper into the book price.

NY once had a sole lock on distribution. Well, that went away. Then, they were the Gatekeepers who offered us the promise of a certain quality (just ignore the Snookie book deal).

Yet, indie has really changed. Some of the best books are coming out of this movement. Additionally, some of NY’s best talent has defected (Bob Mayer, Joe Konrath, and Barry Eisler to name a few) and more are bound to follow. Authors are getting tired of the depressing odds of success in the traditional paradigm, and instead of NY offering its authors a bold new plan for the future (like partnering with Microsoft FIRST), it comes up with brilliant gems like “agency pricing.”

Oh, and then there is the new talent, the fresh ranks. Unpublished writers are seeing their friends self-publish and make thousands of dollars a month and that is very appealing. Logic dictates that some of the best writers who work the hardest and who are the most professional might just try it alone first.

Writers now don’t have to keep querying and hope for gatekeeper approval. We can go to the reader and try our luck there. We might not make enough to live off at first, but, frankly, the slush pile doesn’t give us gas money.

*waves to Amazon*

What I don’t understand is that these companies don’t seem to grasp that the nostalgia card only plays so far. Microsoft understands what the Big Six doesn’t. People won’t always want paper. They want to push a button and a have a book delivered quickly and cheaply from outer space.

In a world where gas is $5 a gallon, why would we want to fight traffic across town to go to a physical bookstore? In a world where we can have hot yummy pizza delivered to our doors in 30 minutes, why would we wait a week for a book in the mail?


So what do I see? Instead of Big Six, we now have the Massive Three–Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. Amazon likely will open physical bookstores (probably in old Borders storefronts). And Microsoft will just use B&N to sell paper and maybe some Nooks. Yes, paper will always be around, it just won’t be the lion’s share like it used to be.

And writers? We are artists and they will always need us to produce the content. We have to adapt as well and this is why I have dedicated the last few years of my life training writers for the Digital Age. It is a WONDERFUL time to be a writer.

Welcome to the future. Beam me up, Scotty!

Okay, so what are your thoughts? Does someone see what advantage the Big Six still holds? How can they pull out of this tail-spin? Do you think I am wrong about the Massive Three? Is this a good thing for writers? Is this bad for writers?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note–Will announce the winner Friday. Thanks :D .

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.


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  1. I hope the Nook and Kindle stay around, because I’m not a fan of reading on my computer. I’m on it too much as it is, lol. That said, I agree, it seems as if the Big Six are in even bigger trouble. Sure agents and editors will try to spin it, but with Microsoft getting involved, I just don’t see how they can keep up. There will always be the select group who prefer paper, but we are in a digital age and the 20something have been brought up in it. Vast majority of them are going to love the digital aspect. Your thoughts on gas is another very valid point.

    I’m not sure the Big 6 can salvage themselves at this point. I’ll be interested to see what – if anything – they do to counteract this latest move.

    1. I can’t see the Nook and Kindle ever disappearing to be honest. I hate reading on my computer too. It’s uncomfortable to curl up in bed with my laptop or read on a road trip, the beach, or on a plane with a laptop. That said, I do see Kindle and Nook taking over. I almost never buy a physical book anymore.

      1. Me either, Marcy. The only paperbacks I buy are writing craft books or nonfiction books I’m studying for characters, like John Douglas’s Anatomy of Motive. I like to be able to mark them up, lol.

        1. Yep, I agree with both of you. I don’t like reading books on my laptop. But I adore my Kindle! 🙂 That said, I do still love paper books too. Just depends.

          1. The actual devices might die off, but with the development of the app, that won’t matter. I don’t own a Kindle, but I have the Kindle app on my ipad. The best part? I also have the Nook app, the Kobo app, and the iBooks app. I’m not limited to one store or brand! Total access and instant downloads. I love it!

    2. I can’t see the Kindle or Nook leaving either. It’s too hard on my eyes to read on my phone or laptop–the back lighting is harsh. Which is why I didn’t jump into the Fire.

    3. I’m with you, Stacy. I hope Kindle and Nook continue being manufactured in some form or another.

      I do not like reading on my computer, my iPhone, or my iPad. I like reading on my Kindle.

      I am developing either arthritis or carpal tunnel in my hand. Holding a book now hurts. So I read on my Kindle because it fits in my hand more comfortably than does a book or, really, my iPad.

      I also enjoy my Kindle because the screen does not glare the way iPad and iPhone screens will in the sun.

      I think we will see more Kindle Fire-esque devices and that regular Nooks and Kindles may become a very basic piece of technology. That disappoints me because I didn’t buy a Kindle Fire on purpose. I suspected (and have read reviews confirming) that the Fire’s backlit screen causes the same problem I ran into when trying to read on my iPad.

      So there’s my thoughts…for what they are worth.

      1. I LOVE my Nook. It is old (it was a Gen One), but I love it. It keeps me from goofing off on the computer and answering e-mails instead of reading. I like that I can read outside, and that the screen is easy on my eyes. I love that I can carry it everywhere and switch books at will. I think the e-readers will remain but as technology compresses and integrates I think that they will be folded into a multi-use device. Some of us will probably always keep it separate. I have an iPad, but it’s backlit and jumpier than the Nook.

        1. I’m the same, Kristen and Catie. I won’t fiddle on the Internet with my Nook, and I LOATHE reading on the iPad. I have the problem with backlighting, too. Gives me a headache. I’m hoping there will always be a reader that isn’t backlit for us old folks, lol.

          1. I wonder if the problem with backlighting is that all three of us wear glasses. I don’t wear mine for my headshots (because I look younger without them), but I do wear glasses to read and work on the computer..and drive. 😀

            • Ed on May 2, 2012 at 10:11 pm

            It’s not just you “old folks.” I’m a 21 year old college student, and I purposely chose the Kindle Touch because I didn’t want internet on it (though it does have a rudimentary browser), and I most certainly did not want a backlit screen. All I need it for is to read books.

            The guy at BestBuy even told me that he observed that the iPad (and the Kindle Fire, which is an imitator of the iPad) are “media consumption devices.” The phrase horrified me, to say the least.

    4. I like my Kindle, too. But I rarely use it these days. My DroidX2 is just a little smaller than I’d like for a reading surface – but I can easily adjust the backlighting to work in daytime or night time. I switch the screen to sepia instead of white to be easier on my eyes, and it work great. Plus, it fits in my pocket. I can hardly wait for the new HTC version of the Samsung Note coming out this fall – a little bigger screen will be nice.

      Remember, Microsoft DID NOT invest in this to get Nook apps on your new laptop. That’s not what Windows 8 is all about. Windows 8 is designed to run tablets. And Microsoft plans to aggressively market new Win8 tablets as opponents to the iPad and Android devices. THAT’S where you’re going to see these Nook apps show up – on tens of millions of brand new tablets running Win8.

    5. Tablet computers. If Microsoft intends to include e-readers with Windows OS, any tablet running Windows will have a e-reader, making a NOOK or Kindle unnecessary.

  2. Great article, and I just happened to read something very similiar (and, in my opinion, very funny) here:

    I just wonder if the trad-publishers are going to ever wake up or just wait until they are totally obsolete.

  3. There’s an old Fox Foto booth in ruins near our house. I was trying to explain that concept to my young ‘uns this past week. I got nothing but puzzled looks.

    And while I’m loving this time where books and movies are delivered to me instantly while I sip wine in my comfy chair I am a little worried about keeping pace with the changes.

    And I’m wondering why — with all we’ve come up with — I don’t yet have a robot maid.

  4. Google and Facebook

    • ethanholmesbooks on May 2, 2012 at 10:55 am
    • Reply

    I can tell you this from personal/business experience; Microsoft or no Microsoft, B&N is making the same Jurassic era decisions on the ground level that led to the demise of other brick and mortar establishments. Just because MS stuffs 300 million dollars in their digital division pocket doesn’t mean poor decision making at the street level is going to fix anything. After all, money aside, you’re talking about a company who has repeatedly shoved faulty, bug-filled, non-secure OS’s and software at the global buying public and repeatedly said, ‘don’t worry, we’ll issue patches’. What a way to operate.
    The gist of it is this; I agree with your assessment wholeheartedly. Over five years ago when I first entered the digital, self-publish world, I foresaw the all-too-real possibility that agents and publishing houses would soon be scrambling for survival all for the lack of adaptation to the changing times. (I was in the music industry when the record companies told us, quite suddenly, that they would cease shipment of all vinyl immediately.)

  5. Epson produces a wonderful “print on demand” photo printer. You can take a picture and have the hard copy in hand in less than a minute. So you don’t have to print that entire roll of feet and sky to get the one decent picture of the flowers. I think we’ll still need “real” cameras for specialty work but how many pictures are special beyond the family?
    As far as POD books, to me the greatest sales tool is the lack of books choking our land fills. The price has come down enough that they are only a few dollars more than mass produced.
    Not to mention the “big six” have had an inflated idea of the value of an e-book, especially for an older production. Asking someone to pay $9.99 for an e-book when the actual book can be bought on line and delivered for only a few dollars is just plain poor marketing.
    Then there are the stories about royalties for e-books from the big six. Not pretty

  6. Hi Kristen, I have to agree with you. Although, I don’t like to read on my phone. I do have an e-reader, but I like paper. I do agree that the Big Six better step up with the times and changing technology, or they are bound to go the way of the rotary dial phone and the 8-track. I believe if we can imagine something, we can do it. I think “beaming up” may not be too far in our future!

    • Coleen Patrick on May 2, 2012 at 11:00 am
    • Reply

    I went to a writer’s conference on publishing last week and when this subject–and the subject of social media were brought up to the panel, it seemed to me there was a whole lot of shrugging (and even distasteful looks). You are so right, they really are hanging on tight to the old model.
    Oh and I used to take that Bloody Mary game (and light as a feather) pretty seriously–you think they have an app for that?

  7. As someone that has begun querying recently, I have to say I found this post incredibly inspiring. There are a ton of opportunities out there. We just need to take advantage of them.

  8. Do you think it is too late for the Big 6 to get in bed with BN/Microsoft? Without them, there’ll be no gatekeepers at all, and I get the impression that a bookseller like Barnes and Noble likes to have some assurance of quality… but yeah… that whole ‘snooki book deal’ just dashes the whole thing.

    The Big 6 have rights to content B&N /Microsoft wants. It does seem like the only advantage that the Big 6 can offer now, to authors, is the possibility of a substantial advance and perhaps some marketing dollars (which are becoming less relevant as we speak)

    I am happy to see B&N make this lifesaving move. It will be interesting to see the Big 6 reaction, which is surely forthcoming. I reckon they’ll align with the lesser evil of BN/Microsoft, against the hated Amazon… but they’l have to accept a far less attractive deal than they would have had to before, as they now have much less leverage.

    My cousin said she would look at that link to your blog, but I am not actually sure if she sent it to her boss (The BN CEO) It would be remarkable if that had something to do with the recent deal.

    I do have a question- I just submitted a query to a smaller publisher (the one that picked up Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds) and its all well and good… but they want up to six months to respond, and they don’t want to cut deals on books that are already available online as an e-book.

    I am willing to wait to get a response from my query, but I am not going to hold off on selling this book for 6 months to wait for an answer (likely a rejection LOL)

    Why do you think a publisher would not want to consider any indie e-books?

    anyway, this is a great post. I am excited to see the upcoming developments in this industry and excited to be a part of it.

    • Michelle Roberts on May 2, 2012 at 11:03 am
    • Reply

    I’m one of those twentysomethings, and I have to agree with Stacy. While I will definitely try the Big Six first in publishing my books, I think in the long run, Kristen, your method is going to have to be the way to go. We authors need a proving ground. It would definitely cut the slush pile and the risk of publishing untried authors. The Big Six are going to have to hop on board the digital train before too long or follow Borders, CDs, and Kodak.

    And I, for one, still like reading in a mix of Kindle and paper. Most of my books come from my local library, so I get most of them paper, but every book I buy (except for select classics like the Lord of the Rings) is going to be in ebook form from now on.

  9. Well stated and all too true….though partly dismal…..I still love to reminisce through my dark and leather scented library….rereading favorite poems by Goethe. But ultimately with a Mother who at 84 is adamant about updating her apps on her favorite iPhone, I too realize the future must be joined by those of us who also loved books with solidity. How else could we have even several years ago have purchased indie books for as little as $.99 and read them without leaving the bedroom or the bed for that matter?

    My real concern in this modern age of iPhones and Kindles is for our physical wellness (not exercising enough) and safety (using iPhones while driving and walking), though that too is being addressed with more use of “work out stations” and laws governing driving while texting.

    This Brave New World is both exciting and challenging and being human we are adapting and enjoying.

  10. Kristen, did you mean AmazonasAurus? :p As always, a great article, I think the the big six may eventually adapt, but they’ll have to get rid of ballast and abandon massive overheads

    1. Oops, fixed! Thanks :D.

  11. Yet what another great piece of wisdom you to bless us with! As an author who is all for the digital age, I’m excited for what the future hold! Thanks Kristen! I always enjoy reading your insightful views!

  12. Excellent article. You are my new favorite author because of your ability to look into the future and share your thoughts so creatively.

  13. great post kristen, as always, ‘the times they are a’changin’ write on!

  14. I think the only thing missing right now re: publishing and the Big 6 is the funeral march that will be playing as they shovel dirt on the coffin….this attitude of holding on to the past because of nostalgia, sentimentality, or fear is what has doomed the Big 6 for years (love “market Darwinism”). I miss record stores and I miss book stores – I miss my hairline too, but no amount of wishing for its return will bring it back. Tower forgot that we went to record stores for music. Fotomat never realized we cared about the images on the pictures – not the pictures themselves. Borders and publishers forgot we went to bookstores for the words inside books. Books will some day go the way of vinyl records – nice collectables but a sliver of the entire market.

    Like a number of my contemporaries, I’ve embraced being an indie writer…as a writer, it’s supposed to be about getting our words in front of readers.That’s all that matters to me.

  15. Amen.

    As for the paper copies, no problem either – many of self-published authors with books in the digital form already use a budget-friendly paper option: print on demand, which also saves the trees 🙂

    I am curious though how will the future of getting movie and audiobook deals for self-punched authors shape. There might soon be a good option for this too, without a need for going with the traditional publishing houses.

    I wonder if we start soon seeing “agent for hire” ads, since those braces for kiddos are quite expensive.

    1. Haha, speaking of digital wonders – my iPhone decided that self-punched makes more sense than self-published. But, of course, I meant SELF-PUBLISHED. 🙂

      1. I LIKED “self-punched,” Angela….it made me smile. 🙂

  16. I had a “dear friend” tell me recently she was sure one day my books would come out in hard cover. She was taken aback when I told her my goal was writing good books, not worrying about the format. Especially given the number of hardcovers in every library book sale.

    • Paula Altenburg on May 2, 2012 at 11:23 am
    • Reply

    My 98 year old grandmother would have killed for a Kindle. Light, easy to hold, with adjustable font so she could actually see to read. I have to say, I still like having my keepers in hard copy. But for checking out new authors and genres? I’ll take the e-reader and save a tree. The Big Six are insane, however, if they think people are going to pay more for an e-book than the hard copy unless it reveals a cure for cancer. I would have bought an e-copy of a favourite author’s newest release on the spot if the price hadn’t been $19.99. I’ll wait for the mass market paperback. Or find a new author I like equally well.

  17. The first thing that comes to mind when I consider the plight of the Big 6 in these fast-moving-ever-changing book publishing times is the word ARROGANCE. Unwillingness to change is just the half of it. They’ve become far too complacent and out of touch while they stand on on their lofty pedestals, puffed up and preening, at the expense of glancing down to see the army rising at their feet.

    • Anna Silvernail Sweat on May 2, 2012 at 11:31 am
    • Reply

    Really excellent blog! I am terrified and titillated at the same time by what the future holds for writers and readers!!!

  18. I agree with you and Stacy that the Big 6 are in some serious trouble here. As a Kindle owner and paper book lover, I always thought I would miss paper books. In some ways, I do still like the feel of a real book over a digital book, but the convenience of carrying most of my library around in my purse and not needing spine surgery as a result won me over! 🙂

    I think younger generations, starting with the kids coming out of college now, will leave the book storefronts in the dust without batting an eye. You are right about it being merely nostalgic now.

    As an author who is just starting to pursue publication, all this change makes me a little queasy. Yes, there are more opportunities to self-publish, but shouldn’t I have experts backing me, like agents and publishers? [NY smiles and rubs its hands greedily from the corner] I am not niaive enough to think that I won’t spend months in a slush pile somewhere, but the thought of going it alone is even scarier than the thought of papering Manhatten with query letters.

      • jennymilch on May 9, 2012 at 7:43 am
      • Reply

      I just want to give a small shout-out from the sidelines here, especially for those writers considering whether to pursue traditional or indie publishing. I can’t tell you how the Big 6 are planning things financially or technologically–perhaps they are as doomed as the commenters here feel. But remember that unless you’ve been hearing from someone who is happy with a traditional publisher, you’re only hearing one side of the story.

      For sure, the Big 6 miss great content, books that will go on to sell.

      That said, when the system works, it really works. Audio and movie rights are only two kinds of sub rights your publisher will take care of for you. Know the others I mean before you decide these are easily written off. I have never encountered such talent and passion for books–not as products, but as stories that move people–as I have since I signed my deal. The experience of having people pay you to invest in your career is a remarkable one.

      It doesn’t mean that other experiences–going indie and attracting readers all on your own–can’t be remarkable, too. What I’m trying to suggest is that there are definite pros and cons to both paths (and there’s a third path, that of the small, independent press as well). All of these should be known and thoroughly understood before a writer decides. Perhaps a melding of two paths will work best for that particular writer. I would just caution against throwing babies out with bathwater. This is a two-sided coin as I see it. Yes, Big 6 publishing kept people out, and it did so often in elitist and entitled ways. But an enormous digital proving ground brings with it its own set of problems.

      The future is not certain–definitive predictions aside–and you’ll do best as a writer if you know the kind of publishing path that best suits you and where your book has the most potential to reach readers. I’m happy to be contacted if anyone wants to discuss the view from either side of the fence!

      1. Actually Jenny, I champion the traditional publishers just as much. That is why I have worked so hard to offer solutions to keep them alive and innovative. Going indie is NOT for everyone. I have written posts on that too. We work crazy insane hours and have to do A LOT of work that traditional writers don’t have to worry about. We have flexibility and power but that comes at a price. We have to have a MUCH larger social platform and we need to do a lot of jobs.

        I think one of the reasons WANA has had support is that I champion the writer. I am not here for the publishers. I am here for the artists to help you guys be successful whether your publisher is Random House or Kinkos. I don’t choose sides because there is no “right” side. I think the writer needs to choose the best path for him/her and the work. Not all work is suited for traditional, but not all work is suited for indie either. This is why it is such a brilliant time to be a writer. We have so many paths, so many vehicles and it really is tailor-fitted for the artist and that is wonderful.

          • jennymilch on May 9, 2012 at 8:55 am
          • Reply

          Oh, I know you do, Kristen–my comment was in reply to some of the comments I just checked in on, which seem more one-sided. I actually just recommended your blog on a LinkedIn thread–people who are trying to decide which path is right for them. My take is that writers have a decision now–a choice–and that is a great thing. But there are people out there nearly religious in their conversion–and trumpeting awfully loud–and I wouldn’t want new and emerging writers to hear the argument polarized. You’re not doing that, which is why I’ve been spending so much time here, but other bloggers and industry experts are.

  19. I think you are absolutely right, Kristen. I’m somewhat homebound for health reasons and though I love real paper, I can see the planet needs its trees more than I need paper. And I certainly don’t need to pay for gas to go to the to book store, or the shipping and handling fees for delivery. But who cares? I have around five hundred paper books and they will hold me for the rest of my life. My best friend is an avid reader and when we saw an advertisement for the Kindle, she told me that was rediculous, that she would always want to feel the book, to smell the pressed pages. Then I explained that with a Kindle she could read at night because it’s backlit, and she could carry hundreds of books in her purse with that tiny little thing. And she could adjust the size of the print so she would have to wear reading glasses. Her response was, “I want a Kindle,” in a whiny little voice. Even we old dinasaurs can see the advantages.

    I’m working on a manuscript in a different genre than the one I sold, and we know how the big six feel about their writers changing genres. But with the new age of publishing, I can write in ten different genres and still sell. Your books are on my list for Mother’s Day!

  20. Wow . . . I remember 1983. You took me back there to make a point so salient, I’m slapping my my forehead with my palm. Well said. Retweeting and linking back to this immediately.

  21. I’ve been leaving comments about the parallels to the music industry on various blogs for almost two years now and have been largely brushed off. It’s amazing to me how far folks can stick their heads in the sand when they want to.

    The big publishers will survive for a while, as long as they have the Pattersons, Robertses, Cusslers, et al to prop them up. But the advances they will have to pay those authors in future contracts will be enormous — more enormous than they are now. Some may fail, others will trim some “fat” and a lot of editors and marketing folks will be out of jobs, wondering where their corner offices and expense accounts went.

    People cry about the lack of gatekeepers, but the fact of the matter is, the gatekeepers did a terrible job. How many hundreds of authors didn’t earn out their more and more meager advances because their books didn’t sell? Wasn’t it the gatekeeper’s job to choose books that were good and would sell? Yes, there are plenty of terrible offerings being thrust, unready, onto the Internet, but it’s really pretty easy to pick out the stinkers from a page or two. There are plenty of entertaining reads available now that would have never seen the light of day under the old model, mine included. Can my work be improved? Undoubtedly. Have hundreds of readers enjoyed my books and been entertained by them? That answer is also, yes. So, is it bad that I’ve made my work available to them even though it wasn’t deemed worthy by a handful of people in a position of eroding power?

    I probably sound bitter having been rejected by the establishment. Sure, that badge of acceptance would have been nice, but I don’t regret for a minute self-publishing. Truth be told, I only sent out a couple dozen queries before I made the decision to forge my own path. It just seemed like the right way to go for me.

  22. It is a slow death for the big six. However, from a writers perspective, the big six offer a marketing launch that the massive three haven’t offered yet. There aren’t many barriers to entry to doing this but for new authors with good stories to tell, it is much harder to do so in digital marketplace that is new-author ubiquitous. How are Microsoft, Amazon & Apple going to sort through the weeds to find a diamond? Or is it going to have to be a long waiting period for WOM sales to push new authors into the limelight?

    1. Traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. Never has and never will. Books are a unique product and only good book and word of mouth makes a difference. Social media platforms now can carry authors from nobodies to best-sellers. I thas time and time again. H.P. Mallory, John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Mark Williams and Saffina Deforges, the list goes on. WANA methods, alone have helped sell hundreds of thousands of books.

      Social media has also launched first-time novelists who were traditionally published on to the best-selling lists–Jody Hedlund, Roni Loren and Tawna Fenske to name a few. Fancy ads or placement in lagging bookstores didn’t earn the writers’ sales…they earned it all for themselves. They built a platform of fans before the books were ever released and then enjoyed the hard-earned success.

      These days it is incumbent upon the Digital Age writer to build a platform capable of driving sales. NY offers no lasting advantage to writers…especially new writers. New writers never had a big marketing push for their books. So even in a parallel universe where fancy ads sold books…still wouldn’t matter. Newbies don’t get the marketing dollars. They don’t even get prime placement. They get spine-out on a bookshelf and “Browsing Roulette” is the marketing plan.

      I see your point, but frankly there isn’t even a vacuum here *shrugs*

  23. Literary agents will soon find themselves to be in the same category as travel agents. Nice, but no longer the sole source of getting where you want to go. Electronic self ticketing is the predecessor to electronic self publishing. Marketing, however falls on the shoulders of the author. It is still necessary for the average writer to do interviews, get out and do book signing at the remaining brick and mortar book stores and use electronic social media to build a readership base.

    1. I believe agents are still necessary, especially in a global marketplace. Writers don’t want to have to negotiate contracts, rights, foreign markets without help. I do think the agent, like the rest of us, will have to adapt to the Digital Age, but they will still be here. The Digital Age is nice and writers have more control, but we also have more work…especially as the writer gets more popular. Most of us are artists at heart, so agents would be welcome to come and share some of the load.

    • Susan Kelly on May 2, 2012 at 11:55 am
    • Reply

    Excellent post, Kristen. All those talented editors and designers will still be needed. Quality will always matter, and IF they really are talented, they should be able make a living. But they’ll have to scramble for it, and that might be a shock for the unwilling. As the publishing universe realigns itself, all kinds of little niches will open up. The invention of the car put the buggy whip craftsmen out of work, but there are so many more people involved in the production of a car that overall employment is greater. We’ll need more book doctors, book sherpas, online pub formatters, consultants . . . people we haven’t even thought of yet!

    Also, I think there must be some synergies available for bookstores and libraries. All those people in the coffee shops in the book stores, browsing — we love that. Why shouldn’t it be the libraries, with a bookstore component? Maybe save some taxpayer dollars while we’re at it?

  24. Reblogged this on Dreamin' and commented:
    Oh this is sooo gonna happen

  25. Great article, I agree with you on a lot of fronts on it, but I disagree with you about Amazon moving into physical stores. I don’t think they have a need for it, you can buy the hard copy book online from them and have it the next morning for a couple dollars more without even having to leave your house. In my mind that totally trumps the physical store front.

    I used to love browsing in bookstores and the library, but I’ve found now I prefer the library’s reserve a book and have it waiting for me feature and the same with amazon having it sent instantly to my kindle or delivered to my house. Also, I think that they sell too many diverse products to want to go the physical store front route. Amazon in my mind is primarily a book seller, but also sells more variety of products than wal-mart or costco.

    1. I don’t know. I agree that is possible, too. But I do see an advantage for them having even a handful of bookstores. Now a store on every corner has always been a dumb move, but there is a lot to be said for browsing. If Microsoft has B&N storefronts to get the Nook in consumer’s hot little hands. And Apple has storefronts to get iPads in hot little hands. Amazon may want to follow suit now that the ante has been upped. This is no longer a game of grabbing the early adopter (people like me who paid almost $400 to have the first Nook). Now the game has changed to the fat part of the bell curve…the regular consumer who doesn’t define himself as a “reader.” The company that can put a reader in hand and capitalize on the impulse buy will have an advantage. I guess we will see. Time will tell :D.

      1. Good point. Maybe I’m influenced in my opinion by the law that California passed saying that if you have a physical presence in CA then all CA sales are subject to sales tax. My understanding is that law prompted amazon to get rid of their affiliate program in California, so I think the possibility of a store being set up is unlikely.

  26. Given that the big six really have done nothing, but dig themselves deeper into the whole that someone is going to eventually bury them in, I have to see this as a good thing. At least there will be some competition and it is competition that understands the modern age. That said, Microsoft isn’t known for taking the risks it took in its golden age, so we’ll see how they do. Now I would just like to see some relaible method of rating/reviewing that would help make it a better market for readers rather than just a better market for writers at the expense of readers.

    • gemmahalliday on May 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm
    • Reply

    Appleosaurus Rex! I spewed coffee reading this.
    Brilliant post! I love paper books, but I think you’re spot on about the future of publishing. And, as an author, I’m all for it. More and more often I find myself asking, “What have the Big 6 done for me lately?” And more and more often the answer seems to be “Wasted my time and effort.”

  27. That was a hole they were digging themselves into, not a whole and it was reliable, not relaible. Good lord, I should go back to bed.

  28. I’m amazed at how you came up with such a detailed analysys only a couple of days after the deal was announced. Great job on a timely subject!
    I’m at a crossroads of sorts, trying to decide the next steps in my career, and this post was exactly what I needed. Thanks, Kristen. Shared and liked.

  29. Overall, a great read. But I don’t think Microsoft is a threat to anybody. And five years from now, nobody will be reading on a computer or a dedicated e-reader, because we’ll all own tablets. And it won’t matter which company made the tablet because we’ll download the app for the ebook retailer or retailers we want to buy from. Big 6 Publishing has been hurting for a while, and Microsoft won’t affect that. But when B&N starts closing stores, the big presses will fold, consolidate, or make drastic changes.

      • Michelle Muto on May 9, 2012 at 10:42 am
      • Reply

      Tablets. YES! This is where it’s going to be at, folks. Tablets. No one really wants to read on their desktop or laptop. Fuggidaboutit. And why buy a plain Jane Book or Kindle when you can have a tablet that has computing power?

      One day, your TV will be a tablet, too. And there’s no need for the remote because the likes of Siri and it’s successors will control all the geeky stuff in your home (and maybe your home itself, hello Eureka!).

      That said, MS needs to kick things up a notch or two in that arena. They have to understand people don’t want complexity – they want simplicity. They want it to WORK without ripping their hair out or hiring the Geek Squad. As Job’s always said, it’s about the experience. This is MS’s downfall.

      This doesn’t mean the iPad will always remain supreme, and not everyone can afford one. But, when the likes of iPads can replace your laptop, people will fork over the bucks.

      I digress though. Simply put, I agree with L.J. that tablets are the future, both in schools and home for reading. Not the latest MS OS (Vista, anyone?) on their desktop/laptop, tiny phone. If MS is ready to listen to the consumer, then maybe this partnership with B&N will fly. If not? B&N will become the next Borders and the small, mom & pop bookstores will be the mainstay of dead tree press.

      But yes. Sorry, Big Six. The future doesn’t look very bright. It’ll never again be the way it was twenty, thirty, forty years ago. It won’t even be like it was yesterday. Time to rethink things and come up with a game plan, guys, or the next best seller out there could very well be your own eulogy.

  30. Brilliant analysis, Obi Wan!

    Bring it on for the new wave. I laughed over Apple sauce. What are you like?
    Yes, it’s all happening. As writers we’ve moved from the earth to the universe. Where are those people who said the digital age had become stagnant, had reached the pinnacle with nowhere to go? And that it only published crap?

    But what is around the corner for us as writers to go ‘beyond’?

    Like you I want to know what’s next? It’s fabulous that Amazon has playmates in the playground even though they will remain the big cahoona. Woo Hoo. So what’s next? Reading short stories and series on phones which is already rocking Asia and coming to a phone near you. Men are rocking this revolution even more than are playing with their iPads. The reader wants instant gratification. They’re turning away from cable and satellite TV (look at Sky’s diminishing numbers in UK and Europe) and moving into Netflix via a one stop shop through their Xbox or through the Roku XS and they bring us content without advertising! Result!

    The key to the future will be quality of content. Tell the story with fab characters and the reader will find you. Easy to say and hard to do.

    Kristen, you rock and the future is going to roll. I wonder just how much the general public realise what’s just happened. With everything happening in the global economy I suspect they do not have a clue.

  31. Thoughtful yet impassioned analysis! I do think that there is still a place for paper book: tactile, pocket size, open to annotations. It’s also much easier to sell a tangible product in person. Since my book ‘LifeWorks’ was published in January, I’ve done a number of signing sessions and met some lovely people: when they buy a copy of the book, it’s a physical souvenir of a pleasant encounter. Surely the answer to tailor demand with supply is print on demand. If a big retailer of stationery commodities installed POD machines in all their branches, you could walk in and place an order just like you might leave a prescription at a pharmacy. Collect your book in fifteen minutes when you’ve finished your other shopping! How does that sound?

    • snickerpants on May 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm
    • Reply

    I am a newbie in this business and I am so relieved that self-publishing lost its stigma. I really like the idea that I can now put my work out there and have it judged by the entirety of the reading public instead of just six (intimidating) publishing houses. And I don’t have to write query letters, most of which are bound to get rejected, until I know better who my readers will be.

    Or something less wordy.

  32. Really enjoyed this piece. Great insight. Will be interesting to see how it all plays out…

  33. While I do read ebooks on my Kindle when I’m stuck in the car or waiting somewhere, I also love print books, and I love bookstores and libraries, so I’m rooting for them to survive, even though I am a hybrid author who currently makes the most money from my ebooks. I agree that traditional publishers must evolve ASAP to survive, but I detest this new publishing model where absolutely every task falls on the author’s shoulders. If a newbie author is not an astute marketer or does not have the $$ to pay for professional services, that author doesn’t have a prayer in a totally self-published ebook system. Like you mentioned, ebook stores of the future may vet books only by numbers of sales. That’s a terrifying thought.

    1. Actually I thing the reorganization is awesome. Think, if the Big Six listened to me, new writers could use their services for editing and covers (keep the folks in NY working). Then we still have to build the social media platform and write a good book, but we have to do that anyway. I think once some of the NY folks realign with the Digital Age, it will be easier for new authors to access quality production services, covers and editing.

      Print will always be around, it just won’t be in the majority. With gas prices through the roof, paper is a dismal investment. The cost of chopping down trees and production and SHIPPING! Anyone who has ever helped me move knows how heavy paper can be.

  34. Wonderful insight, Kristen! 🙂 I think this is good for writers. Yet, as you have always taught us: It’s important for writers to adapt in these changing times also. Thanks for teaching that! 🙂

  35. Will there be a need for the big six? Yes, but it might be a different six, and there might not be six of them. One of the problems I find in self-publishing is the plethora of authors who don’t know how to write. As a result, I’m leery to purchase their books unless someone I know and trust has recommended them. Having the backing of a publishing house guarantees me at least a modicum of quality and editing (although that seems to be dropping as well). Of course, this might fuel the growth of sites like Goodreads.

    I also love the smell and feel of paper, but rely on my ereader more and more. I’m becoming like another poster, if I need to make notes in the margins I buy paper, if not, I download. A computer savvy person who comes up with an app to make notes in downloaded books would make millions.

    • Bear Brubaker on May 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm
    • Reply

    This is really insightful. I had been observing the “Big 6” become less and less relevant due to the rise of Amazon and the Kindle, but I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture into who would fill that gap once paper was no longer the biggest part of the book pie.

    I’m one of those hard working Kindle authors. I’ve got 3 books on the Kindle now and I’ll have four more up there before the end of the Summer (One in May, June, July and August… I’m not looking further ahead than that right now.) and I’m seeing complete crap for sales.

    That doesn’t deter me at all. I know the market for what I write is small and there are only a few dozen people writing in my genre. What I think people will quickly find is that I’m the best at what I do and in time when you go to read a book in my genre, I’m going to be the only author you want to buy.

    The “Big 6” doesn’t have a place for me, but I think the readers will.

    I’m happy to go directly to Apple, B&N (Microsoft) and Amazon. They like me… and they pay on time.


  36. Great post. I really think we live in a time where writers are taking back publishing. We finally have the control over things like content, covers, and pricing. Those are seductive. You name it, going it alone has some serious benefits. Though I have no plans to give up my agent. The woman is a genius and moving ahead of the times. I like ereaders and I like books. Right now I can have both and take advantage of what this new publishing world has to offer. I’m stoked!

  37. Great article, though I found the comment on the e-readers no longer being viable because MS is building e-readers into their operating system a little confusing. Does that mean I have to lug around my laptop to read a book? Sorry, but that isn’t going to happen. I’m keeping my Kindle and my iPad. Maybe I’m a diehard for e-readers, but they are much more portable than my laptop.

    As an author who has been published for the last 30 years by various print publishers, I do have to say, I’m sorry print books are losing out to digital. Because I do love the feel of a paper book in my hands. Yet at the same time, I’m delighted I can take a trip and not have to lug the thirty books with me that I can now fit on my Kindle which takes up a lot less space.

    Thank you for your article, I love reading your blog.

    1. Actually that was the prediction from WIRED, but we also have to remember that we are early adopters. We already have e-readers, so we don’t want to give them up. I think e-readers and computers will soon be indistinguishable from one another–the iPad, case in point. I feel as the technology becomes more and more and more integrated, we will eventually all rely on one device.

        • snickerpants on May 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm
        • Reply

        Not until they make bigger keyboards or smaller fingers though, so we probably have at least two years.

      1. Thank you for the clarification. My worry about the all in one devices would be weight, performance and the small keypads. I use the Kindle because I have arthritis in my fingers. It’s light, easier to hold than my iPad, which is heavier and bulkier, and easy to press the navigation bar to go forward a page. Keeping a book open at times can be painful when my fingers don’t want to work at that moment. I’m not sure I would want everything integrated into one device anyway.

        1. Hey, they keep surprising us all the time. Who would have thought ten years ago that a CELL PHONE would do so much? *shrugs* And it doesn’t matter anyway. Even if the e-reader is here to stay it doesn’t change that the Big Six made some bad decisions. As I said in a blog TWO YEARS AGO, “We are either architects of change, or artifacts of change.”

  38. My daughter didn’t understand my excitement when I purchased an IPod Touch (that can hold somewhere in the range of 3k songs). I tried to explain that when I was a kid, I had to carry a Walkman and a backpack full of tapes if I wanted my music with me. And great sobbing and tears if I forgot and left the backpack in a hot car–melted tapes. Technology is something this generation expects to work and is not awed by it. And THEY are the consumers of the future markets.

    • patricefitzgerald on May 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, as usual, you are prescient. I love the dinosaur analogy — the Ice Age of the Big Six! It’s all over but the funeral. And like you, I don’t say that with glee… it’s just reality, no matter how nostalgic we feel about the way things used to be.

    I was at a writing conference last weekend and asked a midlist writer with 20-some years of publishing under his belt whether he would consider self-pubbing (because he works mighty hard for what is probably a modest income). He responded, “Maybe in 10 years when I have to.” Of course, I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I didn’t persevere, but my thought was… buddy, you don’t even have two years. You should jump now and never sign another contract that gives away those e-rights they will take to the bank.

    It is definitely an exciting time to be a writer… I just started self-publishing last July, and my books are selling at a rate that has already earned me double the typical advance for a debut author. All I have to do now is keep writing.

  39. Wow, Kristen. This blog, so loaded with information was just amazing. I want your crystal ball!

    1. Well, I wrote all this this morning, so you guys don’t have too much of a crystal ball time-delay, LOL. Thanks! 😀

  40. I think you are right on here, Kristen. I used to work for a multimedia company who produced CD-ROMs (remember those?) Suddenly, the internet started producing and posting content… for free! I saw the writing on the wall, but the owners of the company didn’t. I bailed and went to contract at Microsoft. Not long after, the multimedia company folded. When companies cannot adapt and change with the times and technology, they will ultimately lose the battle. It may be too late for the Big Six to backpedal and save themselves. It’s a good lesson for all of us to be adaptable in a world that is changing at the speed of light.

  41. Great article … totally agree. I hate paper and only read books that are in e-format now. If they are not in e-format I write the author and request that he/she put them in e-format. I have decided to go totally indie for all my books. Allow the public to decide my future not the big 6. I think the e-reader will always be here. No way will I lug around my laptop to read books. My iPad is my friend for life. I do not like the feel of paper on my hands when I am forced to read a paper book. So much easier to keep track of my books and to keep them with me when I travel.

    1. I think e-readers as we know them will go away because the technology will just keep integrating until we rely on ONE device. Kind of like digital cameras integrated into the cell phone. I believe the best contender is the tablet. We will have iPhones and iPads and who needs much of anything else unless it’s a luxury item?

  42. Thank you for changing my perspective.

    I have long aspired to writing and publishing fiction and have recently started pursuing that goal. I must admit, however, to being closed-minded to digital self publishing and have instead dreamed of “crashing the literary gates” the old fashioned way, all whilst turning my nose up to new, more nimble paths.

    While the traditional method of submitting manuscripts, finding representation, and signing the big three-book deal is still greatly appealing, I realize I am becoming my own worst enemy through such closed-mindedness.

    Thank you for showing me the forrest despite the trees.

    1. Kory, I feel your pain. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I wanted a traditional deal, too. I believe it is part of why I have worked so hard trying to help them redefine in a time of change. I have shouted, jumped, tweeted and blogged and no one would listen. It’s sad that businesses fail to listen to history so it is doomed to repeat.

  43. Awesome as always, Kristen, my question now has to do with folks who are running writers conferences, right now one of the big draws is the opportunity to pitch story ideas to agents and editors — for a hefty sum, that’s how a lot of conferences make their money, because they can’t cover all of their costs with just the attendence fees. What are agents going to do? What are the editors going to do? And I agree completely that it is a fantastic time to be a writer that gone are the days where we were treated as an after thought to the Big 6.

    1. Conferences will be fine. Agents will still be around. The players will change, but the big deals will be there. Just talk to Seth Godin’s agent who made the deal with Amazon publishing.

      I think there is always an advantage to face-to-face networking, especially in the Digital Age. We use the f-2-f to solidify the ties we forge on-line. Few things are more humanly satisfying for me than to met the WANAs I’ve come to love on-line.

      I do think conferences need to adapt and need to get with the times. But none of us are immune in this time of change. Some conferences, like the DFW Writers’ Workshop Conference are VERY forward-thinking. They asked me to teach my social media back when many writers refused to learn how to access their e-mail and agents were still only accepting snail mail. But, then again, there is a good reason DFW has a history of selling out and why they have grown exponentially every year. They embraced the advantages of the Digital Age.

  44. Fantastic post. I love the fact that authors have so many options and that people ate reading and buying more books, thanks to the digital age. Though I’m going the traditional publishing route (for now), I sought an agent who embraces the rapid industry changes. I’m eager to see how all of this pans out…

    I agree with othet die-hard Kindle fans. This post, however, I read on my phone at the gym!

    1. Make that “are” reading. Grr…. Phone typing has its downfalls. 😉

      1. “Ate’ might be a great verb. I certainly eat through books faster than ever before, LOL.

    • lynnkelleyauthor on May 2, 2012 at 2:02 pm
    • Reply

    Excellent post, Kristen. You’re right on, as always. Yep, NY should have listened to you. I’m sure glad I’m listening to what you have to say.

  45. Awesome post! This is exactly why I decided to self-publish. I will publish my book without querying a single agent, and the only people who will decide my success are the readers and myself–no middle man to dictate how I write my story, what the cover looks like, etc…

    Paper isn’t going anywhere, but neither is the digital age. In fact, the digital age will continue to grow. I thought I was a die hard paper book person, but I finally gave in and bought a tablet PC because I found myself reading more and more on my phone. I like to have the option of both, but I can see how e-readers are taking the world by storm. As a writer, that observation has massive appeal.

  46. Brilliant post! Terrifying and exciting! In an age where nearly everything is available at the drop of a hat, digital books are definitely the future. Those big wigs with their heads in the sand will be forced to look up only when their empire falls around their ears. Convenience (and laziness in my case) definitely comes into play! While I love bound books, being able to download the next book in a series onto my Kindle at two in the morning was fantastic! And I’m sure there’s more like me! R.

  47. Okay, Kudos to you, Kristen. You forced me to learn how to link to your blog, just for the opportunity of getting my name in the hat three times. I’ve been trying to figure out how to do that for ever, and finally, I did it! The advantage of being my age is that I’ve gathered wisdom. The disadvantage is my wisdom doesn’t include the net! Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the Big Six.

    • paulphilipcarter on May 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm
    • Reply

    Short of a massive EMP taking out all communications for an extended period of time… this is SPOT on.

    Excellent article!

  48. Kristen,
    Thanks for your insights on this hot topic. There’s little doubt ebooks will continue to rapidly increase in market share. As a reader I rarely buy print books. I read almost everything on my Kindle. As a writer I am thrilled there is another path to publication, though it puts all the onus on the writer as editor, marketer, and sole entreprenuer. Business skills will become vital to writers hoping to achieve strong sales.
    At some point publishers will have to set up Amazon type online stores and lower their prices. Consumers will vote with their feet and they have choices in the marketplace. It is a fascinating time to be a writer and a reader.

  49. Once again you’re A game is coming through. Excellent post. I always appreciate your insight and current information, predictions included.

    1. I totally need to vlog with a Magic 8 Ball, LOL.

  50. Thank you for this post, which I really enjoyed reading. I agree that it’s a great time to be a writer with all of the changes to the publishing world you’ve described. As someone who’s working on transitioning from lawyer to writer, I thank you also for the inspiration, on a day when I particularly needed it. 🙂

  51. Kristen, I love your dinosaur analogy, especially since I call myself a dinosaur because I have so much trouble adapting to new technology. When e-readers came out, I thought, “No way will I ever read a book from an electronic device.” *God laughs*

    December, 2010, I won a Kindle in a raffle at my church. By the following December, I had self-published my first e-book (that probably wouldn’t have made it in traditional publishing because it doesn’t have vampires or mermaids in it).

    I don’t miss paper books at all. I have a cover for my Kindle that let’s me prop it up on my tummy. No more cramped hands when I get engrossed and read until 3 in the morning. And all books are now automatically large print. This old lady is sold on e-readers!

    I am glad to hear that Microsoft has thrown in with B&N only because I don’t particularly want to see Amazon become a monopoly. That’s a bit scary. As for the Big 6, I don’t feel the least bit sorry for them. They have been arrogant beyond measure toward authors for years and now they have their heads so far in the sand I’m surprised they haven’t surfaced in China or Siberia.

    I love the idea of agents for hire. Why not? When we need legal assistance, we hire a lawyer. Can you imagine a lawyer saying to a potential client, “Send me a synopsis of your legal problem and I’ll get back to you in a month or so if I think you merit my representation.” Ha!

    I do love writers’ conferences but it will be nice to not have to worry about my elevator pitch and just enjoy the learning and camaraderie.

  52. I’ll always buy books I think, but I’m with you on scratching my chin on why they haven’t come around on POD. I actually like reading on my iPad, especially when its dark, it beats the heck out of a night light thingy. My wife used to hate it when I read in bed, because she likes the lights off, now its no big deal.

    Great post Kristen!

    • Bernie Jr. on May 2, 2012 at 4:29 pm
    • Reply

    “Yes, paper will always be around, it just won’t be the lion’s share like it used to be.”

    E-books will probably devour most of the market but then something else will devour it (E-ink maybe?). Paper will always be there for those who love it.

  53. I love paper. I might be one of the lessening numbers who will be sad to see paper go if/when it does. But I’m not naive to think you could be way off, either, Kristin. Eight years ago I was flat out against ebooks because “they aren’t really books.” Though my friends kept selling and selling- while I held out for a NY sale. I still have a book subbed to NY- not that I’ve heard anything in two years, but my first sale? Ebook only, baby! And I am an editor for another ebook publisher, planning to sub a ms to two others and another to WRP all this spring/summer. Not only that- I’m considering self pubbing this year, too.

    But do I agree Kindle and Nook will suffer for a Windows program? No. Why? Because how will that Windows program be distributed? On laptops? Those aren’t all portability like the purse-sized affordable models of Kindle or Nook- or even iPad.

    But I don’t think you’re far off in your visions. Thanks for something to keep in mind and plan for.

  54. Agreed. I absolutely love the irony of the Big 6 complaining about Amazon as the evil monopoly. After all, the Big 6 aren’t called that for no reason. The truth is that they were so tied to their particular model of how publishing should work that they weren’t willing or able to adapt, and adapt quickly, to a revolution in how books are read. There are people who will always want paper (I do myself quite often) in the same way that there are people who still buy CD’s. However, it will not alone be enough to support these publishing houses. How much better would it have been if they had been at the forefront in e-reading technology and supporting the self published author?

  55. Your post makes me feel better about being digitally published!! Thank you.

  56. Another great post Kristen,
    I love paper books and hope you will always be able to get them, but I can see a time coming when only the die-hard faithful will buy and read paper. It’s a very exciting time to be a writer 😀

  57. I have been wondering for a while now why one of the Big 6 didn’t pull a Pottermore and sell their own ebooks at their own prices through their own store. And for those worried about the “high” prices of Big 6 ebooks, I would think that selling their books themselves would lower prices somewhat because they are not selling them at discounts and sharing sales with a distributor. I had originally envisioned a Big 6 “store” to be a joint affair, sort of the traditional publishers’ ebook outlet in opposition to Amazon’s indie outlet. But I suppose the DOJ’s lawsuit would make the Big 6 doing any sort of joint venture on anything rather impossible. But I see no reason any one of the Big 6 couldn’t set up an ebook outlet on its own.

  58. Your informative and fascinating post reminds me so much of when I mention “land line phones” to, ahem, younger people nowadays and get a blank look. They don’t know what I’m talking about. And when I explain, they can’t understand why have one? It’s a changed world and IMO, adapt or die.

  59. People never wanted film, CDs or paper books. What they wanted is memories, music and stories. It suggests a fundamental misperception about their own business by companies who couldn’t see this.

    I don’t think the availability of reading software on computers will destroy portable e-readers – I already have the kindle app on three computers, including my very small netbook, but I still bought a kindle because it’s smaller, lighter (hard to get comfy on a lounge with a laptop), and easier on the eyes. E-ink really is better than a computer screen, and you feel it if you sit and try and read a book for a few hours at a stretch on a computer screen.

    Tablet computers may give ereaders a run for their money. I had zero interest in the iPad (not an Apple fan…) but I see the Galxy runs on Windows, which is more appealing to me because it is easier to integarte with my other devices. That might be a comparable substitute for my kindle, but I would still be concerned about the effect of the screen on my eyes. Also, ereaders are cheaper than tablets (in fact, my netbook was cheaper than a tablet) so that is also a factor. I’ll have to wait and see how that one plays out.

  60. Something key that a lot of people have missed about the MS-B&N deal.

    B&N has three main divisions right now: Nook, retail stores, and college bookstores. Of the three, the Nook has been a loss the last few years (despite growing sales) because they were investing heavily in building it up. Smart move – long term gain. The retail stores have consistently lost money for years now. The college bookstores have for the last couple of years been what’s keeping B&N in the black.

    So, this new deal. MS isn’t “investing in B&N”. MS is investing in a new company that B&N is spinning off. A new corporation. Not connected with the old corporation.

    The new corporation will include the Nook, online sales of print and ebooks, and their college bookstores.

    The old corporation is going to retain only the retail stores, which have as I mentioned consistently lost money for the last several years.

    Folks, this is a bankruptcy protection plan. B&N is splitting out the profitable, future-oriented aspects of their corporation into a new corporation so that when the retail stores go bust, the profitable segments of the company will be unaffected. If they were just interested in moving the Nook/ebook business into its own company, then the old corporation would have retained the college bookstores. The fact that they are shifting *all* profitable, future oriented elements to the new corp makes it pretty clear.

    The long story short: B&N’s retail stores are going away. Soon.

    • jennymilch on May 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm
    • Reply

    As someone who recently signed a deal with one of the Big 6–after 11 years spent trying to break in–I think they offer advantages not talked about here. Forget the thrill of hearing which foreign country made an offer, or how a particular blurb was crafted. Probably those things can be reproduced. But the sentence about there being book lovers over there, while the computer companies are not, began to get at what the benefits I’m seeing. There’s a level of talent and passion at my publisher that has made my book what it wanted to be. And that begets a kind of fulfillment in the writer that by God, I hope we don’t lose.

    I hope we don’t lose print books either–and although the photo suggests otherwise, the parents I am around seem pretty dedicated to their kids discovering the love of a Book (not its rhymesake). Two years ago I began Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and discovered a thriving community of bookstore lovers. Although Borders did close, so in the past have other chains (WaldenBooks) and that didn’t mean the demise of all bookstores. Businesses close all the time. Independent bookstores actually opened in many key locations this year, recession-aside.

    I find the picture painted in this post–while intelligent and observent of trends–to be a quasi-apocalyptic one, which finds us all in our isolated pods, pizza slipped under the door so we don’t have to commune with a human being over a meal, each glued to our individual screens.

    I’ll take my editor’s and agent’s voices as we wrangle over a scene, a sentence, an adjective to find the most delicious way a chapter can come out. I’ll give up a percentage so that a bookseller can talk about why my book might grab a particular reader, and your book another one.

    But I admit that I may be strange in this, and a stranger in the world depicted if it comes about.

    1. Unfortunately, Jenny, I suspect that the print book is headed the way of the CD – that is, there will still be some sold for a long, long time. But it’s not going to be the way most people purchase that sort of media much longer. As I mentioned in the post above, there’s every indication that B&N is going the way of Borders shortly (the retail stores, not the online store or college bookstores that they are hiving off to salvage).

      About the first point you made… I’ve had a book on B&N bookshelves. it is a THRILL seeing your work up there! The only writing experience I’ve ever had which exceeded it was holding in my hand a copy of the print book I had written, painstakingly revised, carefully had edited, lovingly crafted into a great print layout, carefully created a cover to house the work, and had printed. And knowing that same book was for sale in every major online retailer.

      Yup, that topped having a book with my name on it in some B&N stores. Maybe it’ll be the same for you. =)

        • jennymilch on May 2, 2012 at 7:43 pm
        • Reply

        I don’t know, Kevin. I tend to find any prediction suspect in such a complicated system. Observers who spend time primarily online see one thing, people who hang out in bookstores–or at the community meeting where the people decide to open a collective bookstore so their town doesn’t have to be without one–see another. There’s a confirmation bias at work–and I openly admit I have one, too.

        That said, I am very happy you have had both kinds of thrill.

        • jennymilch on May 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm
        • Reply

        In terms of the CD, though–you don’t interact with a disk to hear the music. Any way you can take a song into your ears is pretty much as good as another–although fans of vinyl, which is incidentally experiencing a reurgence, would disagree.

        But the experience of reading, turning pages, knowing physically how close you are to the end of a book, smelling the paper, etc.–these are unique to a printed book and are not at present anything like what you get with an e reader.

        This is also true of film versus digital–these are just technologies in service of getting a photo. True artists may still prefer to work with film but for most users the faster option is the clear choice. With books, the users actually have a preference for one medium over another.

        Pardon me, my confirmation bias may be showing again 😉


        1. But of course, with ebooks you *can* visually see how close to the end you are; and you do “turn pages”. 😉 Can’t do much about the smell, but it doesn’t really bother me.

          What appeals to me about ebooks most of all is accessibility. I can get pretty much any book I want to read – any time of the day or night – have it in my hand without driving half an hour to a bookstore and half an hour back – and begin reading immediately. I can grab twenty samples that look intriguing and read those first chapters later when I have free time.

          It seriously looks like replacement media to me. But maybe I’m wrong… B&N will be closing the doors on their retail stores soon because they’re not making enough sales to keep them open, but maybe thousands of little indie stores will sprout afterward to fill those gaps, and print will continue for decades to come.

          But with over 40% of fiction books in the US already read in ebook form, and that number consistently going up year by year, I just don’t see it. Eventually, it just hits the point where those stores aren’t viable anymore, and the only place to buy most print books is…online.

            • jennymilch on May 2, 2012 at 8:23 pm

            Well, it’s not the same physical experience–I don’t think that can be disputed. Amount done is measured in percent versus thickness, page turning is a click–there are significant differences.

            I didn’t think the figure had reached 40%–do you have a source for that? And is it a foregone conclusion that B&N is closing its bricks and mortar? I hadn’t heard that either.The stores I frequent are packed.

          1. Some industry experts say it might already be over 50% for fiction (Mike Shatzkin has commented to that effect), but I prefer remaining a bit more conservative.

            As for B&N – I went into more detail above. But B&N has three elements – retail stores, college bookstores, and online sales/Nook. If you scan the last few years of their stockholder reports, the retail stores have consistently lost money. But this new company they are spinning off is going to include the Nook/online store and the college bookstores, leaving only the retail outlets – which are still losing money.

            The college bookstores have kept B&N in the black these past couple of years, but with those gone, and the Nook store gone to this new company they are creating with Microsoft, I don’t think the retail stores are going to be around much longer. In fact, the timing of splitting off ALL parts of B&N that are actually making money implies they are probably trying to protect those elements from impending bankruptcy of the retail chain.

            • jennymilch on May 2, 2012 at 8:44 pm

            Oh, yes, B&N bookstores have been losing money while Nooks and the college stores are supporting them for a long time, but that doesn’t mean they will close. 90% of any given publisher’s titles have lost money for pretty much ever. They still acquire, edit, print, and distribute them.

            I thought you’d read some report that B&N were shuttering their bookstores. Whether they will or won’t is still very much up for question.

            In terms of 40%, 50%, what I’ve read is that this statistic is truly not known. That’s why I wanted a source. Amazon will report one thing–and maybe it will reflect [their] reality and maybe it won’t (stats can be massaged to show pretty much anything). But whether their figure (if they indeed offer one) is accurate or not, fiction is also bought in: bookstores, independent and chains–some chains are surprisingly healthy, see the newly acquired Books A Million–libraries, airports, superstores, and drugstores, to present a not fully inclusive list. Do these numbers represent 60% (less since Amazon is still selling quite a few print books)? I would be surprised if it wasn’t well over that. But as I say–no one really knows this statistic.

            The system is an incredibly complicated one, which is why I’m with that other commenter–predictions aside, it will be interesting to see how it all actually plays out.

          2. Well, Jenny. I can say that we are both on the same side. I want NY to be competitive. I think over 100 years in the business should not go away. I want them to be competitive, and to remain in the game. The more options out there, the better the world is for writers. But frankly their moves so far do not inspire me. It seems as if they are stuck in an old paradigm, defending paper even as Nooks and Kindles and iPads are flying off the shelves. I really hope they listen and learn from history and I am thrilled for your success. No matter what the future holds, you have my support. I am here to do what is best for the writer-artist, no matter WHAT the paradigm happens to be ;).

            • jennymilch on May 2, 2012 at 9:10 pm

            Thank you, Kristen, and same to you. Let’s read each other’s work in whatever form we like best? Now to go look for yours!!

    2. Actually, Jenny, I have tried to get the Big 6 to listen. I believe we need people in the business who LOVE books (and I agree, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon don’t get my vote). But the fact of the matter is that gasoline is $5 a gallon and climbing. The American dollar is struggling. Paper and printing is expensive. It is cost-prohibitive to print and ship and waste. We don’t live in a world of $1.30 gas prices anymore and, as much as it sucks, gas prices affect the bottom line. So does fancy NYC office space. All that gas pricing, all of that paper, all of that shipping, all of that real estate is built into the price of the book. Why do you think the royalties are so much better outside the Big 6?

      I have been yelling and jumping up and down and offering ideas to help the Big 6 survive and they still have not adapted. I miss Kodak. I miss film…but it still didn’t change the outcome. What if Tower Records had understood it was in the MUSIC business, NOT the CD business? What if Kodak had learned from Tower Records? What if Kodak, who practically BUILT the photography industry had gotten the message that it was about capturing moments…NOT film.

      This is the message these guys continually miss, and it costs all of us. I know this is a grim prediction in ways, but, frankly, I can’t see how the Big 6 are going to remain competitive. There are new publishers coming out of the ashes who are hungrier, offer better royalties, the same service, and they don’t have the bloated overhead that they take out of the author’s pocket.

      And as far as Amazon offering stupid advances, UNLIKE New York, Amazon has a sea of self-published authors who are funding/offsetting that advance. As I have blogged before, if Big Publishing wanted to survive in the Digital Age, it would stop being so selective and control ALL of publishing. Who cares if a self-pubbed author sells 50 books to friends and family? Get a 20,000 of those and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Could fund better advances for proven authors. Let the newbies work hard and earn their way. Give us a gold ring. We want one.

        • jennymilch on May 2, 2012 at 8:35 pm
        • Reply

        But the economics of traditional publishing don’t favor the small release–for the reasons you say and then some. Digitally this isn’t true, and books hanging out in the long tail can have a thriving, healthy life. If the major house had the resources to edit all the potential e successes, then I think they really would be adding value. But with 15,000,000 ISBNs projected for 2012, how can any body–body of people, that is–possibly content filter that number, let alone edit it?

        One thing I could imagine happening is that the big houses publish the blockbusters and the midlisters go elsewhere. Not necessarily to self-publishing–as I say, I know many authors who simply don’t want that and are happy with their smaller presses. There are presses opening–and closing, too–every day.

        For a long time now the top 10% of a list has been paying for the other 90%. You’re right that it’s an untenable model, as are returns, and pulping in an age when the planet’s thermometer is rising. I’m not sure what the way out might be, but my sense is that the Big 6 are smarter and more on this than we who don’t sit in on board meetings may suspect.

        1. I hope they are, but who knows? I am aware of my limitations and that I don’t know everything. But fortune favors the prepared and the blockbusters are paying the bills now…but what about 5 years? 10? 15? When the royalty rates are so much better elsewhere and writers get used to being paid well. Where does the next generation of mega-authors come from?

            • jennymilch on May 2, 2012 at 8:52 pm

            It will truly be a question of value add, Kristen, you’re right. From what I’ve seen so far they’re adding value, in some cases great value. But I don’t want to sound too rosy-eyed. The system kept me out for over a decade, and I know it misses good content all the time. I am very glad there are other options for authors now.

            Just two caveats. The royalties aren’t better with self-publishing when you figure in the decreased options for distribution and numbers sold. Even a midlist title in trade paperback will currently sell many more copies than a comparable e title struggling to be seen in the ever increasing sea. So I think a lot will depend on how healthy those other avenues remain–and what Amazon does to filter the coming surge of titles, if anything.

            Also, in terms of that sea–the growth has been exponential (300,000 in 2003, 3,000,000 in 2011, and 15,000,000 in 2012) and I think we have no idea what the effect of so many badly edited or unedited volumes will have on readers. Maybe it won’t matter at all–cream will always rise. Or maybe our eyes will go glazey from so much digital slush, and the content filtration provided by publishers will be deemed that much more valuable.

            I could see this going either way–or another way entirely.

  61. I think I’m going to have to go all Borg and adapt. Resistance, after all, is futile.

    • jennymilch on May 2, 2012 at 7:38 pm
    • Reply

    I’m also not sure who the talent fleeing traditional might be–as far as I knew, Konrath and Eisler *were* the few, with a couple of others. The biggest talent Amazon’s print arm was able to lure was Penny Marshall, to the tune of a very Big 6-style bloated advance of $800,000.

    The top traditionally published authors tend to trumpet less than Konrath and his brethren, but from what I can see, they’re pretty happy. It’s true that the midlist has been getting squeezed for decades, but I know many midlist authors who are happy at their small presses, and distinctly not wanting to go it alone. Some people are suited to self-publishing, others aren’t. My hope is that both options continue to exist–and perhaps a few even Amazon hasn’t envisioned yet.

    Yesterday Amanda Hocking published a post about going in the opposite direction–from indie to the Big 6. Paper distribution was just one of the key advantages she’s found so far.

    1. Hocking also got a seven figure advance. I probably would have done the same thing in her shoes.

      I want to congratulate you Jenny on your trad contract. Talent and perseverance obviously won out in the long run and kudos to you! I did want to make a comment on something you posted earlier about your conversations with your agent and editor over a particular scene. Those conversations happen all the time in the Indie world too, but between beta reader, editor, and author, or any number of other folks. Most self-pubs aren’t working in a vacuum. We have similar support systems, they’re just not as high-priced ; )

        • jennymilch on May 4, 2012 at 7:57 am
        • Reply

        Oh, of course, I didn’t mean they were unique conversations. I had them with my trusty readers, and a freelance editor friend, too, before my agent or editor ever saw my book. That’s what the writing life is–traditional or indie.

        Where I do think traditional publishing offers something unique–and this doesn’t mean it’s necessary or of value to everyone–is that the 3 editors deliberating over my scene all were investing in that book at their own cost. Something happens when an entity values a work enough to devote itself to it. Now that entity certainly misses good content–it did Kristen’s, arguably mine for a long time (I’m not sure how many of the 11 years I was at it I was actually ready to be published, though I thought I was), maybe yours, and many other writers. So it’s an imperfect system. But when it works–that level of investment really adds something to the equation, in my experience.

        1. Well, I totally agree and that is why I have worked so hard trying to help them take command of this new age of readership. I’ve never railed against NY or felt they were evil and needed to go extinct. I know many who support the indie movement don’t care for NY. I’ve tried to always be respectful. But when you care about something, you want it to be around. And if you really care, you try to help. And if they keep going down a path that is ultimately harmful, you tell them the truth, even when it is a hard truth.

          And maybe I’m wrong. I am certainly fallible, LOL. I’ve been right so far, and that is what scares me about NY’s future. In their case, I don’t want to be right. I want someone to listen and make real changes.

          I guess we will see what happens and if it doesn’t end well for NY, they cannot say they weren’t warned and that people didn’t try to help them prevent that fate. It’s more than the music industry got, for sure.

    • jodylebel on May 2, 2012 at 7:45 pm
    • Reply

    I just bought my 3-year-old granddaughter a Kindle Fire for her birthday. I wasn’t sure how it would go over, and figured my daughter could always use it if the baby didn’t. Well…I was pleasantly surprised. She took to it immedately. She knows how to work it and pick a book, game or funny app. I don’t care how she reads…I’m just so happy she loves books. She has paper books, cloth books, and cardboard books. And now e-books. A trip to the bookstore is still a treat. But so is downloading a book in one minute. Maybe the future of publishing will turn out to be a wonderful mix.

    1. My 3 year old loves Dr. Seuss on my smartphone. 😉 *I* love that I can read the book to him – or the app can read it aloud to him – OR he can click a word to see what it says, to help him read it himself.

  62. Brilliant commentary, Kristen.

    I have simply assumed, being new to the writing game, that I wouldn’t be considered a success or, more importantly, consider myself a success unless I braved and conquered the gauntlet of the “traditional publishing paradigm.” In view of the many valuable insights that you have shared, outlining the inexorable evolution of publishing and authors’ means of relaying what they’re saying to the world, I regret that I have been closed minded and short sighted. I am excited to have this new perspective. It’s liberating, really. I feel as though I can navigate my own course now. I look forward to studying the various existing means for reaching my target audience, and inventing new ways of communicating my words to the world.

    Linked on my blog with “We Are Not Alone.”


  63. The Massive Three. Sounds like a healthy environment for competition and a lot more choices for the ambitious SPA.

    Self-pubbed Author and loving my American Dream, baby.

  64. Honestly, I’ll be interested to see what the future holds. There are so many predictions out there, I’m just wondering how things will actually play out, you know? And I certainly hope things continue to favor writers, as I think self-publishing is a step in the right direction in that regard. Well, it can be if the writer is savvy enough.

  65. Love, love, love this blog. SPOT ON! Yes, it’s a great time to be writer and author.

  66. So funny, so true. (I’m so glad I stumbled onto your blog, Kristen.)

    In 1973 I wrote a paper for a business class describing a futuristic new idea called the “ATM.” The instructor read a portion of it aloud and my classmates laughed. A card that would replace cash or checks? Rediculous!

    It is so odd that anyone, especially CEOs, still scoff at the inevitability of change. We can say “I’ll never give up my Nook,” but we have no idea of what’s around the next bend in the superhighway. Holograms maybe? Interactive novels?

    • jodylebel on May 2, 2012 at 8:37 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, I read somewhere that school text books are beginning to show up as e-books now. Have you seen that happening? If that were true B&N better hop on it.

    1. Yes, iPads are replacing text books. Thank GOD. I spent more on stupid text books than tuition.

    • Maggie on May 2, 2012 at 8:51 pm
    • Reply

    I love paper but then I’m an artist as well as writer. However, there is no getting away from digital and we would be stupid to try. Can’t stop progress, never have been able to stop it, shouldn’t even try. But we should ensure quality and that includes writing and let’s face it, there are some bad books being self-published. Having just two or three giant companies is dangerous in that it gives us very little choice but the choice was becoming smaller anyway as one publishing company gobbled up another. Authors like artists have never earned much for their creative work ( artists give 45-50% of sale to galleries AND pay all outgoings) So I don’t feel the least bit sorry for publishers. They have done nicely up until now.
    Looking on the bright side, it could be good for writers, our books are more accessible, and we can self-publish.

  67. I really wanted to traditionally publish when I first started writing, but I am far less certain now. Frankly, I wish for a hybrid. I would like to have a company that offers services for editing, book cover design, marketing, etc., and you could pick and choose which ones you want and then publish your product.

    I’m not crazy about having only an ebook because I think that a paper book is still a viable option for some time into the future. Like how I listen to music in several ways depending on the context (CDs, MP3 player, radio, etc.), I think giving options for how readers want to experience your story (ebook, paper, audio) is ideal.

    Thought-provoking post, Kristen. Thanks!

  68. Reading this was such a pleasure on so many different levels. I’m not a published writer, nor do I aspire to be one, but I love how your points can be applied to business and marketing as a whole. With such rapid technological advancements, businesses of all industries have to either scramble and get on the boat now or else die a slow, painful death wallowing in denial.

    Great post! Looking forward to your next one!

  69. This post and the comments have me thinking…whatever the future holds I am thrilled to be in {virtual} community with you folks!

    • tammyjpalmer on May 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm
    • Reply

    I hear a lot about the big six vs. Indie publishing but not as much about all the E-publishers out there. They must be taking a lot of business from NY pubs as well. And now there is Entangled, also a different model (a darn good one from what I’m hearing.) My unprofessional guess is that things are going to keep changing before they settle down. I hope E-readers stick around, I love the one click method. It’s easier than going to the library, and almost as cheap (I paid a lot of late fees.)

    • Diana Stevan on May 3, 2012 at 12:24 am
    • Reply

    Fascinating post and discussion by all. I do agree with Jenny Milch however regarding the benefits of going the traditional route. Recently, as a tourist in NY, I rode the subways a lot and was shocked to see a lot of paper – books,magazines,, newspapers, and only the very odd e-book. My husband (an avid e-reader) and I visited the Strand bookstore, a huge store with both old and new books and it was packed. I recently bought five books myself. Give me a paper book anyday. Love the new world with all its possibilities, but let’s not be too hasty and pronounce the old way dead. There’s a lot of life left on that road, life worth tending to.

    1. OMG, I LOVE the Strand! And when I’m in Denver, I go to the Tattered Cover. In Portland, I visit Powells. And in San Francisco, I swing by City Lights Bookstore. 🙂

  70. As a reader I choose Kindle’s ink technology – if I had to read too much on a backlit screen I’d be back to real paper like a shot. As a writer I’m so glad that the paradigm is changing, I just hope we’re not exchanging one set of gate keepers for another.

  71. I love my iPad and all… But there’s just something about holding a real book that makes reading so special. I know, I know– I probably sound like the 45 year old dinosaur that I am.

    As a writer– I’m thrilled the paradigm is shifting. I know several people who have had moderate success self publishing their books.

    Bravo on a great post.

  72. If they want me to read my books on a computer, they’re going to have to do something about the screen. As they are now I can’t read on them. I have a Kindle and it has a wonderful screen for reading under light I have an iPhone which is great for reading in darkness. It also has Angry Birds, but that’s another story.

    I too am glad Microsoft is doing this. I’ve been nervous of Amazon having a monopoly. Competition is healthy.

    I still buy paper and hard cover books and I don’t see myself losing that love. But I can see my daughter’s generation or the one after that (the ones being born right now) may not even know what a book is.

  73. This is the most exciting time to be a writer. Never before have we had the amount of power over our careers as we do right now. It’s AWESOME!!!

    1. The world is moving more and more toward individual power rather than corporate power. A beautiful time to be alive!

  74. I definitely agree with this article – I can see the shift from paper to ‘e-paper’ – reading a newspaper online is just part of daily routine, reading books online will become the mainstream of that I have no doubt. I’m a relatively new to blogging and have always loved to write and ultimately want to write a book. I am finding that even my simple self published blogs attract a following and the whole concept ‘self publishing’ thing is quite empowering as well as an exciting step forward for writers. I can’t think of anything more fantastic than to be able self publish your work and sell it directly online. An excellent article.

  75. This is an excellent analysis of the current publishing situation. Many thanks for writing this. It all boils down to this: “The past ten years have been nothing but market Darwinism.” It’s survival of the fittest, and if publishers don’t deliver what the market wants, they’ll be out of business in no time.

    The era of the eBook is upon us. And it’s not going away. Despite this, most mainstream publishers have had their heads buried deep in the sand. Why didn’t they see the eBook waiting there in the wings, ready for its cue?

    Were they frightened? Were they too lazy to rethink? Or were they too plain stupid to react, even after the collapse of the music industry?

    But a far more pressing question: What are all those zillions of salaried people at big publishers going to do now?

    The editors and managers, the directors and HR teams, the van drivers and warehouse men, the secretaries, the number-crunchers and paper-pushers, the publicity staff, receptionists, and office cleaners, the proof-readers and designers, the yes-men and the nodders… and all those others who have very little to do, but very long job descriptions on their cards.

    Q. What will become of them?

    A. They’re about to become extinct.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts on May 3, 2012 at 5:16 am
    • Reply

    I was working on the tech side when the music industry went digital, and now I am writing. Watching the Big 6 fail to learn from the music industry is fascinating.

    That said, it is clear that I am a book person rather than a music person because the decline of the record store drove me back to the radio but I have followed books into whatever medium I can get them.

  76. Very interesting… Lots of great metaphors too. Where does Google fit into all this though?

  77. Love this post! I’m an author and Children’s Librarian. In libraries we have been quickly adapting to our patron’s demand for ebooks, and other electronic resources. We struggle with the restrictions imposed on us by the Big 6, most recently, the number of “copies” of an ebook can be purchased — well, they’ve limited that now because they surely see the writing on the wall (when we purchase a paper copy of a book, it was ours forever; not so with the electronic). In the beginning there was some in-fighting about patrons and books and how libraries would adapt, but ultimately the decision had to be coming to the knowledge of knowing our patrons will always want the access to services and materials they’ve always had, but better and faster. In this arena, too, they want more control of how they get this material. Paper will go slowly, but I’m already weeding out my CDRoms, and audio/video tapes have diminished considerably. However, in my area, I have yet to see the ereader or tablet demand trickle down to children; right now it’s building with teens and adults.
    A question though: For writing on the road, does anyone recommend a tablet that is good for word processing (something affordable with really good memory capacity or do you suggest an external drive, flash and transferring to my desktop) or am I still tied to a laptop?

    • jennymilch on May 3, 2012 at 6:46 am
    • Reply

    Still thinking about this convo this morning…Reading the comments, I think it’s true that this is an awesome time to be a writer because even if your book sits in the long tail or doesn’t suit the blockbuster model, you have options. And an infinite shelf life in which to build an audience.

    One thing I don’t think has been mentioned is that research is just beginning to come out about the effects of digital text on our cognition, memory, and retention. Much as some speculate that the football will be gone in twenty years, or at least vastly changed in terms of who plays (ie, the poor and those without better options), so might some schools decide to eliminate technology in favor of text or some parents decide to keep their kids to paper. This may sound outrageous, decidedly the opposite of current trends, but my kids’ school has already raised this as an issue, and articles have worked their way into the popular media, which state that while it’s easy to learn how to use every app–that’s what they’re designed for, ease of use–it’s much harder to learn to think critically and engage with ideas–and digital modalities may be singularly unsuited to these challenges.

    We’re already roughly 25th in the world in our education so this may become more of an issue in the next decade or so.

    I hope that options are kept open–and that those options include better and better books, however people read them.

    1. Yes, but I will say that I was a Rotarian for 6 years and did a lot of volunteer work in low-income areas. We used to donate 500 dictionaries a year to the local third grade. Most of those kids carried the book with them for years because it was the only book in the house, the only book the family had ever owned.

      There was a time when a machine that could simply add and subtract cost thousands of dollars. Now calculators come free in Happy Meals. What if e-readers became so inexpensive everyone had one? Think of the access these children would have to books! To literature.

      And yes, maybe some of the technology is dumbing us down. We cease to be better spellers because spell-check takes care of that…BUT it does free us to become artists. We are in the New Renaissance.

      How many children will now grow up wanting to be writers because it is finally a viable career path? People can now make a decent living writing! And we don’t need $120,000 worth of bloated education from moth-ridden academia to do it. All we have to do is read a lot and practice a lot and then create content people want to buy. Humans will never stop wanting to be educated, inspired or entertained. In fact, as technology increases, our demand for escape does too.

      And even if the book is 99 cents, we now are marketing to a global marketplace, so what we lost in price we can make up for in sheer volume (not that this means I favor the 99 cent book, but it is still profitable). I think paper has been the biggest reason most writers have never been able to make a decent living. We had the cost of paper and shipping and all that overhead taken out before we were even paid.

        • jennymilch on May 3, 2012 at 9:40 pm
        • Reply

        That’s definitely a more hopeful perspective on it, Kristen–especially about the idea of a viable, midlist writing career for future generations.

        I guess I just think it’s too early to tell. The commenters who sound definitive–the Q & A about all the Big 6 employees going extinct, for example–strike me as naive. This is such a complicated system, and the future is not at all clear. It’s at least as likely that with 15,000,000 ISBNs to be sold this year, the traditional publishers will become *more* valuable in their role as content filterers, editors, and distributors. And I suspect RH and its ilk have had a board meeting or two about digital 😉

        My best guess is that different paths will become viable in different ways to different authors, rather than total extinction of any one path.

        1. Well I don’t think the employees will go extinct, but I do believe that there are going to need to be some really tough changes for the Big 6 to remain in tact and not get parted out for people to work for the Massive Three. The thing that NY isn’t quite understanding is that there are other people who can do the same thing they do with far less overhead. There are book lovers and line-editors and cover designers in other places than New York.

          The innovators and early adopters grabbed hold of e-readers and made them relevant. What is dangerous for NY is that unlike audio books, the e-reader actually has started to penetrate the fat part of the bell curve. This is great in that it means there are more and more readers. Why this is bad is that they are e-readers. This population is the largest, and is often responsible for the mega-best-sellers like “Twilight.” Soon they are going to have an insatiable demand for e-books, so why didn’t NY own ALL of it? They could have.

          Additionally, NY didn’t have the foresight to plan for the reader 5 and ten years down the road. Very soon there will be kids who will barely remember what it was like to have a paper book. Why didn’t NY plan for that? Why did they keep defending paper?

          I’m sorry, but this was poor planning for them and poor stewardship of the writers in their care.

          Another point. NY keeps pricing e-books in ways that tick off the consumer. last summer, I helped James Rollins with his release of “The Devil’s Colony.” The publisher priced the e-book THE SAME as the hard cover. On what planet does that make sense? Jim had angry consumers giving one star reviews and railing at him, because they were ticked off (and rightfully so) over the e-book price.

          It was one thing when we believed NY had this superior quality, but now that some fantastic work is coming out of the self-pub and indie, the e-market is going to start expanding exponentially. And the problem is that NY didn’t entrench itself in digital the way it should have to remain in control of publishing. They might be around in ten years, but they won’t be in charge. That ship has sailed.

          And maybe they are having secret meetings to take back publishing, but any meeting now is four years too late. This is what NY doesn’t seem to understand. We can’t take a year, two years, three years to do things in a digital world. We will be overrun by those who do what we do in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost.

          I am a good example of this. For years I couldn’t get an agent. In 2008 agents told me that e-books would be like audio and that Facebook was a passing “fad.” They told me there was no way to use social media to build a platform for a fiction author. Then the iPad released, then the Nook and ebooks exploded. Oh, then Amanda Hocking sold how many books?

          Where is the vision in this industry?

          I wrote about social media, the greatest change for mankind since he invention of the printing press. I couldn’t get a book deal from NY because any book I wrote would be irrelevant by the time it hit shelves. Thank God for WDW or how many writers wouldn’t have a guide to social media? NY is telling all its writers to go build social platforms, but then they can’t even be responsible for printing the manual. That is part of what is wrong with their system and how they are losing control over it with their current methods of operation.

            • jennymilch on May 4, 2012 at 8:08 am

            I just don’t have the business-understanding to even float an answer as to why–missing the boat? Reasonable cautiousness in a changing system? Understanding the strengths they bring to the table and not wanting to branch out? I really don’t know.

            Where I find things more up in the air than you do is in terms of how we will read and process content in the future. There is a whole population of parents who are dedicated to children knowing the pleasures of a book and bookstores. I’m one of them–but I’m really not the only one (I don’t think). In my little corner of the world, I see more parents saying that there’s time enough for devices, for now let my kid learn to love to read [on paper] than parents who are adopters. This may change, this may be a non-representative sample–lots of things. Or it may be that what seems a continuing trend for now… doesn’t. Or that e readers live alongside books.

            On another forum I pointed out that where the analogy to CDs or cameras falls down is in how passionate people are about books and bookstores. Most people could’ve cared less when cassettes gave way to CDs or how they snap a shot of their friend eating an ice cream cone. Whereas when the St. Marks Bookstore in NYC nearly had to close, an entire city rallied, petitioning, holding buy-ins, etc. When the last general bookstore in Nashville closed–leaving “just” a B&N and a mystery bookshop–NYT bestseller Ann Patchett opened up an independent bookstore–and it’s thriving. How people who feel this way will effect the coming scene is a big unknown. But they’re out there. And they have children.

            Depending on where that goes, the current model of print and distribution, and thus traditional publishers even absent any big change in model, will remain more or less relevant.

            That said, they shouldn’t have missed your book, or any one of a number of others that clearly go on to be of great value. It’s an imperfect, messy system, and perhaps the wisdom of the crowd will do better in selecting content.

          1. I agree that bookstores and books will be around. Yes, there are people who love paper and paper will always be here. Sort of like vinyl records are still around. But my issue with NY is why choose a future where you command a niche market? Why not be the head of the New Renaissance? Tower Records could have lead the way to digital music and been over ALL of music.

            NY wasn’t in the book business. They were in the story and information business and they forgot that. They could have made a plan to be the vanguard into the Digital Age of Art and they didn’t. They could have been over ALL of the written word…not just the printed ones. And they based their future off a physical product that had to be shipped. This lashed them to the volatility of oil. Gas prices go up and profits got down. Paper goes up, profits go down. I used to work in sales in the paper industry and I can tell you paper is HEAVY and it costs a TON of money to ship. E-books cost nothing to ship. E-books don’t need drivers and delivery people who all need to be paid, all of that being factored into the cost of the book.

            This is why NY can’t offer the royalty rates that indies make and it is also why it has been so difficult for writers to make a decent living. We have too much overhead being taken out of our paycheck. And don’t get me wrong, the people in NY get it taken out of their paychecks too, but they are choosing that. They could have chosen to invest in a model where everyone was paid BETTER. THIS is what has me scratching my head.

            Target makes a heck of a lot more money selling iPads than books and those books take up aisles that could be selling digital readers. How long will NY be able to keep retail space?

            And I am thrilled for your success and I have to admit that I would have loved to have had a NY deal, myself. I am here to help you any way I can. At the end of the day, I am here to serve writers. I am here to help you guys transition into a new age. It is a wonderful time to be a writer. Could be a great time to be a publisher, but they need to make some changes.

            • jennymilch on May 4, 2012 at 9:04 am

            I don’t know if it will be as niche as vinyl, is I guess what I’m saying. In a blog post of mine I compared books to butter. For a while there we were all, better living through science, and TruGreen Chemlawn. Then it turned out that butter is actually *much* better for us than margarine, and organic is in so Chemlawn became just TruGreen. I wonder if we may have a slow reading response to digital text the way slow food is beginning to meander its way everywhere besides McDonalds.

            However, I’d be the first to admit this is wild speculation and could be wildly wrong, so to answer to your question…Amy Einhorn made the exact statement you just did: We’re in the business of stories, not paper. So I have hopes that the Big 6 know where their strengths are–not in manufacturing e readers perhaps–and are simply trying to keep the bar high in terms of how much a story is worth. Yes, an e copy is a little cheaper to produce–no print, distribution, or pulping–but costs also comes from editing, designing, promoting, and the author’s own value. Personally I’m willing to pay something a little north of what a movie costs for a great book. I pay it for paper versions of indie releases as often as I can afford to. And I’ll pay it to a traditional publisher whose releases I know to be good.

            The real value publishers, large and small, may add is in content filtration of a number of books that is slated to reach 15,000,000 this year.

          2. I hope you don’t mind debate, LOL. I know they are going to reach 15,000,000 this year, but my concern has never been with this year. My concern is with 5 years from now or even 10. When Wal Mart and Costco and Target decide that that retail space full of paper books is better spent with shelves of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads. Why sell a $15 product when you can sell a $100, a $500, or a $800 product?

            With touch technology evolving exponentially, there is no reason that in 5-10 years those shelves that once held paper will now be touch screens to order digital books so when you purchase your new Kindle you walk out ready to read. The book will download as soon as your credit card is approved at the kiosk. Sure paper will be there but it will be a shelf or two of cookbooks and NF.

            Maybe I am wrong, but so far…

            In 2004 I predicted that authors would be able to use social media to build a platform of fans before the book was even finished being written. Now we know that is a reality.

            In 2008, I tried to get an agent and he told me that e-books would always be statistically meaningless in sales. I countered that all it took was an affordable device that was user friendly and the entire paradigm would change. Publishing was next on the digital hit list. We saw it with music. We saw it with pictures. Books were next, but I could help. There was time. Nope. Facebook was a “passing fad.”This conversation was a month before the iPad released and we saw the explosion of e-books.

            In 2008 I said that writers would have to be on social media in order to remain relevant. I fought with agents who told me that all that a writer needed was a good book. That platforms were only for NF authors and that social platforms couldn’t drive fiction book sales.

            Now? Many agencies google an author before considering the query. We have seen indies become millionaires using social media to drive fiction sales. In fact, Mark Williams and Saffina Deforges used my book WANA–the same method offered to NY–to sell 90,000 books in four months. They aren’t the only WANA success story, just my favorite :D.

            I claimed in 2009 that authors who could write a good blog, in the future, would be at a major advantage. People in the industry railed at me and told me that author blogs couldn’t drive sales. Jody Hedlund, Tawna Fenske and Roni Loren were all debut authors who all hit the best-selling list because of their social media presence and their blogs.

            A couple of months ago, I warned the indie authors to be careful about Amazon. Yes, they were treating authors well right now so long as the market had competition. But Amazon had played dirty before with one of the Big 6 and they would do it again to the indies when it served them. The NEXT DAY Amazon removed the “BUY” buttons from the largest Indie book distributor because of a contract dispute.

            I am not saying all of this because I think I am so special or awesome, but I bring this tract record up to show that it isn’t so hard to see things if we are willing to stop and listen. We have to pay attention and really HEAR what others are saying and value their opinion more than our own. I don’t have a Magic Eight Ball, but I do have a love for people and I’ve worked hard to become a very good listener.

            I hope NY starts doing some good listening because the future is digital, no matter how much they love paper. And even if they still kept their 15,000,000 paper sales, why didn’t they want to add in another 50,000,000 e-books?