I came across David Vinjamuri’s article on Forbes.com the other week, and it’s been nagging me since. It’s an interesting article about what we all already know: traditional publishing is suffering, and self-published writers are coming out of the woodwork faster than our Kindles can download a best seller. Vinjamuri tries to identify the various nails in the publishing industry’s coffin and what they should to do to prevent their own irrelevance:
“Publishing is different from other creative industries because the machinery has not yet adapted to the profound technological shift it is undergoing.”
“By creating and adhering to a rigid and suboptimal pricing model, publishers created a market opportunity for indie books. That window has been sitting open for decades.”
Yes, traditional publishing needs to adapt. He definitely makes some great points about publishing houses’ mistakes, but he also brought up the point that bothers me most about eReaders, Amazon, and social media enabling writers to publish their own work. He writes about the selections: “books were getting cheaper, but the writing was getting worse. It started to get harder and harder to shop the Kindle store because I was either upset by the price of a book or the quality of its writing. Accidentally, I had stumbled upon the new face of self-publishing.”
He goes on: “the problem for readers is that regardless of which side you agree with in theory, in practice you probably love the idea of buying books for under $5.00 but hate the idea of having to sort through quite so much junk to find good books at that price. The question that divides Indie fans from the traditional publishing industry is whether a solid selection of good writing can ever be self-published for these low prices.”
I can sympathize with this plight. As someone with publishing aspirations, I support brick and mortar bookstores and classic publishing houses on principle: long live the editors and book launches and beautiful book displays! But as a struggling, twenty-four year old… sometimes I just can’t afford to. An alternative is to not buy books. Yeah, that’s going to happen. Maybe a library card can assist? I do love my library card, but wait lists for certain titles, both physical and digital, make it a huge pain when I want to read something now or need to reference things I read months ago. Bookstores are too expensive… try and resist Amazon… now my head is going to explode.
But is this really just a price war between the consumer and the booksellers or simply the authors versus the big, bad publishing houses and their royalty structures? I truly do not want to see it come down to only money. I love books. They are near and dear to my heart, and, as someone who has grand career plans invested in the industry, it’s more than a bit personal. While the traditional publishing tycoons may take themselves a bit too seriously (Vinjamuri brings up many examples of great writing overlooked by the traditional process) I don’t believe the future of books can be solely in self-publishing. It lowers the standard and level of respect writing a work of literature warrants. An author shouldn’t have to do it all: writing, editing, marketing, selling. It’s clear that when they do the quality of work suffers, and it undermines their talents and efforts. Are there superhero authors out there who can do it all? Sure, why not? But they are the exception not the rule.
There has to be a lot of compromise in the publishing industry’s future, but in what areas will they be willing to give rather than take? The same goes for the writers. If they continue to pit themselves against one another, it seems like the book will be the victim.