How Technology is Changing the Publishing Industry

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Publishing is in constant change.  Since the birth of modern publishing in the 19th century, the rise of e-books has led to a decrease in physical book sales; publishers have had to adjust their business strategies in order to stay afloat.

The publishing industry, like most, was heavily impacted by the financial crisis in 2008, and has not been the same since.  Publishing companies downsized, crumbled, or merged together.  Twenty years ago, there were three dozen “major publishers,” while today there are a “Big Five:” Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster.

In 2007 the Amazon Kindle was released.  Two years later, Borders closed in the United States.  Publishers took this as a wake-up call.  The industry was drastically changing, and publishers would have to find new ways to generate revenue to keep the business running.

Today, with the proliferation of smartphones, everyone has access to a whole library in their pocket.  People can read their favorite books at anytime, anywhere.  As a result, publishers are now focusing a great portion of their energy on e-books.  Many physical books today even include reminders that they are also available digitally.

E-books open a whole new door of opportunity for publishers.  With e-books, publishers reach a new audience.  Many classics have been converted into e-books, making them more attractive for a younger audience, and the cost of producing digital books is cheaper than the physical counterparts.  This means e-books cost less for consumers, and in turn readers often buy more books.

The problem publishers now face is being able to generate sufficient revenue through e-books sales.  Many people expect the internet to be free and therefore it is difficult for publishers to get consumers to pay for their books and protect their intellectual property.

Another big change in publishing, resulting from the rise of technology, is self-publishing.  Self-publishing has been a method of publishing for years but has only recently taken off.  This method that once only yielded poor, unprofessional books, has risen through the charts with quality that is indistinguishable from traditionally published books.  In fact, the Oscar-nominated film The Martian was based off a self-published book by Andy Weir.

In the past, people would write stories and keep them private. Today, it is easy to publish anything yourself quickly and with great quality.  Self-publishing has many benefits.  With self-publishing, authors exert all the control over the book.  When signing with a publishing company, the author gives away his/her control of the book to the publisher in exchange for an advance and royalties.  However, this also means that the author bears the financial risk of the whole enterprise.  When self-publishing, the cover, editing, copywriting, and release of the book all become the responsibility of the author.

It is important for self-publishers to make sure they do not release a low-quality book, for this will hurt their reputation.  Writers, editors, proofreaders, etc. were once only accessible through publishing companies.  Now many of these professionals are readily-accessible as freelancers and can be of great service to self-publishers.

According to advocacy website Author Earnings, independent authors are now earning more from e-books than authors who are handled by publishing companies.  Big name authors, such as Stephen King, have realized that they can bypass a publisher and go directly to Amazon, where they receive more of a revenue for their work.  Kindle Direct Publishing can even give authors up to 70% of the purchase price, while allowing them to retain copyright and a non-exclusive deal.

Though there are many benefits to self-publishing, many still go the route of traditional publishing.  When signing with a traditional publisher, the author surrenders his/her creative and content control of the book.  However, there are many benefits to traditional publishing.  When signing with a publisher, an author will receive an advance.  This assures the author that he will receive monetary compensation even if his/her book fails.  Books from a publishing company also have greater access to mainstream media.  The only people who still look at the publisher as a source of credibility are journalists, who in turn will review and bring attention to the book.

Getting a book published by a publishing company is a big process, often taking 2 to 3 years.  Plus, if the author does not have an existing audience, it is nearly impossible to get a deal with a publishing company.  Book Agent Byrd Leavell says “Publishers aren’t buying anything that doesn’t come with a built-in audience that will buy it. They don’t take risks anymore, they don’t gamble on authors, they only want sure things. I won’t even take an author out unless they have an audience they can guarantee 10k pre-sales to.”

Building an audience has never been more important.  With the internet, readers want and expect to be in communication with their favorite authors.  Many authors today have Facebook groups, Twitter accounts, and e-mail chains.  There are many different outlets available for authors to build an audience, so it is vital they take advantage.  It is impossible to write for everyone, so finding a niche audience is very important for an author.

Publishing companies have implemented the use of data and analytics into their decision- making process, identifying reading trends every year to find out which genres, titles, etc. generated the most sales.  Social trends are fast-paced and always changing, making it important for publishers to jump on them while they’re still popular.

Audiobooks are another driving force in the publishing business, especially with the ubiquity of smartphones, audiobooks have risen in popularity. Audiobook sales in the U.S. rose by 31% from 2015 to 2016.  Audiobooks do not replace reading, but instead allow people to explore books that they otherwise would not have time for.  People often listen to audiobooks while performing menial tasks such as cleaning, driving, etc.  People also finish more books when listening to them instead of reading, leading them to purchase more as well.

The publishing industry has been turned upside down by the rise of technology in recent years.  Though, what will never change about publishing is the necessity of telling a good story.