The publishing business has undergone tremendous upheaval in recent years, and there’s more to come. This creates opportunities for authors and entrepreneurs who are ready to be more agile than the status quo. Here are five reasons why now is a great time to innovate and show creativity in the work of publishing.
1. The retail marketplace is available to anyone.
Publishers simply don’t have exclusive access to retail anymore, which was one of their primary unique selling propositions to authors. Don’t let them make you think they do. Don’t let them tell you that they have privileged access. It may be true to a degree, but it’s not necessarily meaningful, especially not when it comes to new voices and entry-level authors. In religious publishing, for example, Christian bookstores have become such a small slice of sales that it’s like Barnes and Noble in the general market already went out of business. That’s what happened with the closures of the two major Christian retail chains (Family Christian and Lifeway) and thousands of indies. In broad market publishing, there has actually been some growth in independent stores, but that growth has been attributed at least in part to indie stores establishing online retail capability, which is essentially direct to consumer and not dependent on the publisher-bookstore relationship.
What this means is the value of a traditional publisher is diminished, and any smaller publisher, from the self-published author, a hybrid publisher, to small or medium-sized indies, can get access—because of new printing and distribution technologies—to retail on an even playing field. There’s growth with these businesses, too, but not at the big houses. You should really see what’s going on with genre fiction, where indie authors have become wildly successful and major publishers have lost a significant revenue stream.
2. The world of traditional publishing is top-heavy.
Traditional publishers are consolidating, buying up mid-sized publishers, and getting bigger, all fighting for the biggest author platforms in a world of scarcity, while entry-level publishing is finding a world of abundance, variety, and dynamism.
What this means is you should be wary of big houses and all their imprints. They all report up to the same budget sheet, the same executive team and CEO. They may have deep pockets and publishing brand cache, but their size and structural uniformity have a way of flattening their cultural acuity, deadening their responsiveness, and making them lose their agility.
3. Major religious publishing in the US is culturally insular.
In the religious space, particularly the still massive but declining world of evangelicalism, publishers are living inside their cultural bubble, some with their statement of faith you have to sign. But the bubble is bursting with declining church attendance. While some rank-and-file evangelical publishing staffers see it, the moneyed management team is slow to catch up. There are some important exceptions in publishers who are joining in some of the new and growing movements, but sometimes those imprints are connected with denominational or large corporate structures and still have certain limitations and lag.
What this means is that now is a great time to venture into publishing that is free to be creative, to do whatever it desires, and to offer the reading public whatever it wants and needs to learn. A publishing enterprise that isn’t tied to anything. That’s exactly what is missing and is so needed.
4. The gatekeepers are gone.
Many of the gatekeepers are gone, like those who used to support those white male pastor books: the decision makers at bookstores, radio, church networks, and even television. Our segmented digital world is moving on and has it’s own special powers.
What this means is that anyone with an engaging platform, even small to modest ones, can find reasonable amounts of success, and possibly grow in ways that are more satisfying. Skin color, creed, economic or cultural background, gender, or sexual orientation don’t have to stop you anymore, and they never should have anyway.
5. Publishers struggle to admit how much power authors now have.
People are connecting in new ways, and finding new communities, even without any church involvement whatsoever. And yet publishers are slow to do a good job of getting into an author’s space and being more service-oriented. The authors have far more power, even if it’s hard to use that power, and publishers aren’t acknowledging that power with their royalty rates.
What this means is that a publisher that has in its very DNA the ability to coach an author on their platform is going to find better author partnership, and offer better author loyalty.