The end of scarcity

Yesterday, I wrote about preparing for a time when publishing becomes the functional equivalent of pushing a button. Not much more than two years ago, traditional publishing reacted to content abundance with calls to return the genie to the bottle. Now, Penguin is buying Author Solutions, HarperCollins is emphasizing author care and global rights and Hachette is offering cloud computing services.

Forbes.com recently featured a lengthy column by David Vinjamuri, whose piece ("Publishing is broken, we're drowning in indie book – and that's a good thing"), claimed that three things have combined to forever alter publishing:

  • eBooks have challenged content scarcity
  • Social media has opened up new ways to discuss and market books
  • Self-publishing's low barriers to entry have made it possible to do it on your own

In his post, Vinjamuri uses "indie" to mean "self-published", not independent presses or bookstores. He says that self-published authors are poised to break through, with three likely developments:

  • Platforms will emerge to offer new titles a chance for real reviews
  • Mid-list authors at traditional houses, dissatisfied with the support they receive, will go out on their own
  • Traditional publishers will start to use the self-published community as a farm team

Earlier this year, Sarah Wendell of the pioneering romance fiction site Smart Bitches Trashy Books contributed a chapter to Book: A Futurist's Manifesto. In "A conversation that can't be controlled", she makes the point that the dialogue, not simply the review, helps sell books:

"I gave a keynote at SXSW in 2011, and said, “Readers are a strange, sometimes unwelcome, sometimes baffling, sometimes irritating and yet absolutely important part of any conversation when it comes to the way the road to publishing is traveled.” With so many new book blogs appearing each month—and a blogger-generated conference devoted just to them purchased by Book Expo America for the 2012 BEA convention—the conversation about books and the creation of debate and extended interaction and reviews will only continue to grow."

I think the thing that Vinjamuri misses (or eludes) is the thing that Wendell always keeps front and center: we're already in the middle of an era in which the reader decides. Publishers and booksellers can create products, provide information and engage with the emerging platforms, but they can no longer compete on scarcity.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.