Friday, June 3, 2011

I've Seen the Future and It's Not That Scary

by L.J. Sellers
The changes in publishing are happening so fast and furious, it’s almost surreal. If someone had predicted this stuff even five years ago, people would have scoffed and called it social-science fiction. Here’s a recap of the last two weeks:
  • Amazon launched a fifth publishing imprint, Thomas & Mercer, which will focus on mysteries and thrillers. Its first four titles will be available on the Kindle, in print and audio formats at as well as in bookstores.
  • Amazon hired former Time Warner Books CEO and current agent Larry Kirshbaum to head Amazon Publishing’s New York office, putting Amazon in direct competition with NY publishers.
  • Amazon has asked publishers to start submitting books in epub format, paving the way for standardization of digital books. Readers and authors rejoice!
  • Liberty Media, a cable conglomerate, offered to buy Barnes & Noble, and most analysts say it’s on the strength of the retailer’s e-reader (Nook) and plans to expand into global digital markets.
You’ll note that three of those announcements involve Amazon, and all of them involve e-books. As someone who’s currently writing a futuristic thriller, I've been thinking a lot about the future 13 years from now. In addition to the dystopian elements I’ve included in my novel, I try to imagine realistic changes in business and commerce. The one thing that seems inevitable is that Amazon will become a huge, media and retail conglomerate that wields mega power. In my current reality, my husband and I survive on the royalties I receive from Amazon for my print and e-books sales.

What does all this mean? For starters, if you can, buy stock in Amazon. ☺ And if you still want to sign a contract with a publisher, Amazon should be your first choice. I also think traditional publishing will consolidate to the point that there may only be two or three main presses, and I expect Amazon and B&N to be the dominant forces because they control distribution. B&N is likely to follow Amazon’s lead (as it has done with Nook and PubIt!) and enter the traditional publishing business, signing with authors to release books in all formats and also with e-book exclusivity clauses. This could be a negative for readers because some titles will be available only on Kindle, and some titles will be available only on Nook.

The good news for readers is that there will eventually be more standardization of e-book formats. A few years from now, any e-book you buy will be readable on every device you own... unless it was published by the competition.

For writers, it means you either get picked up by one of the Big 3, with a much better deal than any Big 6 press ever offered, or you go it alone and promote like hell. Small presses will likely disappear too.
I also believe e-book prices are going to drop significantly in the near future, driven by Amazon’s dominance as a volume retailer and by self-published authors drive to gain readership. As a reader, this is good news. As a writer, this is the one thing that makes me the most nervous.

Where do you think the industry will be in five years? Ten years?


  1. Also last week, didn't MWA ammend their rules finally acknowledging e-books? They have a way to go to include bestselling novelists like you, but it's a step, I think.

    It's an exciting time, and you are showing both writers and readers how to do things right.

  2. As a creator of ebooks, I rejoice. As an editor at a small publishing company, I worry.

  3. As an author who has self-published (including ebooks) for more than a decade, I am pleased with the changes taking place in the publishing world. After being shunned by many agents, publishers, and denied membership in authors’ groups, and while predicting almost a decade ago that ebooks and self-publishing would be our future, I am pleased to have it happening now.

    Last November I wrote about how visionary Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos is. In a post on my blog,
    “Build it and they will come, and Jeff Bezos of has done just that. Bezos had a dream, a dream to build the biggest bookstore in the world. Looks like he has achieved that. It is now said that about three quarters of book sales in the United States are at Amazon, and even publishers make about half of their sales through Amazon.”

    I find it all very exciting. It has given me the opportunity, also, to keep many of my late husband’s best-selling novels in print, as ebooks and PODs.

    What will happen in 5 years or 10 years?--who knows?--look what our Internet technology has given us over these last 15 years. Incredible!

  4. Thanks for this cutting-edge post, LJ. Between editing and trying to get my garden and yard in shape for the summer, and, for the last week, fighting a bronchial infection, the world out there has sort of gone by without me. I poke my head out of the sand and find out things are changing even faster than I thought! Great news for all my fiction-writing clients!

    Thanks for keeping up with things for the rest of us, LJ! I'm passing this on through Facebook, Twitter and my email list as soon as I post this. (That is, if Google lets me, which they don't seem to do lately!)

  5. LJ, when I met you five years ago, I didn't really think of you as a futurist, but you surely are! You sniffed the wind and went with e-pubs long before most. Congratultions on being right (doesn't it feel good?)

  6. Terry, you make me smile. Has it really been five years? I wish I had realized the potential of e-books when I put The Sex Club up on Amazon's DTP all those years ago. Now, I'm trying to think ahead all the time.

  7. Melissa, I worry about small publishing companies too. Many of my friends are either small press publishers or authors. But the truth is, no one needs a small press. You either need a big press for the distribution or to be your publisher for the higher royalty. Everything in the middle seems like a dead end.

  8. LJ, you've hit it with the mention of distribution. My publishers all have different models, but none really puts the print books out there. My first 2 publishers were e-book first, then print, but this was long before Amazon was the powerhouse it is now, and e-readers were pretty much PDA type devices. I have the rights to a number of my books, and I'm busy adding them to all the digital stores.

    Terry's Place

  9. I've said this before, but it seems I can't say it enough: The publishing model as we once knew it is quickly becoming a thing of the past. The industry has reinvented itself--and in the process, breathed new life into it-- thanks to visionaries like Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Gone are the gatekeepers who kept a tight lid on things and prevented so many people from seeing their works published. No longer is this a publisher's market--it now belongs to the readers and writers. As it should.


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