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Shatzkin on the future

15 June 2015

Mike Shatzkin's long piece on his blog gives an update on why the publishing business as we have known it is not going away anytime soon. Shatzkin is one of the most respected but also down-to-earth commentators on the publishing world.

Read the blog if you have the time, but if not here is a summary of what's of particular interest to authors.

Shatzkin says the data is incomplete and scattered, so a variety of conclusions can reasonably be drawn. The ebook data is not clear but Amazon is undoubtedly the single biggest customer on the print side. Indie authors provide just 5% of adult business at retail. Publishers have had the benefit of a reduction in back end costs.

So what about the authors?

‘For those authors who are working steadily and profitably for publishers, self-publishing has offered the possibility of greater control and bigger margins: more profit if they can achieve the same level of sale. This is not an opportunity very many authors in this category have pursued. That has surprised me a little bit, but probably it shouldn't have. Being a publisher is a lot of work and no small risk. If an author is making a living doing the writing and letting a publisher handle the rest, that's damn near nirvana. Very few in that position want to abandon it.

‘So that leaves the authors "in the middle": getting deals or capable of getting deals, but not really making the living they want to make with those deals. Among those authors, if they have the skills to manage an enterprise and the personality to put themselves out there for promotion, self-publishing offers a real alternative to the legacy system. Particularly for those authors who have a backlist they can claw back rights to and use as a foundation for their efforts, this new opportunity has real possibilities...'

Shatzkin predicts more chance of disruption in professional publishing than in trade (or general) publishing, which he thinks is quite stable.

But 'the big bugaboo' is ‘the death of long-form reading.'

The biggest threat to publishers as we have known them would be consolidation among the intermediaries who sell their books.

For him, Larry Kirschbaum's failure to get big authors to go to Amazon Publishing was a turning -point, because it put a stop to Amazon's efforts to establish themselves as major-league publishers.

He concludes in general that ‘An apocalypse is probably not around the corner... I suspect that the business environment for all other media - music, movies, TV and games - will change more than the business for trade narrative books over the next ten years.'