The next 5 years of publishing: self-publishing, royalties and digital [OPINION]

Christine Munroe e1442749588245

In the run up to Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. This is a guest blog from Christine Munroe. Christine is a former literary agent and international book scout, and the current US Manager for Kobo Writing Life. She helps authors, agents and small publishers reach millions of readers worldwide through Kobo’s free self-publishing platform. She’s a lifelong book nerd who spends her free time walking her two toy poodles around Toronto. 

When I began my career in book publishing, an author’s path to reaching readers was singular, slow and indirect. Within the last ten years, every one of these factors has changed, offering authors unprecedented options and power.

I started out as an assistant at a literary agency in New York, and I was tasked with reading through the manuscript submission pile. The submissions came in by mail, a daily barrage of paper packages, each containing a query letter and the first 50 pages of a manuscript. I was the first of many filters deciding which projects would make it through to the next stage of consideration.

Subsequent decision makers included editors, marketing departments, scouts, booksellers, librarians and, finally, readers. The length of time between an author finishing a manuscript and a printed book reaching a reader’s hands was minimum one year. Today, if an author so chooses, they can circumvent every single one of these intermediaries and publish directly to a retailer, making their book available electronically to readers on the very same day. Or, they can take any number of in-between hybrid routes to reach readers, outsourcing piecemeal parts of the publishing process as they wish. This shift has been monumental, and caused a domino effect of changing responsibilities amongst all players in the industry.

I’m currently the US Manager of Kobo’s self-publishing platform, Kobo Writing Life. The central purpose of my career remains exactly the same: helping authors make a living from their writing, and shepherding great books into the market. However, my day-to-day work has changed in so many fundamental ways. Technology drives my work: from email correspondence with authors, to our digital platform, to the eReaders and apps Kobo customers read on. Publishing is fast and easy, and authors can have full control over everything from cover design to pricing.

Where do we go from here? What’s coming in the next five years?

  1. Even more speed and transparency, in all aspects of the publishing process. Gone are the days of authors publishing one book per year or less. When royalty statements came twice per year. And readers spent hours browsing bookstore and library shelves. Everything is just faster, and everyone expects instant results and data.
  2. Continued growth in global sales. For example, at the moment, most self-published authors do not invest the necessary time and money into translations. As digital reading in foreign markets grows, this process will become easier and more streamlined.
  3. Shifts in royalty structures. As one example, the 25% eBook royalty rate from publishers is far too low and doesn’t make sense in today’s market.
  4. More fluidity between various publishing paths. A lingering ‘us vs. them’ mentality can divide ‘independent’ and ‘traditional’ publishing, and it’s not reflective of the industry anymore. We’re all working towards the same goal: getting great books into readers’ hands.

All of that said, the one constant in this industry is change, and I’m sure something exciting and unexpected will somehow manage to catch us all off guard. I’m lucky to be along for the ride.

– Join us for ‘Publishing: the next 5 years’ in London, Oxford, Cambridge UK, or NYC.

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