Some weeks ago, I was explaining the returns system and how integral it had become to the industry to a friend.
“I get it,” he smiled, “publishing’s built on its broken bits.”
The comment was said without malice, but it gnawed at me. Is publishing really that ‘broken’? I don’t believe it for a minute, but is that naïve idealism, or do we have a real reason to hold out hope for the future?
Picking ourselves up
There can be no doubt that traditional publishing models have taken a hit over the past few years, with the advent of eBooks, online bookstores, and an influx of new entertainment options all competing for readers’ attention.
Despite all this, publishing isn’t an industry to lie down and take failure. It never has been: every publisher has signed a book that flopped, but they don’t admit defeat, they learn from the mistake, get back up and sign another title. In the same way, we’ve risen – and continue to rise – to the challenges set by the digital revolution. From launching TV channels and building apps to creating eReading platforms and producing merchandise, recent changes in publishing show that our industry can evolve just as well as any other.
Certainly, publishing still faces problems: even now, authors are calling for fair wages, online bookstores are outselling their bricks-and-mortar counterparts, and the returns system remains a notable quirk of no other industry on the planet.
But perhaps the biggest problem facing us is allowing ourselves to be intimidated by our new, digital competitors to the point where we forget our own value – and we do have value!
The biggest picture
Let’s take a look at the global picture. More people around the world are literate today than ever before, and that number keeps growing year on year, as growth of education in developing countries continues to rise. More encouragingly, the book markets in these countries, and in BRICK countries in particular, are expanding in tandem. The same digital developments that we are so often threatened by are huge contributors to these developments.
What’s more, the next generation might be digital, but they’re not book-averse, you only need to look at the expansion of the Children’s and YA markets to see that young people today are growing up loving books. As far as reading goes, the future actually looks bright!
What we bring to the table
What publishing is currently suffering from is an identity crisis. Because of the changes in the way people are reading, the definition of what exactly publishing comprises is evolving every day – and it’s completely out of our hands! Every blog post, every set of FAQs, even every Tweet and Facebook status, are all published material. The Hatnote app lets you listen to Wikipedia as it’s being updated and it really helps put in perspective how much information is being published on the internet at any given moment. There can be no denying that the written word is as popular as ever.
Yet, the speed of publication which digital technology allows needs to be tempered by quality control: it is estimated that by 2020, only 35% of the data on the internet will be considered to be ‘useful’, a rise from 2013’s 5%.
Cue publishers. What we bring to the table is our expertise and ability to create and sell well-formed, engaging writing. The digital world will become nonsensical without the people who can create top-quality content and know how to make it appealing. We can have confidence looking forward.
What’s more, a digital future won’t just need us, it will also give back. It will allow us to express our underlying passion on a global scale, because publishing isn’t just built on its broken bits, it’s built on a collective love of the written word. That passion is what made our industry in the first place, and what will bring it into the future.
This is a guest post from Jasmin Kirkbride. Jasmin is a regular blogger for BookMachine and Editorial Assistant and Journalist. She is also a published author and you can find her on Twitter @jasminkirkbride.