Publishing’s Civil Wars

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Editorial by Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka

For the past decade, there has been what has amounted to a civil war in publishing. Most of the time, it has been easy to ascertain the front line: print vs. digital. Traditionalists promote the view that print, which has been the foundation of the business for millennia, is paramount and will continue to drive revenue for the foreseeable future. The digerati believe that it is time to “innovate” and leverage new publishing technology to develop new ways to deliver stories to readers. The war is not over and has been fought to a stalemate. In mature digital markets, growth has seemed to plateau, and print has proven surprisingly resilient.

Each side has been subject to circumstances that are beyond the direct control of publishers. Politics has played an important role: in Europe, several governments including France, Russia and Germany are investing tens of millions to shore up their publishing and bookselling infrastructure, while in the United States a contentious lawsuit saw the Department of Justice convicting Apple and five of America’s largest publishers of colluding to fix ebook prices.

And who can deny that the global recession has hastened deflationary pressure on book prices and sales (see: Spain) and the increasingly ubiquitous and attractive digital distractions have contributed to a decline in an interest in reading (see: Korea)?

In recent years, another frontline has developed, where the fighting has grown more intense every year: legacy publishers vs. self-publishers. Self-publishers, or if you prefer, indie publishers are increasingly vocal about their ability to earn a better living, have a closer engagement with readers, and deliver a better publishing experience by bypassing traditional publishers altogether. The established publishers, on the other hand, may not have even known they were in a fight.

But if they didn’t, they do now: this year at Frankfurt, self-publishing is becoming a greater and greater part in the discussions (see: CONTEC).

Like any revolution, self-publishing is seeking nothing short of regime change. Publishers and their allies (agents) are reacting in much the same way a standing government does in the face of any rebellion: some are reacting with vociferous opposition, some are negotiating (and buying up the rights to self-published bestsellers), while others are switching sides.

Where do you stand in the fight?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.