A few months back, I wrote a blog here called “Publishing and the Record Business”, in which I went on about the similar problems the two industries are facing today. There’s been a lot of talk lately in the blogosphere about this topic, so I felt it worthwhile to revisit it.

The record business has been largely decentralized, thanks to the digital revolution. It’s now at the point where a completely unknown artist or band can record their own album in his own software-based home studio, promote and sell it on the internet (if it’s any good), book tour dates as a result of sales, get “airplay” on internet radio, and carve out a modest career for themselves. This is happening over and over again all around the world, as thousands upon thousands of artists who would’ve had no shot under the dominion of major record labels are now following their dream with some success. And record stores? A distant memory.

As you can clearly see, under this scenario, the record companies are completely circumvented. They’re left with the big, big super-artists, who are really just putting out one bloated same-ol’-same-ol’ album after another, trying to hang on to their security within the record-label plantation system. Even major artists have liberated themselves by deserting the record-company sinking ship and starting up their own internet-based operations.

This is the future of publishing.

We shouldn’t worry ourselves about 100,000 free downloads of a Dan Brown book as much as we should be welcoming the opportunity for more writers to be published and read. I mean, does anyone really think that the future of publishing lies within the corridors of Random House?

I think the future lies much more substantially in the den at my house.

And your house.

And the houses of thousands of writers whose work would otherwise never see the light of day because agents and big publishers are too busy having lunch with each other to pay attention to them. Well now, they’ve got an outlet. And the publishing business as we know it is going to be ground into dust, exactly as the major record labels and the old Hollywood movie studios were, unless they get on board.

Now, I know there are many out there (myself included, actually) who say, “Whoa! I will never stop buying real books with covers and binding and all that other good stuff!” Well, if the publishing business gets their act together, we may be able to avoid an all-digital future, but that’s a mighty big “if”. In the meantime, we have to quit whining and start planning.

There’s a brave new world coming. And it’s coming sooner than we think.

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  1. I’m old enough to hope the publishing houses get their acts together and allow readers to choose from either option, but the more I learn about the publishing industry, the less confidence I have.

  2. One great thing about the “digital revolution” in music is the resurgence of vinyl. Anymore, I buy more vinyl albums than CDs, hands-down. I may get a release on iTunes, and if I like it and the art is good, I’ll get the vinyl as well. My favorites are records that include either a CD copy or a download link for the digital version. That is win-win. I could definitely see books following a similar model. It’s hard for me to imagine going digital for my reading needs, but then again, I dug in my feet about iPods for years too, and now it is one of those gadgets I “can’t live without.” At least at the gym or on long road trips anyway. Still, an iPod is a whole lot smaller than something I could comfortably read a book on.

  3. Dana–I’m not quite so pessimistic. I think the publishers will be able to see and take advantage of the options available to them. POD, eBooks, etc–these are all low-cost, moneymaking avenues that they can pursue, and I’m hopeful that they will force themselves to see beyond the next Dan Brown book.

    Chris–I love vinyl, too. And I’m tickled to death that it’s making a modest comeback. That’s a good idea about publishers following the bonus-CD model with their books. It would certainly attract more readers, and enable them to keep making real books.

    And as for the iPod, don’t try to read on it. Get a Nook, or a Kindle, or better yet, wait for the Apple iSlate, coming out at the end of the month. From what I hear, it’s going to be killer.

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