Sunday, February 26, 2012

The End of the (Publishing) World As We Know It by Darren Howard

A recent NY Times article, “The Bookstore’s Last Stand," sounded yet another alarm about the death of publishing. Apparently Barnes & Noble is the last hope of bookstores, and therefore of publishers and even of printed books. (January 29, 2012;

This is part of a larger trend I’ve seen that confuses the online
buying of books with the emergence of e-books. The one persuasive part
of the article mentions that publishers don’t need bookstores to sell
books, but rather to attract authors: “Without Barnes & Noble, the
publishers’ marketing proposition crumbles. The idea that publishers
can spot, mold and publicize new talent, then get someone to buy books
at prices that actually makes economic sense, suddenly seems a reach.
Marketing books via Twitter, and relying on reviews, advertising and
perhaps an appearance on the “Today” show doesn’t sound like a winning

But the model of Big Publishing was never really a winning plan. They
ended up primarily looking for just a few big mega-hits to promote,
and as time went on, the only authors they felt they could really rely
on were their existing authors. The only authors who could earn a
living from their work were those who had already written their best
works, regardless of the quality of their future work. Is that good
for anyone?

Clearly it’s not good for readers, and not for new writers, and at
last we are seeing why it was not even good for the publishers. Just
like the music industry, they have brought their destruction onto

The implications of this, however, are not that publishing, or books,
are dead. Only that the farce of big corporations controlling what
people read and write is coming to an end. With the rise of
high-quality, fast, and cheap printing, who needs a
publisher—especially a publisher who will take away the author’s say
in the cover, layout, and price of the book? With the co-ordination of
online-purchasing with print-on-demand distributors, who needs a
publisher—especially a publisher who inflates the price of a book to
pay for their bureacracy? With the increasing pressure on authors to
promote and market their own books, who needs a publisher?

Be your own publisher! That’s what we are doing here at Gold Man.
That’s what all these claims about the end of publishing don’t
understand. The change in publishing is not from print to electronic
media. That’s just a small, irrelevant part of it. The main change is
from corporate publishing to self-publishing.

So what does the future hold? My prediction is that for a while
longer, there will be this sense of chaos, uncertainty, wailing the
loss of the Old Way. But the next step is already beginning: the
emergence of printers, marketers, distributors, and even investors for
authors who are self-publishing. We are already seeing the rise of
printers who cater to authors, rather than corporations, like
Lightning Source. The other fields have yet to develop: Professional
marketers, distributors, and investors who cater specifically to
self-published authors. Just as with literary agents, there will
probably be different tiers available to different folks—those who are
good enough, or just connnected enough, will have access to the best
marketers and distributors.

As for the argument that publishers weeded out the bad books for us,
as a sort of filter of crappy writing, all I have to say is, look at
what the publishers have been publishing over the last ten years. How
much of it has struck you as particularly good? Sometimes
entertaining, yes, but really, deeply good? Personally, I can count
them on my fingers. How many books have you read lately that you can
read again several times, with pleasure each time, and each time
seeing something new? My guess is that most examples you can think of
were published a good long while ago.

So while yes, there are aspects of the old way that are nice
(scrolling through a book is very different from flipping through it),
but think of all the room you will have once you have gotten rid of
all those musty, dusty, heavy books (yes, Shteyngart, I know you have
already mocked this, but I know that you know that I know you were

Darren Howard is an editor for Gold Man Review. To read more about Darren go to

No comments:

Post a Comment