In this first blog entry I’m going to say some disappointing things about the segment of the publishing industry that we might define as traditional or conventional. I also have some warnings about self-publishing. I want to point out first, though, that nearly all the people I meet in the literary world are wonderful folks who love reading, admire writers, and are in this difficult business for love and honor, not to find their fortunes. So why is our industry in such a mess?
Everything we were used to has been upended in the last few years by a perfect storm of innovation: The unexpected and breathtaking popularity of eBooks, the dominance and then sudden collapse of chain bookstores, the decline in the reading of books due to the distractions of myriad electronic media, the Great Recession, war, unemployment, shrinking education commitment and general mayhem.
Up until this time bookstores, distributors and wholesalers pretty much used publishers as their bankers by exploiting the returns system, while writers, even those represented by a shrinking army of literary agents, were left to live off the dregs left after publishers paid all the bills. This system remains in place, mostly for the bigger companies who still control the mainstream and can still profit from it through bulk printing and publicity dollars. But even they are hurting financially. Big brushstrokes here, of course, so no letters, please.
Self-publishing was on the rise, mostly in response to more people wanting to publish and not enough room, even for excellent work, in the tightly gate-kept conventional market. Along comes Amazon and blows open the whole thing with CreateSpace and a massive emphasis on self-published eBooks.
This led us to where we are now: two separate publishing veins within the industry–the narrowing conventional model and the dynamic, chaotic, exciting world of indie publishers and a dangerous tsunami of self-published work.
Occasionally, the mainstream ‘discovers’ a phenomenon like Fifty Shades of Grey and several notable others and brings them into the fold, as it were, somehow legitimizing them and opening them to foreign rights sales and film contracts.
With the rare breakthrough possibilities acknowledged, the norm is that the bulk of self-published work has been sent to print prematurely. The great mass of eager readers are increasingly disappointed by the substandard books they generously invest in. What needs to happen is that independent publishers like Calumet Editions need to become the benign gatekeepers of the industry and snarf up the great and unsung books that traditional publishers will not take a chance on and the best of self-published books prove themselves worthy.
At Calumet Editions, we’re excited about the prospects of indie publishing and our unique model in this dynamic, chaotic, anything-is-possible new age of publishing. A break with how things have been done in the past may be just the ticket for the evolving literary market place and its readers.