There has been a great deal of controversy over traditional publishing lately, and a lot of it has come from their own failed efforts to stay in business. Bloggers with far more experience than I have explained what they are doing in much greater detail. You can check one of them out here if you would like. Although I agree that traditional publishers haven't handled the decline in print sales well, I don't agree that they have no place in the future. This is because brick and mortar stores drive e-book sales, and vice versa. Readers browse libraries and bookstores with their mobile device or kindle in hand. Without the browsing, sales go down. So how does traditional publishing stay in business? I will outline three possible scenarios. Depending on the publisher, all of them are likely to follow a variation of one of these three. If you followed the link above, you know that some already are. Option 1- Cut expenses by offloading them to someone else.
This option is appealing from a business standpoint because it is good for the bottom line and somewhat easy to do. Just give out new contracts that offload those costs to the ignorant authors and you get to stay in business. Ideal, right? unfortunately no. A publisher that does this is essentially abusing their source of material and if there was no alternative, they could get away with it. The rise in indie publishing has made it so that authors do have an alternative, and one with far more lucrative options for them. In the end, this is a short-term solution that will only hurt a publisher in the long run. Any publisher who uses this tactic is putting themselves out of business.
Option 2- Fight
In business, if a competitor comes into your field you can always fight with promotions, exclusive content, etc. Some publishers are starting to offer additional chapters or other content to those who by the physical book in a bookstore. This is just one example of publishers trying to fight Amazon and e-publishing. The problem with this method in this scenario is that in long run publishers won't be able to keep up. Their entire business is geared around print books, and print books are declining. It also takes years to bring a new author to the public, which is far too slow. In short, no amount of marketing efforts can make up for a shift in the market. Over time, publishers that try to fight Amazon will end up closing their doors. They just can't compete.
As the market shifts to e-books the publishers that will stay in business will be the ones that adapt to the changing world. Rather than fight or continue to operate the same, these publishers will recognize that they still have a service that amazon isn't geared for (yet). This is the business of printing and distributing physical books. They also have all the services an author needs already employed. The problem is that publishers now are so bloated with extra services they can't push a book through anywhere close to how fast a person can upload a book to Amazon. Here is just one example of how a publisher will adapt to the changing market. We will call our publisher OtherHouse.
Otherhouse sees the shift in the market. They cut costs in-house first, and remove anything and everything from their structure that is no longer necessary. Since many of their prospective clients come from individuals that are already indie published, their editing and cover design staff are cut the most. They then begin to offer limited e-publishing services to many more authors. This would work because despite the ease of entry, putting a book up on Amazon is only part of publishing. You still have editing, cover design, and promotions. A small portion of indie authors do the research, contract the work, and excel on their own. the rest need help. Otherhouse begins to offer services as a percentage of sales. This means that an author can choose which services they want, and the payment is applied as a percentage of their sales. Since Amazon takes 30%, Editing could take 25%, cover design could take 10%, and promotional packets could take a few more percentage points. An author who wants everything would only net 25% of his book. The author who wants only a couple of services can net 40-50%. The books that sell well are then invited to become part of the full publishing platform. Same percentage system applies, so the author knows going into it exactly how much he can earn. An advance is possible, but no longer necessary because the book has already proven itself. Otherhouse then keeps their costs inside the percentages they earn from a book, and further cuts costs by utilizing POD publishing more effectively. E-book sales then drives book sales because the author already has an established fan base.
By the time the market stabilizes, Otherhouse has positioned itself perfectly. They have two groups of authors; limited published authors in their digital program, and fully published authors in their traditional arm. Either way, Otherhouse does well. It can give more to the author because it has cut its costs, it can service more authors because it has expanded its services, and it thrives in the changed market.
Regardless of the choices that publishers make, Amazon isn't likely to go anywhere. Traditional publishers need to accept that. Once they do, and start thinking smart, they will stay in business. Otherwise, they will go the way of Borders and Blockbuster. Keep up, or fall behind. As much as it is hard, that's the way the world works. I for one, hope that traditional publishers stay in business. I can't imagine a world where I can't go to a bookstore and brose authors I have never heard of, or stop by a library and read with my kids. I may read more e-books now, but I will never stop buying printed books of the titles I love.
Or sharing them with my family.