Once again, my week was filled with the hustle and bustle that accompanies Book Expo America (BEA)- one of the most talked about events of the publishing industry. For publishing professionals, some hate it and some love it, but it always serves as an eye opening glimpse of the current state of the publishing and literary industry. This year, I actually found BEA quite refreshing. The panels, seminars, lectures, booths, and vendors overwhelming focused on one thing: the immense amount of changes the publishing industry is seeing. There are so many amazing and exciting changes happening that it is hard to highlight just a few, but I doubt you want to read my endless ramblings. I picked out two of the biggest and most talked about changes that I noticed this year.
First, is the rise of subscription services. Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, moderated a popular panel on the future of these subscription services at BEA this year. Many publishers have been skeptical of the subscription service model, and some are even still reluctant to join. Coker pointed out subscription services face three major challenges: (i) making sure consumers have enough content for the value they are paying and to keep them coming back, (ii) that publisher’s make enough money to want to keep them involved, and (iii) that the service is financially enticing/affordable for readers and listeners. Scribd is the biggest subscription service of this kind at the moment. It offers access to more than a million e-book and audio titles for just $8.99 a month.
Sounds like a sweet deal to me, what’s not to like? Especially as a consumer. We need to remember that these subscription services are still a pretty new concept, which is always greeted with much initial skepticism. Only three of the “big five” publishers are currently participating, so you won’t find everything available which will leave you still needing to use other outlets and spending more money elsewhere. Do you read or listen to enough books to make the monthly fee worth it? Do you prefer print books? Are you finding things you are actually interested in? These are all questions we are still trying to find the answers to, but I personally think we are headed in the right direction with models such as these.
Our beloved Amazon/Audible is already functioning on a subscription based model for its digital download audiobooks and the subscription method is certainly working for them. Two problems with Audible are that the consumer is limited to a certain amount of credits a month (unless you want to pay extra) and, it’s no secret, they dominate the market share. However, with the rise of subscription services, such as Scribd, more variety and value of products are being offered for your money and new companies seek to create a “balance in the ecosystem”- introducing more players onto the field.
I don’t blame publishers for being skeptical and slow to join these subscription companies. Change can be scary and many people fear the subscription model is “too good to last forever,” so why join? Nothing stays stagnant forever, we need to respond to what the market needs and wants in order to keep the industry thriving and I think many people are finally starting to accept that.
This leads me into the next major change the publishing industry is seeing this year- a shift in focus to the reader. This was the focus of this year’s digital book conference in which many publishing veterans spoke to the reality of this change. The rise of the digital age of publishing has brought the readers to the forefront. You may be asking yourself, weren’t publishers always concerned with what readers wanted? Yes, it’s true, but they also had many other things to consider and many different forces pushing them to make certain decisions. The ease of self-publishing has been a major factor in bringing reader’s wants, needs, and interests into the lime light. It’s so much easier for publishers to see what works, how people are responding to certain genres, and what readers criticize just by looking at the Amazon page of some self-published authors. Publishing is becoming way more transparent and I think that’s awesome. We can’t produce a successful product without input from the people buying that product. As the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) CEO pointed out, many people think of publishers as “dinosaurs” of sorts, set in their ways and unwilling to change. But this BEA has proved any of them wrong- publishers are listening, readers are speaking out, and better products are being produced with much more accessibility.
This is a very exciting time to be involved in the publishing industry, either as a professional or author. The changes are only beginning but we are off to a pretty good start. Write on.