Friday, January 20, 2012

More notes from the publishing singularity

Apparently Powell's Books here in Portland and the famous Tattered Cover in NYC will be among the first to have the print-on-demand Espresso Book Machines in their stores.

This is a technology I've been curious about ever since hearing that its parent company, Print on Demand, acquired liscencing access to publisher Harper Collin's backlist last year. It takes 5 - 8 minutes to print out a paperback, compete with full-color cover art using an Espresso Machines, so this device and its access to large network of titles could be a huge boon to independent bookstores with their limited shelf and warehouse space.

Another potential boost for the indies: Here in the US, Barnes and Noble continues to look an awful lot like a corporation that is preparing to file for Chapter 11 a year or so down the road by spinning off its revenue-earning Nook ereader into a separate business entity, closing its flagship Seattle store, laying off employees across the board, and reducing shelf space in remaining stores along with its overall long-term inventory. If that's what actually plays out, we would be left with a print-selling landscape that consists of independent bookstores and Amazon, as well as online ebook retailers like Google Books, Nook, the struggling iBookstore, and Smashwords.com.

Also of interest in recent publishing industry events: Confessions of a Publisher: We're in Amazon's sight and they're totally going to kill us. 

As an emergent print publishing powerhouse, Amazon is a mixed bag for authors. Great at present, but potentially troubling for authors in just a few years down the line. By currently offering million-dollar advances and aggressively recruiting talent with their new book-publishing imprint, they are reversing a thirty-year trend of authors making less and less money from declining advances and royalty checks. Then there is the self-publishing ebook model where authors take home 70% of the selling price, pre-tax, which is very exciting even as it offers it's own unique set of self-promotion and business-management challenges for writers and other creative content producers. 

The potential downside of course is a world in which Amazon is ascendant. Will a company that has allowed some of its distribution warehouses to be run with a ruthlessness towards employees typically found in Charles Dickens novels still be treating authors well if it becomes a near monopoly? Hopefully the low cost of entry into the field and ability of authors to found or move to competing online retail services will act as a check on reduced pay schemes.

Amazon's current setup is one that may very well allow hard-working writers to make a middle-class living off their work, so I'd like to see it continue into the future. Especially as traditional publishing industry has failed to pay its writers or even its staff memebers a living wage for several years now.

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