where the writers are
What Happens Next for Authors and Publishers

If you are a reader of print books, the bankruptcy of Borders will have the impact of inconvenience, since the big box bookstores like Barnes and Noble largely carry the same books, you will simply toddle over to the Barnes and Noble store, which might or might not require a short ride or walk.

If you are addicted to best sellers, you will be able to pick up your favorite read at a Walmart or if a mass market paper book is your choice you’ll still be able to purchase it at your favorite drug store or supermarket.

Aside from the tragic circumstances of lost jobs, the Border’s bankruptcy indicates yet again, that the paper book is in serious decline. As a reader of paper books you may have an emotional conniption over that fact but you will have to face the reality of technical change.

It will not be long before even those big bookstores that are left in play will begin to slowly disappear. They will no longer need big space to carry their wares.

Nor is this phenomena restricted to the United States. In the UK 28 British Bookshops and Stationers stores will close within a month. In Australia, not only Borders, but Angus and Robertson and the Whitcoulls chain have been placed into voluntary administration, a fancy definition of bankruptcy.

Adding to the woes of publishers is the fact that the estates of enormously popular dead writers like Barbara Cartland and Ian Fleming have moved their vast backlist into digital. Other authors like Amanda Hocking and numerous other have also gone the route of self-publishing in digital.

The impact on the economics of authoring will be devastating. Not at first. The vast system of distribution, promotion, reviews, publicity and advertising that drove readers to the bookstores and buttressed the traditional publishing industry for decades is shattering. Those whose “brand” has been established through this system will remain but not for long as more and more authors join the fray and attempt to publicize, advertise and market their books.

The taste filters that anointed the “quality” of books on the basis of literary merit and salability will be far too defuse to make a mass market impact. This will be especially true for mainstream novelists who do not fit comfortably into genre categories like romance, mysteries, science fiction, paranormal and numerous others. Celebrity type books, whether by politicians and entertainment celebrities will still be viable for a longer time frame, but these books, too will have to bow to the net for sales.

As content morphs to the Internet and reading devices proliferate, the author will find himself or herself in a morass where establishing his or her identity will be an enormous challenge.

To make matters more complicated, self-publishing will add millions to the volume of books available in digital. Few books will go out of print. Within a short period of time there will be millions of books available to readers. How will a single author rise above the chatter and attract readers?

As if this was still not enough to cause anxiety to the aspirations of authors, there is the avalanche of loose talk predicting the demise of readers.  The prediction is based on the logic of too many distractions that limit reading time, especially for story reading meaning novels. I tend to doubt that assumption. There have always been distractions. Of course, as a writer of stories I am deeply prejudiced. I have heard too many death knells for the novel to find its demise credible.

The concept of  “what happens next”, the soul of story, is at the very core of the human psyche. But that is an issue for another time.

There will certainly be no shortage of writers. Creative writing courses are expanding at an enormous rate. There are more than two hundred universities with credible creative writing departments offering degrees at all levels. There are thousands of writing courses being offered outside the college environment to countless numbers of wannabe writers burning to tell their stories.

And they will get them published through digital self-publishing technology. The gates to publication are quickly disappearing and the gatekeepers who policed the publishing business will slowly disappear. Who will read these books? How will readers determine whether a book is worth reading? How many wonderful books will fall through the cracks? How will an author who considers writing his or her calling get read? Will an author be able to sell enough books to sustain him economically? Will too many writers be chasing too few readers? Will there still be a best selling category?

The fact is that no one has the answer. As for what happens next in the publishing business. It is a novel of suspense with no climax in sight.