Ready for the NEXT Shift in the Publishing Paradigm?
Sometimes, it's painful to be right.
On July 17th, in my blog post titled "The Publishing Paradigm Shift is No Longer Coming, It's Here," I was bemoaning the loss of another notable Canadian small publisher. Since that time, I've actually been encouraged by the appearance of a flurry of new small presses and magazine titles. There will always be publishers, although the value of being one of their authors diminishes as companies gets smaller and their professionalism, reach and distribution clout decline. There is no doubt that being published by anyone other than yourself has its perks - ie: someone to do some of the grunt work; a stable of other writers to give you more sense of community; more direct contact with the people who actually do the work of publishing and marketing. But the subdivision of small publishers into micropublishers comes with an equal number of drawbacks; ie: negligible advances if you're even able to get one, less prestige, limited distribution, limited marketing outreach and prowess. For the most part, everything is regaining equilibrium quite smoothly and, at worst, writers who are left in the lurch by the devils they know - are able to quickly come to terms with whatever new devils they're making their pacts with.
Until now, none of the major shifts I was expecting actually happened. Then on Nov. 25th, Publishers Weekly announced that Bertelsmann, the parent company of Penguin Random House had reached an agreement with ViacomCBS to buy Simon & Schuster for $2.175 billion. This deal will likely take some time to finalize. Some anti-trust suits may stop or delay it, although the Bertelsmann spokesperson expressed doubt that anti-trust would be an issue.
Of course, it's an issue for writers. Two imprints from the same publisher are less likely to compete for you - thus some writers are destined to make even less money than they used to. In ten years, the big six have become the big four, while Amazon's strength in the e-book market continues to grow. As writers, we can do nothing but wait for the next shoe to drop. In the science fiction community, we can be grateful that Macmillan is still standing - for now.
Writers who have not yet made contingency plans would be wise to strengthen their personal brands. Managing and updating your backlist will be absolutely vital. Authors who have been orphaned early have been forced to seek out new channels and new strategies - so they may actually have gained a leg up on you coming into the next phase. Their Plan B could be well underway before yours even starts. And if you've grown complacent with the management of your career you may need to fight your way out of a bigger hole that some of your friends.
Maybe it's time for us all to take our marks...get ready...get set...