Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Will Traditional Publishers Survive?

traditional publishing So much change in so little time!

Folks are predicting the Big-Five Book Publishers and dozens of smaller houses are on their way out.


Liberty Books has an article by Ellen F. Brown (award-winning freelance writer) called, Why Book Publishing Can Survive Digital Age: Echoes.

As far as the challenge to traditional publishers from the new digital phenomenon, Ellen says, “…the publishing industry has a long history of weathering these sorts of challenges…”.

Then, she proceeds to cite some history:

“In the 1920s, drug, grocery and department stores gave booksellers fits by offering popular titles at cut-rate prices.”

“Also problematic was the Book of the Month Club, a distribution company founded in 1926 that sold inexpensive hardcover versions of popular books through mail order.”

“And, of course, there was the ultimate competitor to bookstores: public libraries. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, communities across the U.S. funded the construction of facilities where books could be had for free, albeit only on loan.”

“Then came the ‘paperback revolution’. According to Publishers Weekly, word spread at the 1939 American Booksellers Convention that ‘some reckless publisher’ was going to bring out a series of paperback reprints of popular novels to be sold for only a quarter a piece.”

“The real test of the industry’s mettle came in 1949 when Fawcett Publications announced a new series of 25-cent paperback originals. A vigorous debate arose over the propriety of original work being released in such an inexpensive format.”

And, Ellen’s thoughts on how all that affected the publishers?

“Although there was much grumbling along the way, the industry gradually accepted that the new products and distributors, including libraries, were not evil incarnate. To the contrary, they were something of a boon in that they generated interest in reading among people who didn’t frequent bookstores.”

Then, a most interesting thought:

“The new products also had a hard time maintaining their early successes. It’s a simple matter of economics: Delivering a high-quality product at a bargain-basement price is difficult. Once competition heated up in the cheap-book market, signs of strain began to show.”

There’s a lot more history and speculation in the full article but Ellen sums up with: “Electronics are here to stay, but someday the digital revolution in publishing may well be seen as just another phase in the natural evolution of a vital and resilient industry.”

Do read the original article. It’s quite well-written


Do you agree that the Digital Revolution is just one more “adjustment” the traditional publishers need to consider?

Is there something “different” about Print-On-Demand and E-Books that poses a greater challenge to the Big-Five and their smaller cousins?
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8 responses to “Will Traditional Publishers Survive?

  1. Simone Benedict February 18, 2012 at 5:20 am

    Well, I read this post earlier today and decided to think it over all day long. I did that and now I’ve come back. I’d hoped some other people would have already commented. Hmm, guess they’re all off writing. So I’ll go ahead and give one a shot.

    Back when this revolution began I did think traditional publishing was probably doomed. As it’s progressed, I don’t feel the same. I think the effect will be similar to that of the .25 paperbacks. Yes, there’s something different so I may be wrong.

    Since you have some kind of idea about the landscape where I live (tho admitedly I do exaggerate at times – it’s only a little), you can probably guess when I begin to discuss e-books with my locales, esp. with librarians, they cannot conceptualize it. It’s all going to take some time, I suppose. Bear in mind my local library just added DVDs to its stock while keeping its vast collection of VHS tapes.

    Personally, I’ve noticed a change in my own attitude about publishers. I once paid close attention to who the publisher was and I was quite the snob really when I look back on it. I knew which ones put out quality books and which ones didn’t. Over the past about seven years or so, that has changed for me. It could be mostly a change in my attitude, but I believe there is a little more to it.


    • Alexander M Zoltai February 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Simone, I must quickly add, for those folks who don’t follow your blog, that you live in and often report on Kansas :-)

      Thanks for giving us a bit of your own changing history as it relates to publishing

      My attitudes have changed and continue to change—but then, I keep sticking my head into the news-stream to see what’s happening :-)


  2. Jane Watson February 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    This is indeed a revolution, which may well leave the traditional publishers behind if they don’t adapt and find ways to use it. The biggest challenge, in my opinion, would have to be Print-on-Demand. Already the stock that bookshops hold is woefully inadequate because they do not have shelf space. If bookshops find the solution in Print-on-Demand then the mainstream publishers may become less relevant in the chain of production. I hope mainstream publishers do survive but it is going to be a challenge which involves more than making their products available on e-readers. When we had our highly successful Book Fair on Book Island some years ago, in Second Life, I invited every mainstream publisher in Australia to attend and have a digital presence – a few showed interest – but most had no concept of ‘digital’ books. Now the publishing industry is trying to play catch up with the digital world. The question is: will they catch up on time?


    • Alexander M Zoltai February 18, 2012 at 3:58 pm

      Yes, Jane, bookstores are just barely beginning to, along with a few libraries, offer relatively inexpensive books printed on the premises in about five minutes

      And, speaking of shelf space, places like Amazon have Infinite shelf space

      I agree that the major publishers will have to do lots more than just jump on the e-book bandwagon.

      And, Jane, thanks for mentioning the virtual world, Second Life. :-)


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