Notes from An Alien

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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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