Opinion

The democratization of publishing

Keith Ogorek Contributor

Since its inception the publishing industry has operated like an aristocracy. An elite few held the power to essentially determine if an author’s work would be allowed in the public square. It was publication without self-determination for authors. For no matter how passionate or motivated an author was about his or her work, the fate of the book rested entirely with a few publishing houses. Those days, however, are over. Everything has changed.

Publishing becomes a democracy thanks to technology

In the mid-1990s, the convergence of three emerging technologies laid the groundwork for a revolution in publishing. First, desktop publishing replaced traditional typesetting, which meant an individual could design a book more quickly and cost effectively. Second, the debut of print-on-demand (POD) technology meant copies of a book could be printed individually at costs comparable to traditional, large offset runs. Third, the internet became a retail distribution channel. This leveled the playing field for authors who wanted to distribute their books broadly and cost effectively. These technologies, all developing at the same time, meant the elite no longer held the power. Authors now had it.

The next Indie revolution
This fundamental shift in control has been transformational to the publishing industry, but it is not that surprising. Prior to this transformation, two other industries — film and music — experienced similar revolutions. Again, because of advancements in technology and the internet’s distribution capabilities, both filmmakers and musicians have been able to invest in their work, put it on the market and develop a following. Legions of new indie film makers and bands have emerged and disrupted long-standing business models to the benefit of consumers. Indie authors are simply the next artists in that line.

The votes are in

While this revolution has been taking place over the last decade, this year marked a milestone. Publishers Weekly, the leading industry periodical, published an article titled Self Publishing Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped essentially declaring victory. Reporter Jim Milliot states the latest Bowker data, which is the industry measuring stick, shows “the number of ‘non-traditional’ titles dwarfed those of traditional books.”

General media are also taking note. In the New York Times Magazine article, “Authors Unbound Online,” Virginia Hefferen claims, “…book publishing is simply becoming self publishing” and “self published books are not just winning in terms of numbers, but also making up ground in cachet.”

So what does all this mean for authors? They now have more freedom to control their own destiny and have a vote as to what happens with their books. Long live the revolution!

Keith Ogorek is the Senior VP of Marketing for Author Solutions and blogs at www.indiebookwriter.com.