Futurist Prediction – Publishing Thoughts

Me and my junior editor, Kleopatra
Me and my junior editor, Kleopatra

Syn·the·sis: the combining of the constituent elements of separate material or abstract entities into a single or unified entity ( opposed to analysis, ) the separating of any material or abstract entity into its constituent elements.

The problem with most evaluations of publishing is that the evaluators are looking at each item. They are not looking at the organic whole.

Why is Synthesis Important?

Most people think linearly. They easily understand 1+1=2, just like my beagle hound understands that if she follows a scent, she will find the animal that laid the scent trail at the end of it.

There is nothing wrong with linear thinking. Linear thinking makes day-to-day life possible. If you don’t understand that driving on the wrong side of the road is likely to kill you, you are likely to become a Darwin Award winner. Linear thinking allows you to avoid that.

At the same time linear thinking means that you miss things. Let’s take Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky, the two greatest hockey players of all time. Both had an ability to evaluate the positions on the ice of the players on both teams. Both racked up a huge number of assists by being able to use this ability to pick the player who was in the best position to score. Often it wasn’t the player closest to the net, which is the linear answer.

In publishing we are seeing linear answers to a non-linear problem. This means that the answers that people like Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Shatzkin, Bob Mayer, Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, and a variety of other people are coming up with are often wildly off base.

They aren’t stupid. It is just that they are thinking in a linear manner, when the problem they are addressing isn’t linear.

As an aside, I strongly recommend reading all of their blogs if you are interested in where publishing is going in the next few years. While I’m criticizing them for thinking in the wrong manner in their evaluations, they have a lot of really good stuff that you can learn from.

Non-Linear Thinking Applied to Publishing

Publishing is a child of society. As such it is connected to all other parts of society, effects, and is effected by them. Some connections are more direct than others.

The increase in literacy in North America in the 19th Century caused an increased market for literary works to develop. That is an easy effect to foresee.

The increase in fiction first from radio plays, later from films, and then from television also drove an increased demand for books. This was a non-direct effect, which was not foreseen. In fact it was expected that there would be a reduced demand for printed fiction, as everyone would be watching television.

There is a logical connection though. As audiences consumed increased amounts of fiction, they developed a larger appetite for fiction. It isn’t a direct connection. It isn’t a connection that the majority expected. It is the connection that occurred.

Synthesis

Today I saw an article about how the United States Postal Service is planning to cut service to five days per week. There are other cuts planned as well, and apparently this is causing a lot of concern in the United States, as it means that next day delivery is going to be a thing of the past.

A lot of people I know have said that they will never, ever, switch to EBooks. But it is getting harder to find places to buy books. The places that do mail order have just become less efficient through no fault of their own. The article mention how this could impact Netflix. Do you think that Netflx saw this coming, and that this is possibly why they tried to split off the DVD mail order, and electronic delivery parts of the business?

Exactly how will this impact Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the other online book stores that depend upon the U.S. Postal Service to deliver hardcopy books? If the effect is reduced sales of hardcopy books, how will this impact the Big Six Publishers?

I made my prediction a while back. I predicted that the Big Six are headed for bankruptcy. Dean Wesley Smith disagrees with me. He pointed out that they are showing increased profitability because of the reduced costs of producing ebooks.

In the short-term, Dean is right. Ebooks will make the publishers money. In the long-term he is wrong. Dean thinks that a lot of writers who will never, ever, make the switch to independent publishing, or will never switch to using small publishers like myself who pay higher royalty rates.

It wasn’t that long ago that a friend of mine thought he got a great deal. He bought my entire 8-Track collection for $50.00! He got fifteen or twenty 8-Track tapes. I got enough money to buy four cassette tapes. A year later he couldn’t sell the 8-Tracks, and ended up storing them in his garage, when he switched to cassette.

Dean is thinking linearly, like my friend Clark was. This year, he is right. Next year, he won’t be. Writers are talking. They are comparing notes. Which publisher gives the best deals. Which publisher treats writers like human beings. How hard is it to publish themselves.

How hard is it to ship signed copies of your books from your house to your readers…

This is not a Simple Situation

Think about it:

  • The Kindle, Nook, iPad, Playbook, and Android tablets
  • U.S. Postal Service cutting service
  • Hard cover book quality dropping
  • Paperback book quality dropping
  • Amazon and Smashwords making Independent Publishing easy
  • The Internet making electronic delivery fast and low-cost
  • English has become THE international language, opening up a huge market for English language books
  • Hardware costs for e-book readers are falling towards zero
  • The hard copy book delivery system in the English language countries is badly broken
  • The number of readers has probably hit the highest level ever

Add all of this up, and what do you get? A firestorm. A firestorm of adoption of electronic books. Electronic books cost less to produce than hard copy books, allowing small independents like myself to compete on a relatively even basis with the large companies. Or for that matter the individual writers to compete. The only reason that I can exist is that some writers are willing to hire me TO WORK FOR THEM.

There are factors that I’m probably missing. I have only a limited amount of time to read the news. I’ve got editing that I have to do, and my own writing.

But I’ll bet that I’m closer to right than anyone else is.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Sunday December 4, 2011

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