the fate of the modern book publishing industry


John Green, the author of distinguished books such as In search of Alaska, the flaws of our stars and An Abundance of Katherines once said, “There’s a lot of talk in publishing these days about how we need to be more like the internet: we need to make books for short attention spans with bells and whistles – books, in short, that look so much like “Angry”. Birds’ as possible. But I think that’s a very bad idea. With these words, the acclaimed writer tried to sum up the modern state of the publishing industry, and, unfortunately, John Green is not the only one who is convinced of the fate doomed to our dear paper books.

Growing up, I believed that numbers were my true calling and that I was destined to be an accountant because once in third grade, my teacher told my parents that I had an analytical mind and extraordinary mathematical ability. Since you are reading this article, you can guess how it happened. Since high school I have changed my mind about the future specialty more times than there are stars in the sky, but when my Russian literature teacher offered me a job as an editor in a publishing house, this idea seemed right to me. My parents weren’t as thrilled with the idea, advocating that publishing as an industry will soon cease to exist, and I’m just digging my own grave (my parents are funny like that). Today, I still cling to my dream. Nevertheless, sometimes I can’t help but wonder if publishing really is a dying industry.

Please note that when I talk about the publishing industry, I am referring specifically to the fiction book publishing industry, as there are different types of publishing, from newspaper to yearbook publishing . Still, we won’t go there unless you want to be stuck with me for life, I’m a nice person.

Nowadays, large publishing houses, such as Random penguin house and Hatchet Book, face multiple challenges that hinder their development and reduce their income. Below, I will go over several of these issues.

Hacking… but not Jack Sparrow type, sorry.

There is no doubt that electronic books, or e-books, are more affordable than paper books. I think we can also agree that e-books are more convenient because they store an entire library in one digital device. With such benefits of digital books, it’s no surprise that traditional physical copies have taken a back seat in the publishing market. However, the advent of Internet libraries and Kindles has also brought significant downsides to publishers. The most obvious being piracy, and believe me, I wish we had talked about Johnny Depp and cool ships, but that’s for another time.

Piracy bankrupts not only publishers but also authors who choose to promote their work in traditional ways.

Piracy in publishing occurs when readers illegally gain free access to articles and other forms of intellectual property on the Internet. Piracy bankrupts not only publishers but also authors who choose to promote their work in traditional ways. With the cost of publishing increasing, it’s no surprise that if the story is available for free, more often than not people would go for piracy. I mean… Have you seen how much new books cost? The lack of access to certain books in certain regions of the world contributes to the spread of cases of piracy. When I lived in Kazakhstan, the only English books I could afford were storybooks for 5-7 year olds, and the shipping costs cost me as much as my soul.

It can be argued that the solution to the problem of piracy is in the hands of the writers themselves. In order to reduce instances of unauthorized distribution of fictitious intellectual property, online and offline connection and communication between author and audience is essential. Talks, talks, and live social media sessions are an effective way for an author to provide direct links and share where buying physical, online, or audiobooks is more convenient. These methods also bring the public closer to the writers by increasing respect for their work. Additionally, writers can mention the publishing team in the acknowledgments, furthering appreciation for the corporate aspect of book creation.

Who is the fastest ?

Another issue facing publishers today is the boom in audiobooks. Yes, apparently danger is everywhere. At first glance, it’s unclear why they would cause such a problem for the industry, given that audiobooks are also a product of publishing houses. Audiobooks are usually saved some time after the physical copy is released. This allows people with access to simple modern technologies (like GarageBand) to record high-quality audiobooks and distribute them online before the introduction of the official audio recording produced by the publishing company with the rights author of the story. In addition to decreasing sales of physical copies, untimely recordings discourage people from acquiring official ones.

To solve the problem of audiobook piracy, some publishing houses record the audiobooks where the authors themselves tell the story. The voice conveys emotions better than a thousand words. Therefore, it is an invaluable experience to hear the story as the creator intended. Such a strategy is effective in building audience loyalty and increasing the demand for audiobooks.

“I am the Lord of myself, answerable to no one” – Benjamin Franklin

The rapid development of self-publishing poses another threat to the publishing industry. While the definition of process may allude to the idea that the writer is the one who creates, edits, and promotes a story, in reality, that is not the case. Self-publishing emerged as opposed to traditional publishing, where authors sell the copyright to their work to the publishing agency, which is then fully responsible for editing, design and promoting the book. This means that the house bears all costs and assumes all risks. However, in the case of book success, it is also the publisher that reaps the majority of the profits, while the author receives small royalties. In the case of self-publishing, the author fully controls the entire journey of the book, from writing to promotion. This does not necessarily mean that the author performs all the actions alone. On the contrary, they have the final say in important decisions concerning the creation of the book. While self-publishing is not a threat to the publishing industry as a whole, it certainly challenges the traditional layout of the industry.

Some stats, because they’re so much fun

Despite the publishing industry challenges mentioned above, publishing market statistics indicate that the sector is doing well. According to Weekly editorstotal sales of the top five publishing houses have increased by an average of around 16% since 2019. In addition, unit sales of print books have increased by 10.5% in December 2020. Although this is not an increase considerable, this means that people continue to buy paper books despite the spread and convenience of e-commerce.

Blanket: Stephen Phillips


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