Ten years ago, I was asked (along with others) to form a panel on writing and publishing for an animal advocacy conference. The panelists and I were so gloomy and downbeat in our presentation that we were never invited back again! What a difference a decade makes: I’m actually very positive about the future of book publishing. The reasons why are contained in this fine extended essay from The Economist (kindly sent to me by Cassandra Greenwald), and which is worth reading in full. There are, however, three paragraphs that distill just about all the “wisdom” that I impart to would-be authors, which are worth me quoting in full. In the future:
While there will be more books, there may be fewer people who can make a full living as writers and publishers, says Mike Shatzkin, an industry analyst.
This too could be in part seen as a return to previous eras, when people did not expect to earn a living by writing books but used books as a means to advance their career or as a creative outlet. It is clear that most self-published authors are not doing it for the money they can reasonably expect to get—they are doing it to leave a mark, if only a digital one. Those who make a living too may increasingly be the ones who become marketable personalities online, on the festival circuit and elsewhere, rather than just being faded pictures on the inside back cover.
And writers who are not also performers may find that new opportunities arise. People with an idea for a book they cannot afford to take the time to write no longer have to go to a publisher. They can offer something like old-fashioned subscriptions to prospective readers, either on generalist crowdfunding sites, such as Indiegogo, or through specialist firms such as Pubslush and Unbound. Many will not get funded; some will succeed beyond their dreams.