Is There an ePublishing “Bubble”?

March 12, 2012

Last week, Nathan Bransford wondered if there is an “ePublishing bubble.” In his post, he links back to an article in UK’s The Guardian which argues “yes,” based on Hyman Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis.

Great idea. Unfortunately, he only gets to the second of seven linear steps before making an argument that’s tragically flawed:

Following the disturbance, prices in that sector start to rise. Initially, the increase is barely noticed. Usually, these higher prices reflect some underlying improvement in fundamentals. As the price increases gain momentum, more people start to notice. Speculation thrives.

On first inspection, epublishing doesn’t appear to fit the model here, as it’s clear that the prices of ebooks are falling drastically (in the week of Jan 1, 28% of the top 100 ebooks on Amazon were 99p or under, and 48% were under £2.99). But that’s because we’re looking at this the wrong way round – from the perspective of the consumer. The ebook explosion is coupled with the rise of the e-reader, and the profits there are in the hands of the manufacturers. There has also been a fast turn around in these new technologies from Kindle to Kindle Fire, from iPad to iPad 2; and a brand new market of consumers for these products has appeared from nowhere. The change to cheap ebooks and self-published ebooks is a “change in underlying fundamentals”.

Um. No. By this logic, you can manipulate any profit-making enterprise to fit your hypothesis. The iPhone is a bubble! Poker and Riverdance were both bubbles! Except these weren’t bubbles, these are trends – things whose popularity gradually expanded, and just as gradually receded to levels that were more sustainable in the long term. Yes, as with the Gold Rush, most of the profits are made by the people selling the products and services telling you “how to do it.” Just as most of the profits were made in poker, and in Riverdance. In all cases, though, the post-recession levels of participation were still much higher than they were before the expansion.

A “bubble,” by contrast, requires unsustainable overvaluation that will be corrected suddenly and massively (a “burst”). Like what happened in housing last decade, or with the dot-com before before that, or the stock market in the 1920s. In all of these cases consumers were paying the higher prices. When consumers are shelling out for concrete products that makes their lives easier, that’s the opposite of speculation; it’s commerce.

Many people are arguing that the next bubble will be in education. Although there is some dissent with that argument, I find that one much more likely to stick. But self-publishing, though it may reach a peak in popularity, will not collapse in the same way the housing market did. It will simply reach a healthy long-term equilibrium, where some people succeed and others fail.

Publishing Predictions for 2012

January 4, 2012

Last week, Author Media produced a post predicting how the publishing industry will change in 2012. Some highlights:

  • eBook sales continue to go up (duh), and may comprise more than half the fiction market in 2012.
  • “a pricing structure will emerge in which price is proportional to quality.  The market will reward books that are priced “correctly” on the price-quality curve and the market will punish those books that are priced either too high or too low.”
  • Major shakeup in companies – a lot of smaller publishers will be bought or squeezed out of the market, self-publishers and (their freelance service providers) will continue to become more popular, and at least some of the Big Six will finally realize that they need to rethink their publishing models if they want to survive.

Of course, my favorite part of this is the prediction that freelance editors, like myself, will have banner years, and that “entre-authors” (entrepreneur authors) will do well while people who “dabble at writing will see decreased success.” Combine this with the fact that the Year of the Dragon usually brings prosperity, and I’m feeling pretty good.

10% Inspiration, 90% Marketing – Books & Modern Media

October 29, 2009

People hate technology. They really do.

Of course, this is a vast generalization, and really what I mean is that businesspeople hate technology. But even that’s not true, because plenty of businesspeople out there embrace it and use it for exactly its intended purpose – to provide a new way of providing something consumers want, and in exchange, receiving monetary profit.

Which means that it’s not that businesspeople hate technology, it’s that business-dinosaurs hate technology, because they’re too blind to realize that change is inevitable, so they should embrace it and figure out a way to incorporate it into their business model.

And for some reason, well-established artists seem to be least creative when it comes to inventing ways to take advantage of technology, because they’re so incredibly stuck in the old paradigm of Intellectual Property. I wrote about this several months ago, and as a self-published author of a fantastic book who’s completely loused up the marketing process, it’s something I think about quite often.

In response to how much easier it is to copy and distribute art today than it was even 10 years ago, an organization called Creative Commons has created a “some rights reserved” license, a.k.a. the Creative Commons license, which lets the copyright-owner choose the conditions upon which copying and redistribution are permitted.

By now, most people are aware, at least vaguely, of the existence of the Creative Commons license. Many, I suspect, still haven’t seriously considered using it. Why? Because using this license requires throwing out all the books you’ve read that tell you how to break into the business. It requires a D.I.Y. approach to publishing, and it requires trusting that if you give someone something for free, the money will flow in your direction. Stephen King tried this approach nine years ago, and it was ultimately unsuccessful. Fair enough – he’s already got a model that works for him.

But Cory Doctorow recently published a column in Publisher’s Weekly about how he’s done exactly that. Here’s someone who clearly has no problem coming up with ingenuitive ways of marketing his work, and has reaped the rewards as a result.

I think we can all learn a lesson from Cory Doctorow, Diablo Cody, Stephen Elliott, and the other mad artists working in the world of modern technology. Come up with something new, and dedicate your time to it.

Because the more time I spend in this business, the more I realize that there are few things harder than finishing a book – but marketing that book happens to be one of them.

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