For anyone who has ever spent time in the accretion disc of  a black hole, the situation of the publishing industry will seem alarmingly familiar. At least according to Mike Shatzkin, whose analyses of the future evolution of publishing have appeared quite often in TeleRead in the past, and who just weighed in on Digital Book World, in an interview with DBW editorial director Jeremy Greenfield entitled “The Challenge and Opportunity of Self-Published Authors for Publishers,” on the subject of where publishing is going and what that vast sucking sound is.

Shatzkin feels that self-publishing is at a stage where it can start to make a serious impact on mainstream publishing – thanks not to the authors themselves, but Amazon. “As sales move online and concentrate at Amazon, a publisher can’t really make a huge difference in Amazon compared to what an author can do on their own,” he points out. “So, the publisher has to make a difference in a diminishing part of the market, which is everything else.”

I’d argue about the actual level of competence of most self-published authors in shifting their own sales, but as Shatzkin underlines, the platform is there for them to do so if they can. And publishers, it seems, can’t do a whole lot better, being too tied by “long-established practices and a lot of bureaucracy and agents and committees” to use the mechanisms well enough. The one area they could mkae a difference is “digital marketing at scale,” but when have they ever been good at that?

Shatzkin thinks that if the market were to freeze where it is now, “you still have a pretty firm basis for a publisher to make a difference in the career of an author. But if Barnes & Noble closed or if the Amazon share goes up to 60%, it’s going to get extremely difficult for publishers to persuade authors that they’re worth employing.” Refreshing to hear that word “employing” in the context of a publisher. Yes, they simply won’t be able to do enough for the books they publish to justify an author troubling himself or herself with them. And they seem trapped into a shrinking area of the market that they can’t break out of. Well, as the Apple price-fixing affair and Author Solutions have taught us, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people.


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