Notable Moments of the Year

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the course of this turbulent year.

    1. Never underestimate the power of porn, or of an e-reader to conceal that you’re reading porn. The enormous success of 50 Shades of Grey, and in fact E.L. James’s entire S/M trilogy – it’s sold more than 60 million copies – showed that people like to be seduced by erotic fantasy.
    2. This e-publishing thing is too big to ignore. It hasn’t escaped notice among many writers that James first published her 50 Shades of Grey as fan fiction on Twilight-related sites. When it took off, traditional publishers noticed and Random House is now much the richer for pouncing on something it might never have given a go-ahead to if the manuscript had come in through an agent (it would never have been looked at had it been submitted without an agent to begin with).
    3. Publishers are trolling bestseller lists of self-published books to look for new talent. This ignores the irony, of course, that these publishers would never have given the bestselling self-published book a second glance if the author hadn’t decided to go it alone.
    4. When in doubt conglomerate. This year, Random House and Penguin agreed to merge (or one agreed to be acquired by the other). At a point when publishers see their markets shifting, as more and more people self-publish and as e-books become increasingly important, the best offense is the defense of acquiring another company to compete. Economies of scale, perhaps, but for many people, a rather desperate attempt to remain relevant as publishing shifts away from the big players to the individual. Expect other big publishers to eye each other for possible acquisition.
    5. The bookstore is still doing all right. Though you’d never have expected it. It seems that while Barnes & Noble is still trying to shore itself up, the independent bookstore hasn’t gone away.  Many have adopted to the e-marketplace by buying the Kobo e-reader, which allows people to buy e-books through the independent bookstore site, and they’ve made moves to strengthen their community ties, an important thing to consider for any retailer.
    6. You can have a bestseller with being at Barnes & Noble. Tim Ferriss, the author of the highly successful 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, published his latest book, The 4-Hour Chef, with an imprint of Amazon. Several bookstores, including B&N, refused to carry it. But Ferriss, who has an enormous platform of his own, worked hard to get people behind his book, and the result that it actually showed up on the New York Times bestseller lists, as well as those of other journals. You’re not doing your customers a favor by not letting them buy what they want. No one except competitors looks at the name of a imprint. Readers just want the book.
    7. Self-published books are gaining acceptance from the media mainstream. Recently, the New York Times lead critic Michiko Kakutani not only reviewed a self-published book, she referred to its being self-published. A major barrier was broken. Of course, Alan Sepinwall, the author of The Revolution Was Televised, has had a popular platform with his blog. But this still represented an acceptance of a growing way for authors to get to readers: by doing it themselves.

      Next year will, as every year does, bring even more change. And publishing will its inevitable move forward, as writers flex their muscles.

      Bob Hughes
      Author: Bob Hughes
      Robert J. Hughes ("Bob") was a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal for over a decade, specializing in culture reporting. He was the paper's theater reporter, wrote on publishing, the art and auction markets, television, music, film and philanthropy, and reviewed books.