It all started about three decades ago with the rise of the personal computer, which allowed authors to write and write, and self-correct, and generate more and more words without as much difficulty as when physical paper was involved with the act of putting thoughts down in some sort of orderly fashion.
It wasn’t any easier to get published then than now â€“ it was still hard to get someone pay attention to you even in the days before the personal computer made everyone something of a writer. But it’s a lot more difficult to get noticed today, since more and more and more books are published every year (perhaps as many as two million in the United States alone, by some estimates).
And the marketplace has also changed. As has the variety of choice we all have. As everyone knows, all sorts of content, in the form of movies, online news, television, books (including many more that are self-published), interactive games, social media and music, is much more available than ever before, often with the touch of a finger or even a simple voice command. Books take up only a very small part of the cultural landscape.
And the publishing industry has for the most part morphed into just a few big companies, with a scattering of smaller ones. Multinationals own the big guys, and some nimble small publishers make up the rest of the traditional publishers. With multinationals, publishing has become one line item in a global business â€“ and publishing profit margins, never large, are smaller than ever. There’s been a lot of retrenchment in the field â€“ fewer editors, fewer in-house control, fewer and lower advances and an overall sense, at least among writers who want to be part of traditional publishing, that no one cares about the writer.
The thing is, publishers never really cared about writers. Publishers are businesspeople, and publishers first cared about profits. Publishers today don’t care about authors less than they used to â€“ it was always about money above all â€“ but they are harder pressed now to make a quick buck than they ever were. Publishers may in the past have nurtured (and may still nurture) top-performing, bestselling authors, but what counts for a business isn’t the glory of a literary prize, but the money realized from a book that sells well.
This isn’t cynical â€“ it’s simply the way of the world. Publishing is still somewhat old-fashioned, and publishers are trying to figure out how to navigate the current state of affairs.
In our next post, we’ll continue to look at the publishing landscape of and the future of publishing.
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