There’s a lot of talk going around the industry about the Department of Justice lawsuit against Apple and 5 big publishers. People are writing about what it means to the publishing people, what it means to the readers, what it means to the authors. I could talk about the ickiness that crawls all over my skin when I imagine why – with everything going on in our country – the DOJ went, “It’s that book industry that needs looking after! Let’s get ’em!” (Hint: It involves money and back-rooms and skeevery.) I could wax poetic about how this will hasten the already sad decline of bookstores, those wondrous bastions of imagination that smell like ink and paper and serenity.
But when it comes right down to it, most of the people who read this blog are aspiring authors like myself, and we have our own unique perspective on the events unfolding. For those of us still interested in breaking into traditional publishing – signing with an agent, getting an editor complete with PW announcement, working with marketers and cover designers – these developments change things for us as well.
The slim chances get slimmer. DOJ wins their lawsuit, Amazon slashes prices on ebooks to ridiculous lows because they have deep pockets and can afford to, and the publishing industry takes a hit. So they have to be choosy. Even moreso than now. They slash marketing budgets and staff and can only afford to take their chances on a few books with blockbuster potential – established authors with rabid audiences are even better – so those trying to break in, especially those trying to break in with ideas not easily packaged, categorized or consumed, are SOL. If you’re trying to freak in and you have no connections, that gap in the doorway is aout to get a lot skinnier. If you happen to write in “oversaturated” markets (like YA spec, apparently) or non-markets (like new adult), then you’ll likely be effectively screwed. There’s going to be very little budget and very few opportunities to go around. If you think the competition and the uphill battle is bad now, just wait.
The hardback dream deteriorates. Many of us who are seeking out the traditional publishing route have an old-fashioned dream of what it means to be a published author. It’s that idea of seeing the hardback copy of your book sit on a bookshelf in a store. It’s ARCs coming to your house that will give you that first thrill of, “Oh my god, this is REALLY happening!” It’s the dream of having a book signing and a launch party in a cafe and just having that physical entity exist in your hands to hold onto as part of the ride. But while I’m of the opinion that the paper book is on life support anyway, the lawsuit will hasten its demise, and it won’t matter which way you choose to go – traditional or indie – the output is going to the the same: an ebook and only an ebook. Which leads me to my last point…
The old guard stumbles. What’s happening already will happen more and more: writers will wonder why they need the publishers in the first place. And can you blame us? Amazon is poised to create their own monopoly of low-low ebook prices, which means the Kindle will dominate the ereader marketplace in the 90th percentile, just like they used to. And every author out there who dreams of being published is going to start to question why they need to go through the whole song and dance of agents and editors when the end result is going to be the same: an ebook on Amazon. I’m going to be honest – it’s already crossed my mind. Several times. I can’t imagine I’m the only one. This whole situation is likely going to make it harder for debut authors and current midlist authors to succeed and to feel like publishers have something to offer them, so they’re going to start skipping them. Everybody has a different opinion on whether this is good or bad, whether they say down with the old guard or all hail the traditions. Personally, I was rather fond of the market as it is now – where there is space and opportunities for independent publishing and people to find an audience and still paths for those writers who want to take the traditional path.
I have no clue what the future is going to hold. Apple and two of the publishers are holding their ground and fighting the lawsuit, and maybe they’ll win. That would be a good thing for booksellers and bookstores, helping them hold back the floodgates a little longer. It’s debatable whether it’d be better for readers and writers, depending on who you’re talking to, depending on their outlook toward the industry and the old guard.
Personally, I love indie authors and I love traditional authors. I love a book marketplace that allows us all to coexist and choose the path that’s best for us and stay competitive. Hell, I even like Amazon – The Man and I have our wedding registry on there. But this lawsuit…I’m not sure about this at all.
I think it’s feeding a beast, and no one is going to benefit down the line when it’s all we’ve got left.