Are Publishers the New Record Labels?

Traditional publishers seem to have their heads buried in the sand. If they were smart, they would be looking at what happened with the record industry. Instead, they are now in the same position the record labels found themselves 10 years ago. Traditional publishers are so far behind the curve they are in danger of becoming completely irrelevant.


Now, I’m no expert in the publishing world. I have 3 short books on Kindle but have never ventured into the traditional publishing arena. I have researched what it takes, but have not attempted to get anything published as of yet. And, for our purposes here, such expertise is not required.

You don’t have to be a Steven King or Anne Rice to see the writing on the wall. As a matter of fact, if you were at that level, you would likely be oblivious to this phenomenon since you would be insulated from it to a degree. But, to see where the industry is headed, one only needs a basic knowledge of recent history.

The year was 1999 and three buddies decide to develope a program that used some existing file sharing technology but focus entirely on sharing MP3 format music files. Enter, Napster. In it’s short life, Napster managed to create a paradigm shift that forever altered the way we consume music.

napster logo

Almost any song you could imagine was now available, via a direct download, right on your computer. And the best part was, it was all FREE! Of course, it was determined to be illegal to share copyrighted materials like that. Who knew???? So, Napster was shut down. Did that end the era of digital downloads? Hardly. Others popped up almost overnight, and soon there were hundreds of file sharing networks all over the place. Every time one was shut down, 12 more popped up in its place.

Today, few people still buy a physical CD. They use their favorite service and either download or just stream it to a mobile device of some sort. Personally, I prefer Pandora, but there are tons of options out there. The point is, the record labels missed the mark, and in doing so, almost destroyed themselves. They spent the better part of a decade scrambling to regain some portion of market share.

The self publishing world today is much like that early file sharing era. The difference is, it’s all 100% legal AND some of the major players in the industry have embraced the technology. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have developed an entire business model around the electronic book industry. They realize that printed books are on a rapid decline. Sure, there will likely always be some demand for print, but I don’t think we have seen just how low that demand will go as of yet.

The consumer is all on board with this movement. We can tell this because Amazon sells about 4 electronic books to every printed book they sell, last I heard. The major retailers are on board. They are even helping to drive the technology. So where do the publishing houses fit into the equation? If we are using the example of the music industry, they would equate to the record labels.

Traditional publishing houses have had a stranglehold on the industry for so long that they have now become complacent. I suspect that several of them still have yet to even realize the threat they face. Anyone could literally, within a matter of hours, have a book self published. writing it takes some time, but getting a book published no Kindle is so simple it’s almost scary.

The self publishing movement is a double edged sword. On one hand, anyone can get their material out to the public. The down side is, anyone can get their material out to the public.When anyone can self publish with a few mouse clicks, you are bound to get some less than stellar work out there. Then again, many great works, that would have previously gone undiscovered, can now be seen by the masses.

Large publishing houses seem to be clinging to that old stigma that self published authors are only self published because no reputable publisher would speak with them. That just isn’t the case anymore. Many people go straight to the self publishing route today simply because they can avoid all the red tape. And lots of great work is being produced on a daily basis.

Of course, all the “other” stuff that gets published is what the publishers hang their hat on. I’m certain they would be happy if this whole self publishing craze would just go away, but I’m here to tell you, it’s not going to. As I said earlier, I have 3 titles available on Kindle right now, with more to come in the near future. Being my first few attempts, they could use some refining. I plan to release new revisions at some point, but for now, I’m content with them as they are. Some may not like them. Some may think I’m a tad harsh in my criticisms, while others may feel I was too easy on the opposition. That’s the nature of opinion books though. As for the writing, I’m sure I could use some polishing of my style, especially in that format, but that will com with time.

What I’m trying to say is, I know full well that my own works are not masterpieces. I’m not going to win any literary prize in the near future. But, I will keep at it, and I will get better. Under the old guard, with large publishers blocking the gates to your potential audience, you wouldn’t know if your work would be well received. You never got the chance. At least today, we can get our work out there, and make revisions both to content and writing style as needed to suit the audience.

Now, I’m not trying to promote the US vs. THEM mentality. Class warfare is a dangerous game that should be left to the politicians. Large publishing houses have their place, and likely always will. Who else is going to publish the memoirs of politicians and celebrities? Seriously though, being published by a major publisher has its benefits. They aren’t going to sink the money into marketing you, that’s still up to you, but a certain level of credibility comes along with it. Even at the consumer level, the fact that you have been through the process to get published makes a difference in the minds of people.

Basically, it all depends on what you hope to achieve. If you want to spend years going through the process of approaching literary agents, and convincing them to put you in front of publishers only to get enough rejection letters to build a bonfire, then you can go that route. On the plus side, if you make it, you will have some built-in credibility and you can get hard copies on the shelf of major retailers.

But, if you want to get your work out there for the masses, and are not concerned with big box retailers, then why not go the self publishing route? once you have a completed word document, that has been edited (this is VERY important), and have a cover image created, it is a matter of minutes to have it posted onto the Kindle store. There are other options too, but I strongly recommend Kindle as your first stop.

For most of us, the obvious choice is to go self published. Especially if you are creating shorter pieces like the ones I have. Most of my titles are between 30 and 50 pages and can be read in an hour or two. These lend themselves well to electronic books too.

And, on a side note here, you do not have to own an actual Kindle device. The Kindle app is available for Mac, PC and most all mobile devices. Keep that in mind when you go to market your book. Your aunt Betsy may not be aware of that and think she can’t get it because she “Don’t got wunna dem fancy shmancy readin’ machine doohickies”.

The industry is in a state of flux right now. The music industry went through this a little over a decade ago, and as did they, publishing will find its equilibrium before long. Self and traditional publishing will continue to coexist, the only difference will be the portion of the market held by each. I will be a consumer of both, but admittedly will likely buy far more electronic books, or even audio version, than printed ones.


So what about you? Are you published? Are you looking to get published? Or are you an avid reader who is simply interested in where the industry is headed? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.