Will Authors of the Future Need Publishers?

September 15th, 2009

A good follow-up to yesterday’s post about Daniel Menaker’s post on trade book publishing comes from Nathanial Bransford’s popular blog (81 comments so far on the entry). Titled, of course, Will Authors of the Future Need Publishers?¬†Bransford makes several important points.

1. Book sales are off 2.5% for the year as of July, compared to a 9.5% drop in broader retail. This is not so bad.

2. “For the last hundred years the publishing industry has been built around one key advantage that no one else could match: distribution.” I’ve argued in favor of this point for many years, but too many publishing staff are caught up in the romance of their trade. Their brand is essentially meaningless to readers — it is meaningful mainly to booksellers and librarians. (When was the last time you started a conversation with “I just read a great new book from HarperCollins”?)

3. “Right now, with e-books hovering somewhere around 5% of sales, authors still need publishers. Even the self-publishing success stories almost always involve self-published authors finding their way to traditional publishers. Why? Someone’s got to get the books into the stores, and publishers are the best at it.

“But what about in the future if e-books become 50% or more of an author’s sales?”

This topic dominates the rest of the post.

Bransford wisely notes that “all of this assumes that e-books become dominant, and to be sure, that’s a big ‘if.'”

But it’s certainly not inconceivable, and his post paints an interesting picture of how trade book publishing will change if eBooks take over half of the current retail market.