The Conduit Lectures: How to Fix the Publishing Industry, Part 1

Wednesday, October 17, 2007, 11:10 PM

To celebrate the occasion of my 100th blog entry, I hereby introduce the inaugural edition of a new series I shall call The Conduit Lectures. In this series I will write at length, quite probably in rambling and nonsensical circles, on topics I know absolutely nothing about. At this stage I can't be sure how many of these diatribes there'll be, or how often they'll appear, but I can promise they will have no basis in reality, have few researched and verifiable facts, and be entirely subjective.

So, here we go…

How to Fix the Publishing Industry

That's a tough topic, and one I am in no way qualified to pontificate on. But I'm going to do it anyway. Of course, before we can fix anything, we need to establish:

What's wrong with the publishing industry?

In a nutshell, the publishing industry in Europe and the USA is failing to serve the two elements at the opposite ends of its spectrum, the two elements without which it could not exist. Those two elements are authors and readers.

Authors are struggling to get their work published, and even when they do, they seldom profit from it in any significant way.

Readers are struggling to find good books by new authors with fresh voices, and are instead falling back on established names and reliable genres.

The existing structures and business practices of the industry are failing to bridge the gap between those two elements.

At least the dinosaurs had an excuse...

A big hunk of rock from space did them in. If their woes were more like those of the publishing industry, the movie script of their decline might have been something like this:

EXTERIOR. DAY. OPEN SAVANNAH WITH PREHISTORIC SOUND EFFECTS.

T.REX: So, where's all the food?
RAPTOR: Dunno. There was plenty here yesterday.
T.REX: But I'm hungry.
RAPTOR: Me too.
T.REX: So, what are we going to do?
RAPTOR: There's a herd of herbivores way over yonder.
T.REX: What? I'm not going over there.
RAPTOR: Why not? We might be able to catch one and, y'know, eat it.
T.REX: But that isn't how it works. They're supposed to wander too close to us and we grab 'em.
RAPTOR: So, why don't we change the way it works?
T.REX: 'Cause we always do it this way.
RAPTOR: Oh. Well if you're not changing it, neither am I.
T.REX: Fine.
RAPTOR: Fine.
T.REX: I'm hungry.
RAPTOR: Me too.

While most industries, whether they be service or manufacturing based, have moved with the new dynamics of our world the publishing industry has for the most part remained mired in antiquated practices. Check just about any publishing professional's blog; when they're pressed about the industry's inefficiencies, they'll usually respond with something along the lines of, "Well, that's just how it works."

The Glacier

In most instances, a book will take from one to two years from the deal being struck to when it finally appears on shelves. Add to that the time it took to write it in the first place, plus if it's a first novel, the time it takes to find representation, and then the time it takes to polish and edit it before it goes out to editors. That might be three to four years between a writer first sitting down at a keyboard and the fruits of his or her labour appearing at a retailer near you.

They make movies in less time.

Of course, there are many things that need to occur in that chain of events, such as the actual writing, the drawing up of contracts, the copy editing, the marketing, all that stuff. But what I wonder is this: how much of that three to four year period is lost to simple inefficiency? I'm not offering an answer, or speculating. I simply don't know.

So, the author may knock out a polished draft in as little as six months to a year, and a reader will spend ten minutes browsing paperbacks on a stand before purchasing that author's creation. It's that enormous gap in between that concerns me, and quite frankly, I wonder why it doesn't seem to concern the industry.

How can any industry expect to thrive if it cannot react rapidly to changes in the market? Like a massive cruise liner sailing the literary oceans, the industry's turning circle is so large that changes in direction are achingly slow to the point of being imperceptible. Given this Ent-like pace, the industry naturally wants to avoid undue risks. It plays the long game, like a thrifty bank manager's retirement fund. Steady as you go.

It plays it safe.

In part 2 I shall explore one of the symptoms of this malaise, and how it results in my not being able to find a single book I want to buy when I visit my local store.

DISCLAIMER: The above text is the rambling nonsense of someone with no connection to the publishing industry other than being at its two extremes. All opinions expressed are more than likely the reflection of a bitter and cantankerous mind and no warranty as to their validity is given or implied. All comments are welcome, particularly from those who actually know what they're talking about. Just remember I don't.

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5 Comments:

Blogger moonrat said...

teehee. can we please have dinosaur dialogues on all rants going forward?

7:02 PM  
Blogger McKoala said...

The Conduit Lectures. Love it. And yes, more dinosaurs.

Perfectly reasonable points. One day the publishing cruise liner sailing the oceans with its slow turning circle might meet a big iceberg. I wondered if e-publishing might be it, but the jury of penguins is still out on that, I think.

1:11 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

Think of kid films and all those tie-in toys. Every artistic/entertainmetn industry has made great strides in marketing.

Except for publishing.

And I want it to be the Conduit Chronicles, just cuz I like alliteration.

3:26 AM  
Blogger Ello said...

I really love the dinosaur rants and think it should be Chronicles also. And if bitter and cantankerous makes you this funny, I say by all means continue!

5:23 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

Con, bitter? Not that sweetie. I don't know what he's talking about, bitter.

4:01 PM  

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