Is This the End of Publishing?

You owe it to yourself to read the following links and then watch the embedded video. We are all quite aware that the book publishing industry is in the throes of considerable change. Sales channels are shifting and marketing channels have splintered.

Some folks are dismayed by this, and others see it as opportunity. But, as usual, a middle ground can be found. And that middle ground is displayed in the video below.

But first, the articles to read:

The New York Magazine proclaimed “The End” on September 14, 2008 in an article by Boris Kachka.

Publishers Weekly agreed on January 5, 2009 in an article by Peter Olson, former chairman and CEO of Random House .

Mike Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, chimed in on December 10, 2009 in his insightful blog.

Richard Nash continued the assault on January 5, 2010 in an interview on GalleyCat. More was added the next day.

The below video originally prepared for a recent Penguin sales conference by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books. Watch the entire piece without interruption.

Let me know what you think!

14 Responses to Is This the End of Publishing?

  1. Avatar
    Rachele Posey March 16, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    Excellent! Thank you for sharing as one is trying desperately to finish enough of her book to complete my book proposal. 🙂
    Abiding Still

  2. Avatar
    Terry White March 16, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    Thank you, Steve, for pointing us to these resources. I have always looked to you as a mentor in this book business and you never disappoint.

    One paragraph in the New York article leaped out at me like a lightning bolt:

    “While many in publishing wait in their bunkers, HarperStudio and a few others forge ahead. Back in February, Bob Miller and Jane Friedman met at the bar of the Omni Berkshire hotel for one of their freewheeling chats. “How would you do it differently if you could start all over again,” she asked him. He said he’d try to reduce advances and returns, put out only a few books, and focus on cheap Internet marketing. “Why don’t you do that?” she asked, and within a week they had a deal.”

    That’s exactly the model we have been following–we pay almost no advances, try to make all contracts no-return policy, are being highly selective in choosing manuscripts, and we are, in fact, “focusing on cheap marketing,” much of it on the internet.

    Results? 2009 was our best year ever. For both January and February of 2010, gross sales have exceeded the previous year, setting new records.

    I’ve tried to figure out what’s happening here, and I can’t. Some of it is dumb luck…some of it is just being conservative by nature…some of it is the Holy Spirit’s blessing I think…but we also seem to have intuited and anticipated some shifts in the industry which are paying off.

    This is no cause for pride–we’re aware that one bad decision could result in disaster. But so far, following the exact formula Miller laid out seems to be working.

    Do keep feeding us material. Your perspective on the business is exceedingly helpful, and your grasp of resources is great. Thanks for caring so much about this quirky, weird business of book-making and book-selling!

  3. Avatar
    Steve March 16, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    Terry, you honor me with your kind words.

    The problem with the no advance model is that it makes it a tad difficult for an author to earn a living (much less their agent). If the publisher fails to to their part, or if the in-house advocate quits, or the PR person goes on leave, or a special markets salesperson doesn’t like the book…then the author works all that time and receives zero compensation.

    The model described in that article is a very special case and investigation shows that the experiment is still that, an experiment. It is “profitable” in some ways, but puts all the risk on the author.

    Unfortunately trying to have this conversation in a comment section leaves a LOT of publishing financial issues and realities out of the equation. It is a very complex economic model and efforts to simplify it have been modest at best. Suffice it to say, a zero advance approach is not usually in the best interest of the author since the publisher has little investment or evident investment in the author or their specific project.

    Mike Shatzkin did an admirable job of looking at the big picture in his article of February 25, 2010. Go to for the complete piece.

  4. Avatar
    Jill Williamson March 16, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    First–That video was amazing and clever and made me cry. My husband is a youth pastor, and I have to say, that is the voice of today’s teens (which is why it made me cry). There are great, smart, amazing kids out there, who are being raised in a world many of us don’t get. So we have to figure that out if we are going to be effective in reaching them.

    Second–I chose to be published by one of these new publishing models. I chose the no advance route because it was so hard to get my weird teen books (aka speculative fiction for young adults) published. It’s been totally worth it. I now have two beautiful books. I have readers who want more. And I have learned so much from a really great editor.

    All that to say, I think new authors will be very tempted to go with this type of a publisher for their first book. But I believe it will be those publishers whose editors know how to edit a story that will produce the quality content that readers crave. This is just my opinion, but I see a lot these new publishing models that don’t have the editing side down. Authors will have to become educated in a different way, perhaps, when considering this kind of a publisher. My two cents.

  5. Avatar
    Steve March 16, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    Jill, yes you do have two gorgeous books. No question about it. (Congratulations on book two, by the way!)

    I agree that having an editor who understands the genre in which you are writing is rather critical. I’ve met a number of them that are not fans of science-fiction or fantasy…and guess what? their company does not publish those genres.

    Successful publishing is a partnership of author, editor, marketer, salesperson, and PR. Oh yes…and their needs to be a consumer who is willing to “vote” with their pocketbook on what you are writing.

  6. Avatar
    JulieSurfaceJohnson March 16, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    Steve, After reading most of the articles (including the series in the New York Magazine), I was feeling more than a little discouraged. Yet, the video provided a shot of adrenalin!

    It’s about perspective, isn’t it? Whatever vehicle they use, readers will continue to be there. The question is will we write to their perceived need in a way that will earn their trust? Will we build bridges that can serve, at some point in time, as connectors to other ways of thinking, other worldviews?

    As Christian authors, our ultimate aim is to glorify God and introduce others to Him. And if that is our goal, I believe He will make it happen. He will get our work before readers. The key is in not being intractable but rather flexible enough to enjoy the twisty ride it could turn out to be.

    • Avatar
      Steve March 17, 2010 at 8:12 am #

      You did the exercise exactly as intended! You now have a small slice of what this side of the table is experiencing, almost daily. In an effort to stay current on all the discussions in the publishing industry I “get” to read these kind of articles all the time. After a while it can chip away at the walls of optimism. And then along comes something like that video. Perspective is everything when it comes to your expectations and contentment.

      Thank you for your comment!


  7. Avatar
    Rich Bullock March 17, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    I’ve been an avid fan of ebooks for years. Anytime you turn over hardened ground (the old way of publishing), new opportunities arise. What exciting days we live in.

    With the old model we were limited by where books could be shipped or found. In the digital model, the market is endless–worldwide. Books can be translated and re-issued with far more ease. Cool.

    Of course, we’ll have far more junk out there to sift through, but I’m excited about the possibilities for my books!

  8. Avatar
    Jill Williamson March 17, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Thanks, Steve. 🙂

    I know what you mean by seeing depressing news over and over. I’ve also been saddened by all the Christian bookstores that have closed. Even the Christian bookstore in Nampa, Idaho closed a few months back. And this is in a city with a large Christian college and hundreds of churches. I know of three other bookstores that have recently closed in other major cities. I’ll miss these stores. I love bookstores.

    One of the men in one of those articles predicted that only certain specialty bookstores would survive. I hope more survive than he thinks. Otherwise I’ll have to fit those rogue bookstores into our family vacations.

  9. Avatar
    Marlo Schalesky March 17, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    Thanks, Steve. It’s good to be reminded that it’s not my job to keep the sky from falling, but only to navigate life’s (and publishing’s) changes and shifts with grace, wisdom, and faithfulness. And make sure I have a great agent who keeps abreast of those shifts! 😉

  10. Avatar
    Lynnda Ell March 18, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    Steve, that video was outrageously amazing. I admire the artistry of creative people who can pull off that kind of legerdemain. It truly is a matter of perspective. Traditional publishing houses and agents have been the gatekeepers to getting a book published. That’s appropriate when the cost to publish is a high barrier to entering the business. But the new paradigm probably means more ink-and-paper books, not fewer. (Remember when the advent of computers was touted as the death of the paper industry?) For me, the future is an exciting adventure.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Be blessed,


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    Leigh March 18, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    This was very cleverly written, but to me it actually said nothing profound. Just a gimmick to show two different perspectives which we all knew about already.

  12. Avatar
    Lenore Buth March 19, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    Steve, thanks for not ending this post with just the links to the mostly depressing. We do need to know what’s going on and be realistic. But that well-done video makes such an important point. How we feel about what is depends on how we look at life.

    We can choose to see the good or choose to see the bad. In the person(s) we love. In our situation. In our society. And in the world of publishing and books.

    I think we’re living in a time when it seems they keep moving the goalposts and nobody knows what comes next. One fact remains true. Our task as individual Christian writers is to strive for excellence and weave Truth through our writing.

    I have to keep reminding myself of that, because it’s easy to get mired down in the what-ifs. Too much of that and it begins to seem pointless to keep on, except…God is the bottom line. (Betcha He prefers the “reverse read” of that video.)

    Thanks for planting hope and giving us light for our day–and our writing.

  13. Avatar
    Connie Terpack March 4, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    I have concerns about starting my writing career now. I have always loved reading, and started writing in my teens. I never bothered to try to publish anything until I retired. I wonder if the upcoming generations will have any interest in reading.
    I love holding a book and turning the pages; but I received a Kindle for a gift, and have discovered advantages to reading with it.
    Like in the movie, “Field of Dreams”, if you build it, they will come. I believe if my book is interesting; has good, solid characters; and general appeal, it will sell no matter what format is used.
    I love you blog site and find it interesting and helpful as well as fun and enjoyable.

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