Friday, June 24, 2011

Rowling Performs Avada Kedavra on Publishing

And speaking of survival of the fittest . . .

J. K. Rowling is allowing digital publishing of the Harry Potter franchise.

Well, sort of.

Rowling has announced that she will self-publish Potter ebooks. Welcome to the World of Pottermore.

We hope you sold your Scholastic stock yesterday.

Rowling's move provides all kinds of advantages to her, and probably to readers too. She now controls the price and presentation of her work in digital form. Of course, she also controls all the profits, which is exactly as it should be if she can also manage distribution.

And she can. The great advantage of ebooks is that they can be distributed without the massive manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping efforts of traditional publishers. Talented authors and talented editors can now partner up as individuals, then join themselves to talented marketers to get their stuff out to the world's billions more or less instantaneously. And, if the laws of economics have not been repealed, more cheaply too.

This raises a significant question for many authors, we believe, especially academic authors, especially Christian academic authors. Few such creatures make much money on their publications, and so few depend on that income for their survival. Most publish for the contribution that their ideas make to their academic/faith communities and the world at large. And of course, for the the prestige attached to publication. If they did it for the money, they'd be writing other stuff, like The Purpose-Driven, Left-Behind Prayer of Jabez That Provides Chicken Soup for the Left-Handed Bowler's Soul. With pictures of themselves on the cover, of course.

Getting a publisher to publish one's book is, in such circles, an endorsement of quality more than a necessity of publishing. Self-publishing ventures have existed for quite awhile, but because they were tied to paper publishing, they had paper-publishing costs, which had to be underwritten by authors. And their distribution stank. So at least to avoid out-of-pocket costs and to get the book in people's hands, authors in the faith/academic niche needed publishers, whose editorial decision then provided readers with an endorsement of quality.

But such is no longer necessary. Now it's possible to do exactly what Rowling has done, bypassing the middle man. Endorsements can come from the same people that the publishers have solicited for dust-jacket blurbs: already-established folk in the field (we won't digress into a discussion of the awful churning of clichés that such blurbs actually are, but if we did, what we wrote would be "destined to become a standard work that will be consulted by scholars and students in the field for the next generation").

So we expect in the coming months and years to see aggregations of scholars/leaders creating digital editing/promotional cooperatives to bypass established publishers, taking their wares directly to their publics. That'll drive down cost, expand offerings, make possible quicker translation and distribution of materials in languages other than English . . .

. . . and maybe provide a more effective means of circulating ideas. Why? Because the capital investment in production and distribution will have been reduced to the point where investors will not have a stake in keeping bad ideas alive, as they did when they were printed on expensively produced remains of majestic trees.

We'll see the emergence of operations rather like Project Gutenberg, which has made the public domain truly public.

Adieu, Eerdmans! Farewell, Baker! Adios, T. & T. Clarke! Your reluctance to embrace digital technology is regrettable, but in the end it will be inconsequential. Authors rule now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, I just made a request this week to a Christian book distributor about the possibility of getting e-books so I wouldn't have to pay shipping. Absolutely something that the companies should embrace if they don't want to become obsolete.