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Industry News: 2013 was relatively boring, and that’s not a bad thing

December 21, 2013

When the precursor to this blog started, the publishing industry was going through a troubled time. Each week seemed to bring new stories of horror as this or that long-time pillar of the industry was suddenly on the outside looking in. This year featured its share of provocative stories, starting with the verdict and judgment against five of the big (former) six for colluding with Apple to force the agency model and including the actual nuptials between Penguin and Random House.

There were smaller also stories, like JK Rowling’s stealth publication of a mystery (The Cuckoo’s Calling) under the name Robert Galbraith. Amazon bought Goodreads. Barnes & Noble continued to struggle.

But for the first time in a long time, there wasn’t anything apocalyptic in the offing. Self-publishing continued to grow, but an economic ecosystem of sorts began to emerge, in which self-publishing and independent publishing acted as a farm system to the Big Leagues for books like 50 Shades. Even the threat of Amazon seemed less end-of-the-world-ish (perhaps because the Big Five are still making money).

LA Times book critic David Ulin seemed to say it best: “This is the story, for me, of 2013: that there is no story, or more accurately, that the panic that’s defined publishing for the last several years has calmed.” Over the past three months, it’s started to get harder to find big industry news.

In short, it seems like most of the easy new things that can be done, have been. Authors have already gone to the 99-cent e-book as a way to drive volume. They’ve conquered the frontier of publishing through Amazon. They’ve done the social network thing. And though there are still new frontiers and border skirmishes–for instance, one-star reviews for books that haven’t been published yet–none of it seems as grand as three or four years ago.

This isn’t to say that innovation isn’t possible. We’re still on the beginning edges of the digital age for publishing. How will books work with the new smart watches or with Google Glass? But even there, the boundless frontier seems to have boundaries. The rate of growth for ebooks is leveling off. And among younger readers–the digital generation–there may actually be a slight preference for printed material.

This means I can go back to writing and not have to worry about the rest of that nonsense, right?

Mmmmm, not so much. It means the path is worn now. You don’t have to be the first to blaze it, but you still have to take it. If you don’t market your work, no one’s going to do it for you. And with new social media services still popping up, you can still do something new and different. But the need to supplement the best book you can possibly write is still there. And you’ll still benefit from finding people who can help you market in the new world.

But the revolution is over, at least for now. The change has become evolutionary. New York is relatively healthy and there have even been some good things written about Barnes and Noble recently.

Great writing will always have a home, but for the moment, the options seem kind of stable.

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