A Vantage Point on a Decade of Change

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

ebooks Legend Press IPR License digital publishingAs of April 20th it will have been ten years since, aged 25, I set up Legend Press from an Internet shop under my shared flat in Stoke Newington. The last decade has been a challenging but unforgettable personal journey, but it has also inadvertently coincided with an industry that has irreversibly changed.

When I started, publishers created, printed, stored and sold books to bookshops, with certain chains buying certain types of books usually published by certain publishers. My first cashflow projection, for instance, had the bookshops and wholesalers listed—Waterstones, Ottakers, Borders, Borders, independents, WHSmith, various wholesalers and so on—with a monthly increase for each line. Needless to say, I would be a millionaire within three years…

As a further illustration, around 2007, I went to a talk on “nontraditional sales outlets” and was keen to hear more about gift shops and other sales outlets I hadn’t previously thought of. To the nodding of those around me and to my personal astonishment, we were told to consider selling books “on the Internet” and at WHSmith. I didn’t stay long.

I won’t try to fit a full recap all of the challenges of the last ten years into one blog post, but from supermarkets, the growth of the Amazon machine, global recession, ebooks finally going boom (see Amazon again) and the consolidation of bookshops and publishers all the way on through to the expansion and legitimization of self-publishing, nothing is the same as it once was.

Possibly even more important, the trapped book buyer market no longer exists. Today’s consumer selects from across a wide range of different entertainment offerings. Furthermore, the Internet revolution, followed by the rise of social media, means not only are consumers today fundamentally different but they hold all of the power. Publishers need to accept that not only can we no longer disregard that but must realize that we in fact work for them.

With its head forcefully pulled out of the sand, the industry has had to evolve, and this has meant losing many companies and also long-standing publishing professionals along the way. Had I written this post just a couple of years ago the tone may well have been more subdued, with still lots of key questions remaining unanswered. However, over the last twelve months, the industry has settled into a new form, and there is a slowly growing sense of optimism for the future.

The self-publishing/traditional publishing sham argument is over, with publishers having accepted their kick and realized that they need to openly prove what they offer to authors and to the market. Patterns of digital and print book sales are starting to settle, and most publishers are now willing to be more creative and try new things, something I have witnessed amid the growth of IPR License, my online rights licensing company.

I certainly don’t miss the smugness and self-importance of the period when I started or the increasingly desperation I could sense when it was apparent the wheels were going to come off. But with the ivory tower now demolished, we are adjusting to having to actually live among the real world of the consumer and most are finding that it’s actually not too bad.

Publishing still has a way to go, and that means having a wider skill set, attracting those from outside the industry with business, technical and creative skills that can improve our offering further. But I think we can be proud of what has been achieved. While I personally have to accept the passage of time, the publishing industry of 2015 looks leaner, younger and brighter compared to that of 2005. I think we are in for a very exciting ten years ahead.

One thought on “A Vantage Point on a Decade of Change

  1. Kevin A. Broccoli

    I commend your positive, optimistic viewpoint, Tom. I think all of us working in publishing need to stop our boohooing (despite reasons to boo hoo at times) and focus on what we can each do to make ourselves and our services relevant and sought-after.

    Kevin Broccoli
    Indexer & Taxonomist at BIM Creatives, LLC
    Indexing Instructor at UC Berkeley Extension
    Video interview of me on indexes in ebooks: https://youtu.be/4ygZ5ZPdRY8
    http://www.bim.net, indexmasher.com

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