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Amazon and the Incredible Disruption of The Publishing Industry

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Have you been tracking the insane degree to which is utterly disrupting the traditional publishing industry? Have you been paying attention to how incredibly the business models and the players are changing?

As an author of multiple books who has been published through the traditional publishing industry (ex. O'Reilly, Syngress, Sybex, QUE) and who still has a zillion book ideas in my head, I've obviously been paying close attention. For those of us who write, it's an incredible time of opportunity... and choices.

The 800-Pound Gorilla is at the heart of the disruption and the opportunity. I first started watching Amazon closely about 5 years ago or so when I learned of CreateSpace, Amazon's "do-it-yourself" publishing site where basically anyone can upload a PDF, choose a cover (or create your own) and... publish your book into! The cool thing is that your book shows up in Amazon listings just like those from the traditional publishers.

  1. Write your book.
  2. Export to PDF.
  3. Upload to CreateSpace.
  4. Start Selling!


That's the sound of the traditional publishing industry business model going up in smoke...

In the years since, CreateSpace has of course expanded into ebooks and Amazon's rolled out many other services helping authors get their content out.

Now, of course, to do it on your own is not quite that simple. Traditional publishers provide some key assistance to authors:

  1. Editing - a critical piece of writing a book
  2. Design - of the cover, the book, graphics, the typefaces, etc.
  3. Marketing - promoting the book across many different channels, advertising, etc.
  4. Distribution - getting the book out to where people will buy it

Editing, design and marketing are all areas where you can find people to help you... and the distribution is the whole point of what, Smashwords, Lulu and a zillion other sites will now help you with. Sure, the traditional publishers can help you with distribution out to brick-and-mortar bookstores... but how are those doing these days? (The sad subject of another blog post at some point.) For some authors those bookstores may be a market... and for them the traditional publishers may be necessary. For other authors starting out - or writing for more niche audiences, the "indie publishing" route may work better.

Amazon's Latest Move

This month brings news that Amazon is signing authors to its own publishing imprint and there are two great articles out analyzing what this means:

Mathew Ingram's GigaOm piece, in particular, is useful for all the links he includes to other articles and information. The NY Times piece also had this great quote from Amazon executive Russell Grandinetti:

“The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity."

The time has never been better for authors to be able to get their content published. We've had this world of "blogging" now for over a decade which has let anyone publish their thoughts online... and services from Amazon and the others have let you get into "print-on-demand" so easily.

And ebooks! Look at how the way people consume books have changed just in the last few years....

But of course there is an entire industry that was used to being the gatekeepers of that content: publishers, agents, bookstores...

Some Traditional Publishers Get It

I should note that some publishers certainly "get it", have seen the disruption and are doing what they can to both survive and thrive in this new world. The primary reason why I signed with O'Reilly for my latest book, Migrating Applications to IPv6, was because the entire idea behind the the book was for it to be an "ebook" that could be constantly updated as we as an industry learn more about IPv6 application migration.[1] O'Reilly has long been paying attention... they brought out Safari Books Online many years ago... they have their excellent Radar blog/site that indeed includes ongoing commentary about the disruption in the industry... and they sponsor the annual excellent Tools of Change for Publishing conference. I wrote earlier about how O'Reilly makes it so easy to get ebooks onto your mobile devices.

O'Reilly is a stellar example of publishers who see the changes and are looking at how to be part of that wave. There are others, too. The smart ones are evolving.

Some Traditional Publishers Don't

Others aren't. As both the GigaOm and NYT piece mention, some of the traditional publishers are instead fighting tooth and nail to hang on to some relevance.

I loved Mathew's ending paragraph:

Here’s a hint for book publishers: take a lesson from the music industry, and don’t spend all your time suing people for misusing what you believe is your content — think instead about why they are doing this, and what it says about how your business is changing, and then try to adapt to that. Amazon is giving authors what they want, and as long as it continues to do so, you will be at a disadvantage. Wake up and smell the disruption.

Wake up and smell the disruption, indeed!

If you are an author, have you been following what Amazon is doing? Have you self-published any work? Or are you considering it?

Image credit: babblingdweeb on Flickr

[1] To be entirely clear, another HUGE reason for signing with O'Reilly was because of the marketing they could do on my behalf to their existing channel of techies, early adopters, etc.

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