What’s missing from the new publishing paradigm

I can’t help thinking that the last five years have been dramatic for the traditional publishing model. You know, the multi-barrier one where, to get published, you had to first attract an agent. Five years ago, a lot of writers’ blogs featured their representative, even if the writer was unpublished – but to even get an agent was a mark of status.

My books in the window...
Yes, this is an entire shop window filled with books written by me – 14 out of my 52 titles.

All that’s gone. As has the debate over ‘traditional’ (old paradigm: status) versus ‘indie’ (old paradigm: amateur/unpublishable). In some senses it’s opened the door for anybody to publish anything – what Chuck Wendig calls it the ‘self-publishing shit volcano’. But there’s also good stuff that would have been welcomed in the trad system.

I don’t think the old system has gone – I still publish through it. But it’s been joined by another. And in all the debate, one thing’s been missed – one thing both the old and the new models share.

Money. There isn’t any, either way.

The old publishing model’s been bent, and the money’s gone out of it, certainly in New Zealand. Advances have dropped – often to zero – as has shelf-life. Even a few years ago, publishers let stock sell through over 5-6 years. Now they’re often pulping titles after a few months if they don’t shift.

The online/self-pub model relies on marketing through the internet – meaning any author’s book is joining about a hundred million others, while their authors tweet, blog, Facebook and generally scream about them. ‘Buy my books, you bastards!’ The good stuff is drowned in the noise. The average lifetime sales of an e-book, I’m told, is about a hundred units. I can believe it.

Worse, the Gen Z idea that everything online should, by rights, be ‘free’ has collided with the fact that one way to compete in that noise-filled frenzy is to drop the price. And a chunk of those publishing don’t care, either – for them, what counts isn’t the income so much as being published.

To my mind the answer isn’t holding on to the old, like a tiger growling over the last scraps of its dinner – it’s one of adapting or dying. Nor can we blame the technology. The real change isn’t in the sudden application of the information age to book distribution and sales, but a social one in the readership – the people who part with cash for the books. Organisations such as Amazon merely facilitate it for a general populace who are driving the change. Bottom line is that book-readers like the convenience of the e-book.

In this new world, I also think the answer isn’t ‘free’. More soon. Meanwhile – your thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

23 thoughts on “What’s missing from the new publishing paradigm

    1. Thanks for the reblog – much appreciated! You’re one of the writers I’ve long admired for embracing this new paradigm so fully – I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the issues I raise.


  1. Great post! Yes the old world has gone I think. It’s all down to how well the writer can build a social media following and do their own marketing. I agree that the good stuff will get missed 🙂


    1. I agree – the problem being that when we have all the same tools to communicate and are all shouting, nobody gets heard (much). As you say, the good stuff can get missed. I haven’t been able to imagine a way around that yet. I’ll let you know if I do… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While there isn’t much money for the average writer right now, however talented they might be, this is also a really interesting time. The old system is on the way out, they’re going to have to rapidly evolve if they want to stay relevant. In essence, we’re seeing the primordial ooze of a new system forming. There’s going to be hiccups, there always is, but we’re at the beginning of something that can either be seen as “scary” or exciting. Right now there’s incredible opportunity for people to come up with new ideas, try different things. And some of those ideas are going to do really well, shaping the future of the industry. Personally, I’m really curious how different things will look in the next five years.


    1. Me too. I agree – things are shaking down into a new pattern, and I’m definitely interested in discovering where it’s going. It’s going to be difficult for those caught at the cusp of the change, especially those from the Old World of writing and publishing who can’t (or won’t) adapt. On the other hand, those who pick up the direction early and quickly stand a good chance of getting ahead quickly.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Can we look at other form of expression and see how they adapted?

    Music, newspapers, radio, television, books, city library, films/movies, live play/live Theatre,

    I think for the first 4 first, they are still at the phase 1(some 1.5) and still try to re-defining who they are and still have no clue how they will turn..
    The only thing they currently doing, trying to survive is to add ads and more ads,
    Raise pricing and giving less to the artists.
    Free streaming seems to be the current answer… but again with more ads..

    Cinema was seemed doomed when TV came out in the 50-60’s
    Cinema was seemed doomed when VHS/Beta tape came out with pre-recorded long motion movie..
    Cinema was seemed doomed when VCD/DVD and Blue ray came out with higher quality media…
    Cinema was seemed doomed when streaming film came online with “ordered from couch”

    Despite these 4 phases…
    Cinema is still very alive…
    TV is showing Film for the last 65 years, for free to mass population…
    VHS tape as main distribution for movies are gone…
    DVD and Blue ray are already on their way out…
    Streaming is booming… but do not seem to affect much the Cinema market of the last 10 years,

    What did film industry do to save them self from TV/tape/disk/streaming???
    They evolve.. They adapted, better quality, better environment for user, better experience..
    Reliable contents, more personalize services.

    With the Internet , eBooks’, pdf, Wikipedia, free content..
    10 -15 Years ago.. They predicted that city library would be gone by 2015..
    In my city, they are more alive than before..
    They evolve.. They adapted, better quality, better environment for user, better experience..
    Reliable contents, more personalize services.
    I don’t see internet a treat to city library anymore..
    People have great experience when they go to city library… and make them come back..
    We all agree that
    – Blockbuster type DVD/video game rental clubs are soon to be instinct. They tried to adapt but reach theirs limits’ it seem..
    – Music store are soon to be instinct too. Currently they sell more by product that music..
    – Book/retail libraries are currently very affected by major factor as internet/e-books, Amazon type online sell..

    Books/writers…. if they look at previous form, the survivors are the one that Evolved to adapt to Gen Y & Z way of life (instant, short attention span (as ADHD type people), but still provide better quality, better experience for user, being more than just one random bit & byte mass downloaded from torrents’

    Direct contact & feedback with/from your readers and High Quality books are what you have to capitalize on.. …maybe trying to add some hologram (R2D2/Princess lea type) and some smell to enhance reader experience? Forget Scratch and smell book as it was tried and did not survived the 80’s

    The blogs are a good way to get them but you need to reach them at first/get their attention to steer them toward you. But it is not new..
    Already in 1984… TV series writer, J. Michael Straczynski (Twilight Zone, Murder She Wrote, Marvel comic Thor- Spiderman, Babylon 5, 2015 Sense8..) was using UseNet feed (precursor of blogs) via CompuServe, AOL, Fido net, bbs, Genie to get Feedback from fans…
    I remember being there in 1995 on GEnie BBS, reading/replying/reading/replying with Michael about TV Series Babylon 5.. It was great.. 1995 imagine seeing on American TV something you discuss with the writer 3 months prior via a 9600/14.4k bauds modem from Northern Québec Canada…..



    1. I agree – it’s all change and adaptation, and we’ve seen it happen before in other modes of entertainment. I think the way that hand-held devices (phones, tablets) and ubiquitous computing (such as the latest ‘computer sticks’ to turn your TV into a monitor) has made this latest change a fairly complete one for all the arts. The question is where next; and I think it’s a social rather than a technical one – the technology merely facilitates and frames communication and, with it, behaviours.


  4. Some people will always steal, while your true fans will pay a reasonable price for a book. Underselling yourself is a mistake because it actually screams out low quality. I’d rather sell fewer books at a higher price than devalue my work completely.


    1. My thoughts precisely. The associated challenge is the related one – discovery by those potential fans. I don’t have answers to that one (yet) tjoughI think aot of hard work and promo slog probably helps.


  5. My personal feeling is that we are on the cusp of change with very much more to come. Feeding the dragon with money for ever-diminishing returns cannot be the solution – there has to be a point at which someone will pull the plug: if, for example, Kindle and their like were to introduce some form of control over quality of content two thirds or more of their indie publications would evaporate overnight. Eventually I believe they will have to do this – there is an enormous amount of redundant bandwidth out there which is costing somebody a lot of money.

    Writing is not alone here. The Internet has stripped the studio income of most musicians and the money from music is now made from live performance. A new major ‘blockbuster’ film used to be a quarterly event at best – now? One a week, maybe.

    IMHO the app. is carving a path into future media. Whether written or sung, painted or filmed, successful work will be that which fits onto the small screen and induces acute sensation of one sort or another from a bare minimum of information. That is the art of the future, to seek drama in an image or a few sentences. There are some who will excel – I’m afraid I may not be counted among them!


    1. I agree. We can’t exactly predict how things will pan out – but the current situation isn’t sustainable, certainly not for writers. It’s got to change. I’m not sure writers will ‘go touring’ like bands (it has been done in the past) but there’s got to be something to alter the income calculation – and, as you say, it’s going to be interesting to see how long the self-pub faciliators keep releasing everything without quality control. Although to some extent they must be making money from the sheer volume that transacts – each one of which gives them a cut – there is an awful lot that doesn’t shift in any meaningful sense. Or at all.


    1. Thank you! I have to recommend all of them of course! ☺ More seriously, jump across to my Amazon page. ‘Coal’ is worth a look as is ‘Man of Secrets’.


      1. I picked “Living on Shaky Ground” but that appears to be out of print? I have an abiding interest in geology. Is this available anywhere? I then picked “Blue Navy” because the evolution of modern Navies is quite intriguing.

        You have so many books. Are there any on the earliest settling of New Zealand? I’ve researched how earliest man arrived in Australia (and probably thereafter New Zealand). Fascinating stuff!


        1. A fair number of my books are out of print. But ‘Living on Shaky Ground’ is definitely still available. It’s a Penguin Random House title so I guess it’s possible Amazon don’t stock it. In terms of early NZ, I covered that off in a chapter in my Illustrated History of NZ. Thst is available both in print and kindle. I’ve also looked at it in a variety of my other books but those, alas, are still out of print. I have been retrieving my licenses from my publishers with a thought of having these older titles republished. If you want ‘Guns and Utu’, ‘Two Peoples One Land’, ‘Shattered Glory’ or ‘Convicts’, let me know. I bought the residual stock when these were taken out of print and have a few copies to hand that I can sell directly. Thanks for your interest in what I’m doing – much appreciated!


          1. I set up a publishing company with a group of like-minded authors to publish my work for the very reason you mention. This way, I have more control.

            I’m off ito start reading Blue Navy.


Comments are closed.