CHANGE. It's the new buzzword in the 2008 presidential campaigns. All the candidates running in the primaries are telling voters that if they are elected, things will be different—meaning better.
But while the idea of change tends to be popular, actual changes are often resisted, mocked, and opposed by people who say the new ways are unwise, unfair, and irresponsible. The history of mankind is rife with examples of ideas, inventions and social policies that were originally considered foolhardy but are now mainstream. The automobile, airplane, telephone, and women's right to vote are a few examples.
I predict that trajectory for publishing. Soon digital printing, e-books and publishing formats we haven't heard of yet will be the order of the day. It's a long uphill road, but a lot has happened in the last few years and movement is accelerating.
For example, back in 2003 The Rocky Mountain Writer, the newsletter of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers reported on a roundtable discussion where local editors and agents commented on publishing trends. They asked the panelists, "Is there a future for e-publishing and/or POD?" The unanimous answer was an emphatic "No!" In fact, one panelist suggested that, if an author’s contract with a publisher mentions POD, “run like your hair’s on fire!”
Fast forward to January 2008 and an Associated Press article entitled "Got a Manuscript? Publishing Now a Snap." How things have changed! The article, which has been widely reprinted, points out that because of new technologies today's writers—unlike those in past generations—all have the opportunity to have their work published, read, and listed for sale on online bookstores right along with traditionally published books.
Today more than three-quarters of the approximately 200,000 books published in this country each year are self-published or published by a small press. And eBooks are taking off. Amazon already has over 99,000 books available for sale to readers who use their Kindle, which only came out in December.
In the music industry artists are choosing to bypass major labels and offer albums directly to the public and/or make their work available for digital download. Record companies are no longer required. Not only are new artists putting their works out through self-produced digital recordings, megastars are joining in this trend. Last fall Radiohead offered its new album, In Rainbows, for direct download from its website for whatever price fans decided the album was worth.
Amateur filmmakers can upload their creations to YouTube, which currently has over 72 million videos available for viewing. Now frequent uploaders who have a loyal following can even apply to become YouTube partners who earn money by having ads spliced into their videos.
The old guard predictors were wrong about future trends in publishing and they continue to wear those blinders. But the days of a few major publishers, record labels or movie studios controlling what gets out to the public are over. We have entered a new populist era where consumers can access a wide variety of artistic works and decide for themselves what is worth their time and money.